THE handsome Mazda3 recently became an even more attractive option with the introduction of a new 1.5-litre diesel engine.
Until the start of this year the only diesel you could specify in the 3was the powerful 2.2-litre borrowed from the much larger6 family saloon.
That engine certainly delivered power but its size meant the 3 was at a disadvantage compared to its rivals.
With the new smaller unit first introduced in the Mazda2 supermini, the 3 is now able to match its competitors in a busy sector.
Now in its third generation the 3 offers bold looks excellent handling and superb build quality.
The Mazda's style helps it stand out from some of the other offerings in the compact family car sector and it also offers bags of standard equipment, good performance and a comfortable upmarket interior.
There is a clear family resemblance to the Mazda 6 and most of its design cues are taken from the larger saloon with its swooping curves and sharp creases. Its low roof and rising waistline give it a sporty stance and it is a looker from every angle.
All versions of the 3 get alloy wheels and body-coloured door handles and mirrors and some models get xenon headlamps and LED running lights while sport models also benefit from larger 18-inch alloys.
Inside the quality is excellent with soft-touch materials where they should be and the dashboard is neatly styled with some nice features. The rev counter and fuel gauge are digital and this model also had a head-up display on top of the dash. All models also get a seven-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and sat-nav system which is an option on cheaper models.
It can also be controlled by a rotary dial on the centre consule and the system is easy to use once you get used to it.
There is plenty room for four adults to travel in real comfort and five would be fine for shorter journeys.
Unlike many of its competitors the Mazda3 is available as a five-door hatchback or as a fastback - which is actually a four-door saloon and in my opinion is better looking.
In this country the hatch will be the volume model but both are available in a selection of engines and trims.
This car was the fastback featuring all Mazda's fuel efficienct SKYACTIV technology and the new 1.5-litre diesel which is good for 105ps.
It takes just 11 seconds to sprint to 62mph, has a top speed of 115mph and is very smooth in every gear. It is also a very quiet engine as well as being frugal and features stop/start technology.
Emissions are just 99g/km and the claimed combined economy is 74.3mpg.
It is linked to a slick six-speed gearbox and the handling is agile with loads of grip and excellent body control. The steering is sharp and direct and the 3 is a fine driver's car.
The ride is smooth and the suspension deals well with even the poorest surfaces. It is a quiet cruiser on motorways and fun on twisty back roads.
The 3 enjoys a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and all models get six airbags, stability control and a city safe low-speed collision system as standard. Top models also get automatic lights and wipers plus parking sensors.
The boot is not huge at 364 litres but there are plenty storage areas in the cabin and with rear seats folded the hatch version offers a substantial 1,263 litres.
Mazda has a solid reputation for reliability which helps it appeal to private buyers and fleet customers.
Prices start at £17,095 and in Sport Nav trim costs £21,945.
For that you get the larger alloys, an adaptive front lighting system, front fogs with chrome surrounds, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. You also get he head-up display, and a premium Bose sound system with nine speakers and DAB radio as well as sat nav.
The fastback matches the price of the hatchback throughout the range with an automatic option adding £1,200.