People-carrier designers have their work cut out. They must design a car which majors on space, accommodating up to seven people in comfort and their luggage.

On top of that, they have to make the vehicle sleek and attractive. Impossible? Well, it’s a battle of compromises, of course.

But the designers at Mazda have shown that it can be possible. The Mazda5, not to be confused with the Mazda MX-5, an altogether different beast, is one of the best-looking big people-carriers on the market.

It shows how the concept has moved on from being little more than a bloated tin box. For some, compact MPVs have replaced the traditional five-door hatchback as the go-to family car.

When it first appeared, Mazda’s 5 was one of those streamlined, visually appealing models that tempted buyers away from conventional family cars.

Mazda’s designers did a great job of concealing the car’s spacious cabin under a streamlined body, and the second generation model continues this trend.

Tested here is the 2.0 litre petrol Venture model which costs just under £20,000. You can pay a little more for the diesel (£21,295) which offers more economy and fewer emissions, but far inferior performance. For once, petrol is king.

The Venture is a very well equipped model. For a car which costs less than £20,000, it comes with central locking, alloy wheels, climate control, powered windows front and rear, cruise control, parking sensors, CD system and a split-fold rear seat.

Adopting exterior styling cues from recent concept models and current production cars, this latest Mazda5 also offers improved levels of comfort and refinement for a growing family.

From the driver’s seat you could be forgiven for sitting in something like Mazda’s 6. Surrounded by familiar and logical switchgear and instrumentation, only the 5’s lofty seating position gives the game away. Look over your shoulder, however, and you’re reminded of this car’s superior versatility.

With not one but two rows of seats, the Mazda5 offers families all the space they could need. Access to the second row is excellent thanks to the car’s twin sliding rear doors. The middle row of seats should be good enough for both adults and children, while the rearmost row is better suited to the latter.

An easy folding mechanism allows quick access to that third row, while headroom is more than adequate.

Don’t want to use the third row of seats on a daily basis? That’s not a problem, thanks to Mazda’s clever ‘Karikuri’ system, which enables you to flip the second row seat cushions and change the seat count from three to two. Then there’s the ability to fold the third row – changing the car’s boot status from big to huge. A generous sprinkling of cabin oddment storage spaces completes the family-friendly aspect of this car.

Mazda’s focus on space and practicality should be applauded, as it makes the 5 one of the best in its class. Factor in a robust, durable and attractive interior and it couldn’t be more family-proof.

But what about the driving experience? So often something that’s a distant second, Mazda has done well to make the 5 feel like a conventional car. With its long wheelbase the 5 already has the upper hand over most conventional cars when it comes to comfort. Agility isn’t a given in this sector though, as long, tall cars rarely fair well on the open road. Thankfully the Mazda5 bucks this trend and proves to be a surprisingly agile and responsive car. Its steering delivers plenty of weight and feel, while pitch and roll through the corners has been reduced to almost family hatch levels.

The engine is a fine blend of power, performance, refinement and economy.

For now, buyers seeking a solid, practical and attractive-looking family wagon would do well to put the Mazda5 on their shopping list. With a decent list of features and lashings of space, the car’s appeal is more than skin deep.

* Businesses taking delivery of the new Mazda3, which goes on sale in January, will benefit from strong residual values.

Data from vehicle information providers CAP suggests that at the fleet benchmark of three years, 60,000 miles, Mazda3 will retain up to 37 per cent of its value, out performing key competitors.

Mazda3 will be available in two body styles – hatchback and Fastback (saloon). The 36-strong model range offers the choice of three petrol and one diesel engine all featuring Mazda’s breakthrough SKYACTIV technology.

Watch out for a roadtest on the Mazda3 here in December.

Mazda5 2.0 Venture PRICE: £19,995. The diesel version is £21,295 ENGINE: A 1,998cc, four cylinder unit generating 150ps via six-speed gearbox PERFORMANCE: Top speed 120mph, 0 to 60mph in 11 seconds COSTS: town 31.4mpg; country 49.6mpg; combined 40.9mpg INSURANCE: Group 16 EMISSIONS: 159g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles