We Brits are not generally wild about saloons.
Okay, the executive class dominated by the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE and so on have a strong following.
But move into a price bracket more people can afford and it’s hatchbacks and crossovers that rule the roost.
So Mazda took something of a gamble grafting a saloon rear end onto its popular hatchback, the 3.
Named a Fastback rather than a saloon, it was updated in 2014 and has recently had a brand new 1.5 litre diesel engine added.
It has a lot going for it. Boot space is well up on the hatchback, with 419 litres compared to 350 in the five-door car.
The rear seats fold down so you can get long items like skis in there too. The only thing it can’t handle are bulky loads – you’re not going to get a washing machine in there.
The 3 goes up against some tough opposition in the form of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
Mazda’s response has been to go bold. Park it next to any of its rivals and it’s the one that stands out.
Mazda have taken design cues from its handsome bigger brother the 6. A long bonnet with muscular lines and scoops give it a more distinctive and masculine appearance than its androgynous competition.
The Japanese firm has also turned the spotlight on driver enjoyment. Until now the Focus has been far and away the standout choice for buyers who don’t want to let having to get a boring old hatchback stop them having some fun.
Like the Focus, the 3 handles better than it has any right to. Its steering is quick, well weighted and accurate, and there’s an agile feel to the car.
Nor is there much in the way of trade off when it comes to ride quality. I found the 3 just as comfortable on the M90 as it was enjoyable whizzing around some quiet Fife back roads.
There is a 2.0 litre petrol and 1.5 and 2.2 litre diesel engines. The 1.5 is brand new and is what was under the bonnet of my test car.
Much has been made of Mazda’s oddly spelled and needlessly capitalised SKYACTIV efficiency technology.
Basically, it improves efficiency by reducing weight and utilising smart functions such as capturing waste energy to power things like the air-conditioning when the car is stationary. It even extends to functions like an active shutter front grille which closes for better aerodynamics when the engine isn’t in immediate need of cooling.
The result, in this car, are official economy figures of 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km. With only 105bhp it’s not enormously powerful but there’s plenty of low down shove.
It’s also incredibly quiet for a diesel: so much so that I got out and checked the fuel filler cap to make sure Mazda hadn’t accidentally sent me a petrol model.
Prices for the Fastback range start at a little over £17,000 and top out just past the £22,000 mark.
The interior is very smart, with a large colour screen and intuitive rotary control dial almost identical to the ones used by BMW and Audi.
A small plastic flap rises up in front of the driver when you start the engine. Your speed is beamed onto this, meaning you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to see how fast you’re going.
Space in the front is generous and rear legroom is good, however taller back passengers will find headroom a bit mean.
The Mazda doesn’t beat the Golf, Astra or Focus, but it competes with them nicely. It’s also better looking and should benefit from Japanese reliability.
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Top speed: 115mph
CO2 emissions: 99g/km