It is the third generation Mazda3 which has a very shapely body plus a luxurious and roomy interior along with superb handling that together combine to make this Japanese hatchback a very serious contender to the aforementioned competitors.
I had only just started driving my Mazda3 test car when I realised it was something special because the steering was so precise direct and well balanced along with sporty handling all of which made the car such fun to drive.
The test car with six speed automatic transmission was the Mazda3 1.5 103bhp SportNav Diesel Auto costing £23,145 on the road which was powered by a 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D four cylinder diesel engine that had a top speed of 112mph a zero to 62mph time of 11.6 seconds with a combined fuel consumption of 64.2mpg.
This particular model had an extremely good level of standard equipment that included adapative front lighting reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors seven inch colour touch screen with integrated navigation and a head-up display plus digital speedo.
The controls and instruments were very user friendly but the feature that really impressed was the head-up display which showed the speed of the car right in front of the driver that was so easy to see in all light conditions.
What also impressed and helped to make the test period more enjoyable was the six speed automatic transmission which provided smooth and fast changes unlike certain auto systems that tend to be slow changers and not so smooth.
The diesel engine in the test car was the smaller of the two available oil burners and it was perfectly adequate in all driving situations especially on a journey involving a mix of motorway and cross country driving when it provided plenty of power for all overtaking situations.
My only grumble concerned the siting of the button for starting and stopping the engine which was hidden by a chunky stalk to the left of the steering wheel when there were more suitable locations available.
The test period coincided with an announcement by Mazda UK that sales this year are booming with those for March being the best singles sales month in the company's history and that it is forecasting its sales volume will continue to grow by six per cent this year.
This is not really surprising for Mazda which is now a stand-alone company after having had close links with Ford has an excellent range of cars and it is obvious from the lastest sales figures that UK customers appreciate this situation and are buying them in increasing numbers.
The excellent Mazda3 is no doubt contributing to this very successful sales situation because as mentioned earlier it is a very tempting rival to mainstream competitors for in my opinion this particular Mazda is the most stylish and most fun of them all.
Model: Mazda3 1.5 SportNav Diesel Auto.
Engine: 1.5-litre four cylinder diesel. Output: 103bhp @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Six speed automatic.
Top speed: 112mph. Acceleration: 0 to 62mph.
Fuel consumption: 64.2mpg. CO2 emissions: 114 g/km
Price: £23,145 on the road.