The new Mazda3 is a successful car already. Only launched in January, it has already been shortlisted for the European Car of the Year award and is one of three contenders for the World Car of the Year title.

OK, so it was pipped at the post for the European award, not by the favourite BMW i3, but by an outsider, Peugeot 308.

It seems to be Mazda’s destiny never to win the award for the Mazda6, 3 and 2 all came second between 2003 and 2008. No matter, Mazda3 has far exceeded the company’s sales predictions and has been given a Red Dot design award by the Germans, little known to the man in the street but it’s a big deal in the design world. In fact January sales of Mazda3 were 33 per cent ahead of forecast and total orders since launch are well ahead of forecast.

Costing from £16,695, the 3 has given a timely boost to the UK dealer network as it looks to build on the success of Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5.

So, what makes the 3 such a success? Well, it looks good and it’s such a bold, impressive motor that it looks very much at first glance like it could be a Mazda6.

It’s also a sophisticated car, using Mazda’s suite of technologies called SKYACTIV which give high economy and low emissions which appeal to business users and private buyers alike. No wonder dealers speak of conquest sales – that is, winning over customers from rivals.

So, how does the 3 measure up? It comes as a petrol (1.5 and two versions of the 2.0) or diesel (a supersmooth 2.2) and as a hatchback or fastback. It comes in five trim levels SE, SE Nav, SE-L, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav.

Prices span £16,695 to £23,345 on-the-road comprising 21 five-door hatchback models and 15 four-door Fastback models.

The range is powered by a choice of three naturally-aspirated SKYACTIV-G petrol engines - the new 1.5-litre unit that develops 100ps, and the now familiar 2.0-litre powerplant with two different outputs - 120ps or 165ps.

It’s a good-looking car which is important in this competitive market with all the major companies battling for sales.

Mazda says the 3 sets new design standards in its class, and it’s hard to argue.

It’s also one of the lightest cars in its class which makes for fine ride and handling and excellent economy. Mazda3 posts some exceptionally economy on combined runs and emission figures. The diesel-powered SKYACTIV-D 150ps four-door Fastback with manual transmission returns 72.4mpg and emissions of just 104g/km, while the SKYACTIV-G 120ps petrol-powered five-door hatchback with manual gearbox, returns 55.4mpg and 119g/km.

Every car comes with Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) which helps to reduce or prevent low-speed collisions by automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to act, i-stop idle-stop system, and Hill Hold Assist (HHA) to prevent roll back on inclines.

It is also one of the safest cars on the road in Britain after receiving a five star safety rating in the latest Euro NCAP tests. Further equipment also includes 16in alloy wheels, air-con, power-folding heated mirrors, leather wheel, trip computer, radio/CD with six speaker audio system, 7in colour touch screen, USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth hands-free system.

It comes with a ‘connectivity’ system called Aha which blends social media and internet radio. It’s a very impressive system.

Is this the best Mazda yet? CX-5 is good; Mazda6 is better. But the Mazda3 tops the lot.