Mazda has taken the slightly conservative Mazda3  and turned it into something sporty and exciting, writes  Ian Strachan.

The latest Mazda3 is nicely styled, quick, handles well and is a pleasure to drive.

I test drove the sleek Mazda3 2.0 SE-L Nav Fastback, fitted with a gutsy 120 bhp 2.0 litre petrol engine which is responsive and flexible.

The engine came linked to Mazda’s pleasant six-speed manual gearbox. With this set-up the car has great mid range flexibility and is a very relaxed cruiser.

Mazda has also made the extensive model line-up more striking than its predecessor, with an aggressive front end and nicely-rounded lines.

Inside, the Mazda’s comfort credentials are reinforced with ultra-supportive heated seats which hold five adults without difficulty, with plenty of leg and headroom. The feel of the interior is of a much more expensive car than it actually is. You can also fold the rear seats down, which gives you a substantial load capacity.

The Mazda3 also scores high on safety, with a range of safety features. These include traction control, all-round airbags, stability control and active front head restraints.

The Mazda3 I tested had satellite navigation as standard. The equipment package also included electric heated door mirrors, automatic bi-xenon headlamps with automatic levelling, front fog lamps,  remote central locking, all round electric windows, rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control,  and a multi-media audio system with DAB radio and steering wheel controls.

The whole package comes at a reasonable £19,495 on the road. Fuel consumption in mixed driving is published at 55.4 miles to the gallon.

This is a nice alternative in the small family car sector, which deserves to do well.

Motoring Reviews are bought to you courtesy of Midlands Business News and its Motoring Editor Ian Strachan of Ian Strachan Communications