2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring Specs

The models and moods are many in the neo-popular car segment of subcompact crossovers. Suit your style with at least eight choices, including the Nissan Juke, Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V and Mini Countryman. And today’s tester, the Mazda CX-3, which just went on sale.

Mazda says styling and drivability will differentiate its new subcompact from the others. And then there is its Mazda DNA for driving smack.

The CX-3 is sold in three trim levels in front or all-wheel drive, all with a 146-horsepower, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission with Sport mode and paddle shifters. Pricing ranges from $20,840 to $29,040 for the loaded GT with all-wheel drive and the i-ACTIVSENSE safety package ($1,920), which includes radar cruise control, Smart City Brake Support, automatic high-beam control, lane departure warning. Pricing includes the $880 freight charge from Hiroshima, Japan.

Standard features include keyless entry and push-button ignition, rearview camera, Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7-inch color touchscreen, voice command and Aha-Pandora-Stitcher Internet radio.

Today’s front-wheel-drive Touring tester starts at $22,840 and was a reasonable $24,750 with a couple of options and including the freight charge.

This is a new model for the brand and it will become one of the core products, said vehicle line manager Dan Calahan at a recent media drive. The CX-3 will appeal to young, urban singles and couples, he said. “They value experiences over materials things and like products that reflect their individuality,” he said. “They drive because they like to drive, not because they HAVE to drive.”

The CX-3 is taller than the compact-class Mazda3 and longer than the subcompact Mazda2 hatch. But it’s not an SUV Mazda2 and it’s not a mini CX-5, said Ken Saward, design manager. He said the exterior styling has genuine beauty at the cutting edge. “It’s like a predator with pent-up energy and is ready to strike,” he said. “That’s the zen of Mazda’s Kodo design style.”

Inside, the horizontal instrument panel gives a feeling of width and the engineers scalloped out the door panels for width and spaciousness. The interior has appealing plastics and sturdy assembly. The GT gets the richest treatment of two-tone leather upholstery with piping, perforated centers and red, gray or black stitching.

The four-seat cabin is small but roomy with 37.6 inches of front headroom (with the moonroof) and comfortable entry and exit. There is a center armrest for driver and passenger, which is an uncommon extra in this class of car. But the armrest also partially covers the two console cup holders. Controls are smartly placed and maximize space to get the most out of a tiny area. But daytime gauge lighting needed to be brighter. And making adjustments to the radio and media choices takes time to master.

The back seats are inset a bit and raised for visibility. The 60/40 seatback folds for decent cargo space.

For those who value fun in driving, the 146-horsepower engine has decent kick and the six-speed automatic in Sport mode has a lot of fun holding gears and diving into corners. Fuel economy is 29 mpg city, 35 highway, on 87 octane; AWD is 27/32 mpg.

The steering is tactile and responsive. Braking (front and rear discs) rolls on smoothly and feels confident. The CX-3 has an independent front suspension but a torsion-beam rear, which allows flatter cargo area. Torsion beam systems can be clunky over bumps but Mazda has adjusted the angle to have the damping action occur a nanosecond sooner to ease over the bump.

There was a big difference in the ride qualities between the front-drive model and AWD. The suspension in my front drive tester was busy on rough roads and bouncy. The AWD model was much more composed and confident in sporty driving with an almost rear-drive push in the seat of the pants.

There was a major update to the all-wheel drive system, “engineered to know how to predict road conditions so it can provide the correct grip,” said chief engineer Stan Hortinela. “The system detects an imminent road change and predicts how to deliver the torque,” he said. The system mitigates the tendency to slip before the rear wheels kick in,” he said, calling it a “predictive system versus a “reactive” system that is still used in most of the competitors.

There is lot going on inside this car. It feels remarkably large for a subcompact and there are engaging and clever details for its price. But it is its Mazda purity that connects with every turn of the wheel..

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage