IT is easy to follow the herd but the Mazda3 1.6 TS2 Diesel proves the grass is often greener on the other side of the hill.
And it is very green in the case of this five-door family car costing just over £18,000.
Not only is it keenly prices and cheap to insure but its highly refined diesel engine is extremely economical.
Furthermore, for the economy you can extract without any real effort by the driver, the performance is good too.
There are eleven models in the Mazda3 range from just under £14,800 to almost £21,000, with a choice of four trim levels and depending on chosen engine it comes with six speed manual or automatic transmission.
Petrol fans can select either 105ps 1.6 or 151ps 2.0 engines or there are 115ps 1.6 with 150 and 185ps 2.2 diesels as well.
This car was the smaller diesel with the mid to high range TS2 trim, the most popular in the Mazda3 series.
The well developed, smooth, refined and surprisingly quiet 1.6 diesel packs a punch from low revs and keeps on pushing out the power for fearless overtaking and utterly composed motorway cruising.
It really loves to be revved and has a distinctly sporty and un-diesel like engine note under acceleration, but easing off does remind you of its heart beat.
A light, short travel clutch and similarly precise and easy changing six-speed gearbox underline the powertrain’s sophistication and you are never left looking for a suitable gear or wishing you had more in hand.
Steering is also very communicative, well balanced between assistance and effort and it has a good turning circle for urban use without being too twitchy at speed on more flowing roads and the easy yet effective brakes always slow it quickly and without drama.
Secondary controls are generally well laid out but I could take issue with their marking and some switches are not in direct line of site, unlike the large, clear and well marked instruments infront of the driver.
Heating and ventilation system of the climate control is straightforward and works well, backed up by powered windows all round but there is no sunroof option.
Standard equipment on the TS2 includes alloys, cruise control, MP3 connectivity with Bluetooth and there is a CD player, so most will find their choice and source of music is well provided for in the Mazda3 TS2.
Oddments room is not so generous with a multitude of small compartments but few to take larger items, but the bootspace can be gradually expanded from 340 to 1360 litres behind a high rear panel.
Inside the cabin, access is easy and the room is very good infront and reasonable behind with cloth covered seats providing good location and support. The adjustment range on the front pair is also adequate for all but the very tallest users.
Ride comfort is surprisingly good for a small to medium sized car and it soaks up the bumps with ease even if a little noisily.
Road-holding is good and the handling is confidence building irrespective of it being dry or wet. Everything is well indicated and there are no vices in its nature.
It may not be the quickest car from the lights but given the choice of this or some others over a long journey and varied roads I would find it particularly relaxing to drive.
I would also be delighted by the fuel economy. Mazda has really refined the diesel and while its stated official combined figure is in excess of 64mpg I found it returned the high 50s without any problem at all and without me having to resort to any trickery to take it further than just driving it as normal. On long journeys the cruise control is a real asset to extend the economy.
The Mazda3 1.6TS2 is a capable and delightful family car with a modest market appeal which does not do it justice for its abilities under the skin.
Mazda3 1.6 TS2 Diesel 5dr
Mechanical: 115ps, 1,560cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 116mph
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Combined mpg: 58
Insurance group: 5
CO2 emissions: 117g/km
BIK rating: 15%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles