The five-seat, front-wheel drive machine has been completely redesigned and has never looked better. Mazda3 continues to be available in five-door hatchback or four-door notchback, which is basically a stubbier-looking saloon to you and me.

Mazda3's exterior draws on the beautiful Mazda6. When viewed head-on, you could almost mistake the two. Mazda3 has that very distinctive corporate front-end; in fact, it makes rivals like the excellent VW Golf look quite dull next to it. Side-on, there are curves aplenty and at the rear good design continues to please the eye. The only downside to the sloping rear tailgate is its marginal effect on cargo space.

Inside, a prominently positioned rev counter and digital speedometer feature in the driver's eye-line. Go higher up the specification levels to 'GT' and you'll get a head-up display, or as Mazda calls it 'Active Driving Display'. This is one of the more common pop-up Perspex types of HUD that we are seeing more of. I am convinced they represent a great contribution to road safety.

While the materials and plastics that make up the dashboard might not be class-leading, there are interesting elements to be enjoyed, like the seven-inch screen. The display unit dominates the centre of the dash and is home to the 'MZD Connect' mobile connectivity system. A rotary click wheel sits near the gear lever and works much like a BMW i-Drive or Audi MMI controller.

Mazda3 is full of technology like the SKYACTIV engines and i-ELOOP power recovery system that aid efficiency, performance and help reduce CO2. Active cruise control and the much-in-vogue internet connectivity also feature (again, depending on trim level).

We took the 150hp, 2.2-litre diesel hatchback with automatic gearbox on test and instantly noted how much quieter the interior is, relative to the outgoing car. Steering remains sharp and, as ever, the Mazda chassis delivers a sporty and dynamic handling experience. The automatic diesel promised great fuel economy but didn't deliver it. The automatic gearbox would not be my choice for enthusiastic driving: I'd prefer to get into a manual Mazda3 at a lower price point where it represents better value for money.

As with Mazda6, there is a stunning paint option called Soul Red Metallic (€675). Leather is an option starting at €1,500 for black or €1,650 for light stone. Our automatic GT spec test car came fully loaded with a host of goodies bar the optional Navigation (€650) and 'weighed' in at over €30,000.

Mazda3 prices start at €21,595 for the 1.5-litre petrol (100hp/119g CO2) SE 5-door. Notchback prices start with the higher Executive grade petrol version at €23,795. Diesel prices start at €25,295 (5 & 4-dr Executive). There are four grades: SE, Executive, Executive SE and GT. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard with a six-speed automatic also available.

The new Mazda3 is a pretty car with a fast-filling trophy cabinet to prove it. Mazda3 drivers will definitely get admiring glances.

Michael Sheridan