ONE of the most important factors in finding the formula for success in today's car market is to stand out from the crowd.
No good having a good car that looks like everyone else's. But it's got to be ‘different' in a good way - no-one wants a motor that's outlandish, ugly or absurdly impractical.
So a tricky balance then, especially when the scrabble for sales, during these Covid times, has never been fiercer.
A newcomer that really stands out visually in a surging marketplace is the Mazda CX-30, an unusually elegant compact crossover that blends punchy performance with decent economy and enough room for most family requirements.
Mazda has long be respected for producing models with better than average performance and the sort of handling that you'd expect in a sports car rather than a sedate saloon. It's a quality that's of considerable value in this sector, occupied by a number of rather dull-to-drive competitors.
We sampled the 180 GT Sport version which comes with a 2.0-litre four cylinder engine that gives out 178bhp. Smooth, silky and high revving, it has to be said that it doesn't feel as powerful as the figures suggest.
That's partly because the punch is delivered higher up the rev scale. Fortunately the six-speed gearbox is an absolute joy - swift, light and positive - which is good because you tend to row the gear lever about quite a bit to get the most out of the willing engine.
There's little mechanical or wind noise and progress is swift and effortless. Its assured manners are aided by a composed suspension set up that copes well with all that's thrown at it. There's only marginal cornering roll and little sign of front drive torque-steer - steering-tug under harsh acceleration.
It's the sort of car that thrives on fast country drives because of its general agility yet it remains totally at home on lengthy motorway journeys thanks to a high level of refinement.
Despite its sporting nature, the CX-30 presents a suitable family package with five doors, folding rear seats and a decent, regular shaped 430 litre boot. In 180GT form there's plenty of tasty treats onboard including sat nav, electric windows, electric sunroof and leather seating.
The cabin is clean and uncluttered with plenty of soft-feel plastic mouldings that lend a quality touch to proceedings. Tech such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard features while the digital screen is operated via a rotary knob. At 8.8-inches the screen is quite small compared with rivals but it works well enough.
The sloping rear tailgate limits the rear view somewhat when reversing but has little adverse effect of headroom for those in the back. Legroom and general space is about average for the class.
Press on hard in the CX-30 and you'll see south of 35mpg, but more cautious driving will result in better than 40mpg. Our test average was 38mpg.