Mazda3 hatchback

£16,995 - £23,745

The Mazda3 is a polished, fun-to-drive alternative to more familiar family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. In truth, those two cars are slightly superior in key areas such as engines (the Focus) and outright quality (the Golf). However, Carbuyer users reckon the Mazda3 beats both of them.

The Mazda3 is certainly more stylish than the Ford or Volkswagen, and there's a Fastback saloon version as well. Its running costs are reasonable, too, partly because it's competitively priced, but also because it's powered by highly efficient engines. In addition, the Mazda3 resists depreciation better than most cars of its type, so you should get more of your money back when you sell it.

Power comes from a choice of petrol and diesel engines. We'd avoid the smooth but underwhelming 1.5-litre petrol and instead go for the powerful yet refined 2.0-litre. It's only a little more expensive than the 1.5, yet returns the same fuel economy (55.4mpg) and costs the same to tax (£30). If you want a little more performance, there's a more powerful version of the same engine, but its economy falls to 48.7mpg and road tax shoots up to £130 a year.

Surprisingly, the Mazda3 has just one diesel engine: a rather large 2.2-litre. However, it's smooth and punchy as well as very efficient. with claimed fuel economy 68.9mpg and an annual road tax bill of just £20. Before you take the diesel plunge, however, consider its higher purchase price (around £2,250 more than the petrol) which may not be worth it if you're covering less than 15,000 miles a year.

The Mazda3 is well equipped as standard with even the basic SE version getting air-conditioning, a multimedia system with a seven-inch touchscreen display and app functionality, engine stop-start for better fuel economy and alloy wheels. Further up the range you'll find the Nav versions, which feature Mazda's sat-nav system, larger alloy wheels, parking sensors and (on the Sport Nav), a Bose surround-sound stereo system.

The Mazda3 scored strongly in the Driver Power 2014 driver satisfaction survey, with owners praising its reliability and build quality. It also scored the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, so it's safe, too.