Buying into the current compact family car scene is a confusing issue made worse by myriad new models and a profusion of media opinions (usually led by advertising spend), which Iain P W Robertson intends to confound.

mazda3-2013It has taken all of 2013 before the year’s best new car was made available for me to drive. I thought the decision might have come close with the new Honda Civic diesel, or even the latest iteration of the Seat Ibiza but, no, I was wrong. Peugeot’s tempting 308 came close, even though the Nissan Note was still some way off-course.

Encounter a new Mazda3 down a criminally dark back lane and you might turn about and try another better illuminated route. It looks like a bruiser. Yet, if you are tempted to linger a while longer, you will note a distinctive feline style to its overall greater dimensions than the class average normally dictates…and it is no optical illusion.

It is longer, wider and lower than its arch-nemesis, the Volkswagen Golf, and even though it lacks the Teutonic practicality invested in the terminally tedious hatchback from Wolfsburg, 99% of Mazda buyers will scarcely notice the less capacious boot, while their passengers will hardly complain about the fancier trim and better leg and shoulder room.

Yet, it is drivers (yes, those few of us left that actually want to drive and not be driven) that will be most impressed by the Kodo design ethics (Japanese, naturally). From an exterior that looks as though the pounding ocean’s waves have formed its sensual fluency of line, to an interior that turns dark grey into a style statement, the new Mazda3 oozes a ‘just what you want’ empathy that is mazda3-2013-familynot dissimilar to the original 1969 Ford Capri’s ‘The Car You Always Promised Yourself’, except that Mazda means it, most sincerely.

There is so little to dislike (okay, the plastics below the mid-line are a bit nasty but, then, so are Audi’s but that might be judged as ‘superficiality’). Even the price tag ranging from £16,695 to £23,345 is designed to garner your attention. Backed up by indefatigable dependability and its smattering of exotica about almost every visible angle, it is Mazda’s uniquely appealing slant on holistic automobility that is its biggest sales draw and woe betide you, if you elect to ignore ‘SkyActiv’.

Like a religious experience, SkyActiv is an all-encompassing, Mazda-independent view of where the entire motor industry ought to be. It relies less on headlining, tiny capacity, over-wrought engines possessing questionable life expectancy and concentrates on reducing the inimitable chart-toppers of CO2, MPG and life-costs to less purse-stretching levels.

mazda3-2013-interiorScarcely a single model in the new line-up of hatches and swept-back lovely saloons will horrify even the most impecunious, or green-conscious, of potential buyers. However, there is a good range of petrol (from 1.5 to 2.0-litres) and an excellently punchy (147bhp, 2.2-litre) turbo-diesel from which to select. While government fuel figures are laughable as usual, I managed a respectable 38.9mpg from a hard-punted petrol Sport version and not far off 55mpg from the diesel. Possessing bags of character and capability, Mazda3’s appeal is enormous.

Conclusion: Fend off the Focus. Lose the Leon. Mash the Megane. Pass by the Peugeot and, at very least, sample the Mazda3. It is right and we all kind of deserve something special in our hard-pressed motoring lives. Car of 2013? Probably not but, lived with for the next few years, Mazda3 is a definite must.