Desirable Mazda CX-3 packs athletic style, driving fun

SHARE Desirable Mazda CX-3 packs athletic style, driving fun

When Mazda introduced the CX-5 a few years ago, it quickly captured market share by offering a combination of exciting exterior style and performance-oriented driving characteristics. That combo is the “zoom-zoom” signature for Mazda, and it has worked favorably for the CX-5.

Now it makes its appearance in the smaller CX-3, the compact crossover (CUV) that is everything the CX-5 is — just a little smaller.

Smaller does not need to equate to less of anything, especially fun. The Mazda CX-3 is without doubt the top of the CUV class in terms of athletic and distinct styling, as well as that infusion of enhanced performance and Mazda engineering that delivers spirited driving.

The Mazda CX-3 comes in three levels: base Sport, Touring and top-of-the-line GT. A cadre of new features are available for 2017, including 18-inch wheels, a more affordable i-Activsense package of safety features, radar cruise control, automatic smart city brake support and smart brake support, lane departure warning, high-beam control, automatic on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

I recently tested the CX-3 Grand Touring model, and it has a great look. It begins with an athletic stance, a formidable grille treatment and bulging fenders that slide right into the sleek side-panel flow. Nothing looks like a Mazda, and that’s a hard thing to do in today’s copycat market.

My tester had 18-inch rims, and they were as prominent a design cue as anything on the CX-3, though I must admit the roof rails are a great touch that adds a bit of utility and sport. This is a CUV that screams capability, performance and definitely fun.

Inside the cabin, you get a quiet space that feels insulated from exterior pavement noises and most of the highway wind buffeting. Entry and exit are very good for the CX-3 (something not all in this class can claim). The dash features big, bold gauges and dials.

While the CX-3 is clearly a CUV in dimension, front seats are very comfortable with slight side bolstering and capable of handling large-sized adults. Power adjustments make it easy to find the right spot for driver visibility, which I found to be outstanding. Rear-seat space is a bit tighter, but not inaccessible. Seating material is utilitarian but comfortable and easily cleaned up.

All CX-3 models come with Mazda Connect, a 7-inch, full-color touchscreen infotainment suite that is integrated with a commander control knob and Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing and audio streaming. All 2017 CX-3s also have back-up camera and push-button start as well as power windows, power door locks and remote keyless entry.

I think there will be some complaints about dash materials and maybe a bit more plastic in the center stack components than anyone realistically wants, but at the price point of the CX-3, it seems to be a easy trade-off. The base sticker for my FWD Grand Touring CX-3 was $24,990, but it featured an upgrade automatic transmission that pushed the final price to $27,260.

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