It's unusual to find a diesel-engined car that's the best of its breed. Customarily, they come from Europe. More often, they come from somewhere in the Volkswagen family.
But here is a diesel champion that's from Japan and also a clear and present danger to the diesel-powered Golf that's a Carsguide favourite. It helps that the diesel engine is in the latest Mazda3, a car that's running right at the top of the popularity polls with car buyers and one of the favourites for this year's Car of the Year award.
It also helps that it's a Skyactiv turbo diesel, with the focus on efficiency, and includes stop-start and hybrid-style regenerative braking to cut consumption to as little as 5.0L/100km.
There is a six-speed manual transmission with a sweet shift as well as a six-speed Skyactiv auto that Mazda claims is a combination of the best of conventional, double-clutch and CVT self-shifters.
But the big surprise is that the XD Astina is the performance car in the Mazda3 range, at least for ordinary drivers, thanks to a taut chassis and bottom-end punch that turns a twisty road into a fun run.
These days, it's much easier to have fun in a car with lots of bottom-end torque, as the pulling power makes the performance more accessible. And it's not nearly so raucous as a high-revving engine that tells everyone what you're doing.
In the case of the Astina diesel, you're just as likely to be relaxing in the quiet and cushy cabin as trying for the best possible 0-100km/h sprint time. And the Mazda3 delivers on the enjoyment side, with a modern and airy cabin, plenty of standard equipment, and an overall feeling of strength and quality that's only beaten by the Golf.
Standard equipment is extensive, mirroring the petrol-powered SP25 with 18-inch alloys and, on the safety side, a full suite: airbags, reversing camera, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor, forward obstruction warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Of course, there is a downside. It's the price, which starts at $40,230 and is high for a compact car. Then again, you could consider it a relative bargain against the hot-hatch rivals that are not much quicker in the real world than the diesel Mazda.
The Skyactiv engine even uses a lower compression ratio, the flip side to petrol engines that run higher compression for better efficiency. After spending time in the rest of the Mazda3 range, and having some time behind the wheel of the condensed and impressive Mazda2, what I like most about this model is that it's a car that works with me, and does it all the time.
The manual gearbox is slick, the seats are comfortable and the cabin is quiet with easy-to-use infotainment and all the standard stuff I like and expect.
I like the solid feel, even if it's not as plush as a Golf, and I like that Mazda has an iron-clad reputation for customer service and support in Australia. Something I cannot say about the Golf.
The price is not good, and I wonder whether it's too high for people in the small-car class. It's more costly than a Golf, and that says a lot.
I also struggle to match the fuel consumption number, although I have no trouble breaking into the 6.0L range and that means it's likely to be super-frugal on a long-distance run.