The Regular Guy Reviews: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

Dec 16, 2015 01:50 PM EST | Benjamin Preston

Mazda makes nice-looking cars, and the CX-3 is certainly no exception. It's long snout, short rear end and curvaceous haunches bring sexy muscle car proportions to the small crossover. The wide grille does all it can to project Mazda's Kodo "soul of motion" design language. In that regard, it largely succeeds.

The top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim brings a touch of luxury to the interior – nice work from Mazda, which is often accused of using chintzy materials. Not so with the Grand Touring model we tried. Cream colored leather seats featured soft black suede inserts and striking red piping. The dash was crisp and pleasant to look at, and housed a Bose 7-speaker audio system.

Mazda offers all versions of the CX-3 with its direct-injection 146-horsepower 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is capable of brisk acceleration and respectable fuel economy. Handling is agile, and while the powertrain isn't sports car powerful, it works well with the car's small size to foster a fun driving experience and respectable fuel economy. The ride reminded me of driving a go kart; and, in that way, it resembled a Mini Cooper. The all-wheel drive kept the wheels from spinning on early acceleration out of turns, and is undoubtedly a huge bonus in wet and snowy weather.

Around the city, the CX-3's short, 101.2-inch wheelbase and 14-foot overall length makes for a car that's maneuverable and easy to park in tight spaces. On larger roads and at higher speeds, however, that compromise makes itself felt, and the vehicle tends to be a bit less composed than its larger stablemates. That makes me wonder about its Grand Touring label. Isn't that something of a misnomer?

Another drawback of the CX-3's compact dimensions is its cramped interior, but that's not a unique problem in the compact crossover segment. I'm not a large person, but there wasn't much space behind the front seats. With the front seats extended for taller passengers, back seat legroom would be all but eliminated. The cargo space behind the rear seats was tiny, although folding the rear seats offered significantly more room.

As with the Mazda6, the CX-3's infotainment system controls were intuitive and easy to use. The audio system sounded good.

In short, the new Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD offers a lot for less than $30,000. Almost luxurious inside, its semi-sporty handling and good looks should be enough to lure buyers into Mazda's fold. But is that enough? It depends on what you want out of a compact crossover. In my opinion, the CX-3 wasn't quite as fun to drive as the Nissan Juke, which also had a more accessible cargo hold. But its looks are also less polarizing than the funky Juke. In fact, compared with other models in the segment - the Chevrolet Trax, the Mini Cooper Paceman and the Honda HR-V, among others - the CX-3 comes out ahead in the styling department.

But that's always what the car-buying choice boils down to. What turns you on? Among so many other viable choices, it may even come down to number-crunching on safety, reliability and resale value studies. Going by Kelley Blue Book's market evaluation, resale is a moot point if you're not shopping for a Jeep Wrangler or a Subaru. So do the Mazda's curves beckon? That's up to you.

By the numbers: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

MSRP: $29,790 (estimated price as tested, includes $880 destination charge)

Power and drive wheels: 2-liter, 146-horsepower 4-cylinder; all-wheel drive

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

EPA fuel economy: 27/32 city/highway mpg

Safety: Not yet rated by IIHS and the federal government.

In showrooms: Now

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