Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles The new Mazda 3 replaced its somewhat anonymous-looking predecessor at the beginning of this year, and brought with it the company's new design language and light-weight engineering ethos. The result is a handsome arrangement of curves and swooping lines that come together at the front where they intersect the headlights and create the wing motif grille that now features across much of the Mazda range. The rear design has its share of neat touches, too, with twin exhausts, shark fin antenna, and a subtle roof spoiler, while the proportions themselves are not unlike a rear-wheel-drive car. Of course, it's still front-wheel-drive, and that means there's more space for passengers, with a good range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and a high transmission tunnel that cocoons the driver. The dash itself is well laid out - the ventilation controls operate smoothly, while the instruments are centred around the rev counter with an inset digital speedo, the output from which also appears on a head-up display that rises from the instrument binnacle. Most of the car's functions are controlled by the company's excellent new media system, which you can interact with either via the touchscreen, voice commands, or the twisty-turny controller mounted just behind the gear lever. Some of the menus are a little convoluted, but overall it works well, and the screen itself deserves special praise for its clarity. Rear seat passengers should be happy enough, and despite the sloping roof-line, headroom is fine. Foot-room is perhaps a little tight when initially climbing aboard, and there's quite a prominent transmission tunnel to contend with. Still, the seats fold forward easily to accommodate larger loads, and doing so increases cargo space from 364 litres to 1,263 litres. Four engines are available, starting with a 1.5-litre petrol unit with 100PS and a pair of 2.0-litre units with either 120 or 165PS, as fitted to our car. Pick of the bunch, though, is the 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel with 150PS and 380Nm of torque. The 2.0-litre is a little gruff on start-up and at low revs, but settles down nicely enough once on the move. More noticeable, though, is the fabulously slick-shifting gearbox, and Mazda have given the 3 their trademark stubby and short-throw gear-lever that makes ratcheting your way through the ratios a real pleasure. On paper, the 2.0-litre isn't slow, with an 8.2 second 0-62 time and a 130mph top speed, but it can feel a little lethargic at low speeds. Perversely, however, it's also very forgiving of being in the wrong gear, and there are even times when the shift indicator will advise 6th gear at just 30mph. We'd still choose the diesel, though, its substantial torque reserves making it feel the nippier of the two in real-world driving. It's also more efficient, and while our average with the petrol model was around 43mpg - not far off its government figure of 48.7mpg - the diesel's official figure of 72.4mpg is nothing short of incredible. Also surprising is the ride - the suspension seems to deal particularly well with large imperfections and even smoothers speed bumps into submission. This suppleness doesn't corrupt the handling, thankfully, and on a set of twisties the responsive steering combines with the well balanced body control to produce something agile and consistent. There are no gimmicks to it - it's just good old well-sorted handling. In fact, our only criticism is that the larger 18-inch wheels of our Sport model do generate quite a bit of road noise, but that's hardly a deal-breaker. The Mazda 3 is available in three grades - SE, SE-L and Sport - each with the option of satellite navigation. They're all well equipped and prices start from £16,695 for the 1.5 or £19,245 for the diesel. We've driven every model in the range and while the diesel is our favourite, there's not a duff model amongst them, and even the most basic model is quite a cheerful place to be. The Mazda 3, then, doesn't just drive well - there's also something very trustworthy about it. And if I had to choose between this, a Golf and a Focus, I'd choose the Mazda.