The Test: As we discovered on the tight asphalt winding up the Santa Monica Mountains, the Mazda’s feel for the road is more sports car than budget-minded crossover. That makes sense, since the new CX-3 shares the same two-liter, four-cylinder engine as the new MX-5 sports convertible.
On paper, its 146 horsepower doesn’t inspire awe, but Mazda wrings more juice out of it by planting the engine in the lightest vehicle in its class, installing a crisp six-speed transmission, and stiffening the suspension for performance. Even with our aggressive driving, the CX-3 delivered 27 miles per gallon.
We only wish there had been snow on the ground to test Mazda’s proactive AWD system: it uses 27 sensors to gauge slip, air temperature, precipitation, and how quickly the steering wheel is being turned, then determines whether to power all four wheels. Perks aside, there’s hardly enough space (44.5 cubic feet) to jam in a bike with the rear seats down, and at 6.1 inches the clearance is what we expect on a compact.
The Verdict: The driving enthusiast’s choice for practical AWD transport.
$19,960; 27 mpg city/32 hwy