MAZDA'S tilt at the hatchback sector of the market dominated by the likes of the Ford Focus and the Vauxhall Astra is the Mazda3 and, after a week in its company, it is a wonder that the big names aren't running for cover.

It's a well put together, stylish little car and the latest model has some tweaks to help it along, including a new suspension, subtle changes to the interior, reversing camera and some pretty nifty adaptive headlights (at least on the SportNav spec' on test – the best of four trim levels).

On parade with me was the least powerful of the two options on the 2.0-litre petrol engine. It is rated at a fairly mediocre 118bhp, while the more powerful stablemate has 158bhp available.

It's also a big area of difference between the Mazda philosophy and the Ford one. While blue oval badge owners are being progressively pushed towards smaller and smaller engine size, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost being a particular favourite, Mazda has stuck with bigger engines and using design and technology to get more out of them.

So, even in this fairly lowly power band, the Mazda feels so much more solid and sure of itself, while with the other marque, there's a definite feel that there's a lot more thrashing about going on under the bonnet to achieve the same result.

It seems to work for Mazda too. The test car was capable of averaging 55mpg and certainly had a good stab at complying with that over a few hundred miles. Certainly, some of the opposition have much higher claimed figures, but my experience is that under normal Scottish road conditions they rarely hit what the promise to do.

Performance from this engine back this up as it will do the 0-62mph in under nine seconds, which is fairly good for a middle-of-the-road wee car like this.

The practicalities of the Mazda also stack up well against rivals, with a luggage capacity for the hatchback at 365 litres – fold down the rear seats, and there's 1260 litres when they’re folded down.

Styling cues on the outside mark this as the Mazda6's little sibling, which is no bad thing as I think both are amongst the sharpest looking cars in their sector.

The Mazda3 also has an edge with its new 'G-Vectoring' technology, adjusts torque delivery according to steering angle to the front driving wheels. This has turned it into one of the sharpest cars in its sector and it eats up country roads like it was bred to do so – which is not surprising given that some of the handling characteristics come courtesy of the handling set-up gleaned from the excellent MX-5 two seater fun machine.

For diesel fans, you – and me for that matter – would probably opt for the most powerful 2.2-litre diesel, which hits 148bhp and has top-notch pulling power through the mid-range revs. That said, the lower powered 1.5-litre diesel Mazda3 was named ‘Best Diesel’ at the 2016 Scottish Car of the Year Awards – and there was a reason for that, it is a very user friendly and cheap to run car.

For those who like a family-size hatchback, it would certainly do no harm to include the Mazda3 on your list of potentials and, at just a little more than £20,000 for this SportNav model tested, it's very much in the running price wise too.