THE all-new Mazda 3 has just arrived and there is no doubt it is the best-looking car your money will buy in a busy hatchback segment.
It makes most of its rivals look dull and it easily matches the Golf on quality and the talented Focus on driving pleasure.
This car will turn heads and the news gets even better as a stunning looking sedan version will arrive in October as will a new petrol engine that will deliver more performance with diesel matching economy.
The newcomer is right up there with the class leaders as it is fun to drive, has a premium cabin and is quiet and economical.
It features the next generation of Mazda's ‘Soul of Motion' design and has been redesigned from the ground up complete with a new chassis and stacks of safety equipment.
Mazda has certainly delivered on its promise to produce a hatchback with a high level of standard equipment but that means that the price of the new range starts at £20,595 but that is still great value when you look at the extra kit.
Initially only two engines are available, either a 120bhp. 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol or 115bhp Skyactiv-D diesel engine.
The petrol engine now features a cylinder deactivation system and Mazda's 24-volt mild-hybrid system. Both are offered with manual or automatic gearboxes right across the range.
Buyers can select from five trim levels - SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech -and even the entry level SE-L model comes with the kind of high-end technology normally associated with prestige models including a windscreen projected, colour head up display with traffic sign recognition, radar cruise control and LED headlights.
Every model in the line-up also features navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an advanced eight speaker audio system.
From SE-L Lux onwards you get a reversing camera, smart keyless entry and heated front seats, while Sport Lux variants benefit from cabin enhancements including additional chrome detailing, a frameless rear view mirror and rear privacy glass.
GT Sport models get black leather seats with power adjustment, a heated steering wheel and excellent Bose audio, while the range-topping GT Sport Tech features a suite of additional active safety equipment, including a 360camera and driver attention alert featuring an interior camera.
The flagship GT Sport Tech model is matched exclusively with the two-litre petrol engine which I tried out first on a route from Edinburgh through the Borders and into Northumberland.
I was immediately impressed by the quality of the cabin which provides a perfect driving position thanks to loads of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel. There are no cheap plastics in sight and all the surfaces are covered in leather or soft-touch materials.
The switchgear is also first class and the digital dials easy to read. The 8.8-inch screen infotainment system is clear with good graphics and is operated by a click wheel in the centre consule.
The 2.0-litre petrol unit with mild hybrid and cylinder deactivation proved to be smooth and quiet with 122PS on tap.
It has a top speed of 122mph and tackles the sprint to 62mph in 10.4 seconds. The combined economy figure is between 44.8 and 45.6mpg and was easily beaten on this distance run.
Wind and road noise are absent inside the cabin and I was surprised at just how quiet the newcomer is. The petrol engine did not provide sparkling performance but that will come later when the new Skyactiv-X engine arrives in the autumn.
My return journey was taken in a car powered by the1.8 diesel and although it will not be the big seller it felt just right in the new 3.
Its top speed is 121mph but it sprints to 62mph in10.3 seconds and offers all its grunt in the right places. It also delivers superb economy as it returned just over 70mpg on the drive back to Edinburgh.
That means you should have no trouble getting the average claimed combined figure of over 56mpg.
The new chassis means the Mazda3 is a treat to drive on twisting country roads and the snappy six-speed manual box is a delight to use. Agile and communicative the 3 is a car that makes you enjoy driving.
It only has one drawback and that is the reduced over the shoulder visibility as a result of a large rear pillar and small rear windows - part of the trade-off for the car's stunning looks.
On a practical note it will seat four adults in comfort and it has a decent 351-litre boot. Prices for the petrol models start at £20,595 with the diesel cars costing from £22,395. The most expensive car in the range is the GT Sport auto diesel at £27,735.
The new Mazd 3 is certainly up there with the best of the opposition and is good enough to take sales away from the market leaders and the premium brands.