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Don Adair: Mazda CX-3: A youthful crossover even a grandmother could love

Yet, despite the CX-3’s short wheelbase and taut suspension, ride quality is very good and the cabin is surprisingly quiet even at highway speeds. (Mazda)

If you’d asked me last month to describe the typical Mazda CX-3 driver, school teachers would have made the cut. Grandmothers probably not.

The CX-3 is Mazda’s subcompact crossover. It’s small, sporty and exuberantly designed. Its $20,000 price tag targets first-time buyers — young professionals and educators, families just getting started.

But a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law Lori announce there would be a CX-3 in her future. A longtime schoolteacher, Lori satisfies one of our criteria. But she’s also a grandmother, which blows up our tidy categories.

Admittedly, I had to consider Lori’s news before the sense of it began to sink in; Her kids may be grown and gone, but she remains, as they say, young at heart. 

On reflection, she and the CX-3 seemed a good fit.

Now in its second year of production, the CX-3 has carved out a unique niche. Lightweight and responsive, it’s one of the segment’s most enjoyable rides. Spot-on steering and crisp handling affirm Mazda’s Driving Matters tag line. 

Yet, despite the CX-3’s short wheelbase and taut suspension, ride quality is very good and the cabin is surprisingly quiet even at highway speeds.

If I had to guess, I’d say design was a driver in Lori’s decision. Crisp and flowing character lines lace the CX-3’s tidy exterior. Interior design is contemporary and fresh, and top of-the-line models, like our Grand Touring tester, sport soft-touch surfaces, attractive materials and state-of-the-art infotainment options. 

Mazda’s Head-up cockpit strategy places key information in the driver’s line of sight, minimizing eye-time away from the road. To further reduce distractions, most infotainment functions can be managed via a console-mounted knob, rather than a touchscreen.

On the downside, some functions are buried too deeply in onscreen menus. 

The driver and front passenger sit high in the cabin. Narrow A and B pillars produce good forward and lateral sight lines but the sloping roofline and beefy C pillar impede rearward vision.

The rear seats are reasonably comfortable but limited legroom means this cabin is best suited to an adult or two and their offspring — or their belongings. 

Indeed, only so much usable space can be carved out of such a small package. There’s scant room between the rear seatbacks and liftgate and, even with the seatbacks dropped, cargo space is might best be described as modest.

All CX-3s are powered by a 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with AWD available on all three trim levels.

The  also efficient; AWD models clock in at 29 mpg combined/27 city/32 highway. 

For 2017, Mazda drops the price of its iActivSense safety and driver assistance suite, which is available only on the top-level Grand Touring trim. iActivSense includes adaptive radar-based cruise control; forward-collision alert and automatic braking; lane-departure warning; automatic high-beams; rain-sensing wipers; and automatic ON/OFF headlights, and is now priced at $1,150, a drop of $750.

It’s a good system but — and all good grandmothers would agree — it should be made available to every CX-3 owner.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com or visit www.dadair.com.

2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Vehicle base price: $19,960
Trim level base price: $24,240
As tested: $28,810
Options: rear bumper guard; roof rack with side rails; door sill trim plates; iActivSense driver-assist package.
Towing capacity: Not rated in US
EPA ratings: 29 combined/27 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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