Our cars: What Car? test fleet - Mazda 3
List price: £16,960
Target Price: £15,883
Run by: Barnaby Jones
Tested for: Two months/5500 miles
It was the toys that sold it to me. Yes, the latest Mazda 3 is good to drive, spacious, comfortable, affordable and comes with the promise of Japanese reliability. It's also a good-looking car and, crucially, it's a bit different to your usual small-family-car suspects. These are all very good reasons for buying one, but one look at the lengthy standard equipment list and the deal was sealed.
It wasn't hard to choose which engine to go for. The 1.6-litre petrol is gutless, so the 1.6 diesel was the natural choice: it offers decent performance, official average fuel consumption of 62.8mpg, CO2 emissions of just 119g/km and a group five insurance rating.
The mid-spec TS2 trim comes with everything you'd expect a £17k small family car to have – as well as plenty of things you wouldn't. How do five-stage heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, a heated windscreen, Bluetooth, cruise control and electric folding door mirrors sound? See, it's easy to be swayed by the kit on offer.
In fact, the only option available was the paint colour, and that was a bargain at £385.
I collected the car from MKG 3000 Mazda in Twickenham, Middlesex (020 8538 9377), where sales executive David Joslin talked me through the car's features.
My initial impressions are nearly all positive. The 3 is big enough to carry four adults, but compact enough to thread down the many rat-runs that make up my commute. It's also comfortable and agile, and the climate control is effective.
Yes, my average fuel economy of 44mpg is almost 20mpg down on the claimed figure, but I'll admit that I haven't been driving it with maximum economy in mind. It's easy to get 55mpg on a long run, though, and I aim to improve the figures as soon as I can.
One thing I can't do much about is the noisy engine. It's also short of pull at very low revs, which is particularly noticeable when pulling out of a junction or after mounting speed bumps. The light steering doesn't inspire confidence on twisty roads, either, but it's a boon around town.
Otherwise, the 3 is all good. It has so much more to offer than just a bulging kit list.
What Car? says
Pretty much spot-on as a frugal family car