The third member of the current Mazda crossover/SUV family, the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3, is a subcompact 5-door based on a platform shared with the next-gen Mazda2. Revealed in Los Angeles last November and on sale here later this fall, we recently slipped behind the wheel of this cheeky newcomer on a 300-mile drive that took us from Phoenix to the old mining town of Jerome in Arizona's Black Hills and back. A day-long mix of city, twisty two-lane and freeway work provided solid insight to Mazda's petite but impressively competent youth-oriented utility that will be taking on up-and-coming rivals like the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade as well as the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Kia Soul, Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke

Available in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims as well as front/AWD configurations, the new CX-3 incorporates the full suite of Mazda's efficiency-enhancing SkyActiv technologies and melds the latest take on the automaker's  "Kodo - Soul of Motion" exterior design language with a cabin that's both well-executed and user friendly. Beyond an impressive roster of standard equipment and premium touches across the entire range, the new CX-3 also offers Mazda's sophisticated i-Activsense driver assist/safety features.

Small really is beautiful 

Visually, the new CX-3 makes a dramatic first impression, from its edgy front fascia that portends future Mazda design themes to smoothly flowing body surfaces punctuated with slim LED-infused lighting - and full LED headlamps on the Grand Touring - as well as blackout D-pillars and a subtle hatch spoiler. The top-line GT model fills its wheelwells with 215/50 tires on 18-inch alloys in place of 215/60 rubber wrapped around 16-in steel/alloy rims on in its Sport/Touring siblings. 

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As the fifth Mazda vehicle with a full SkyActiv pedigree, the new CX-3 brings a similarly dynamic character to its driving experience. Dimensionally, the CX-3 is 10.4 inches shorter and 2.2 inches lower than a CX-5 and shares the same 101.2-inch wheelbase as the new Mazda2. Lightweight -- roughly 2,800 pounds in base form -- but robust, the CX-3 features a central structure composed of 63 percent high-strength or ultra-high strength steel. This extremely rigid core anchors a well-sorted suspension matching MacPherson struts up front with a new torsion-beam rear axle that has a unique configuration on models fitted with i-Activ AWD. Directional control comes from communicative electrically assisted power rack-and-pinion power steering system while vented disc/solid discs brakes provide confident stopping power. The formula yields a vehicle that's engaging, comfortable and fun under any driving situation. In addition to feeling considerably more substantial than its modest scale might imply, the CX-3's chassis strikes an excellent balance between compliance and control while keeping unwanted body motion in check during spirited cornering.

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All versions of the U.S.-spec Mazda CX-3 are equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine tuned to make 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission that features a Sport mode with rev matching on downshifts. GT models come with paddle shifters. Sprightly in front-drive, the acceleration of the CX-3 is a bit less so on AWD models where the system, which is 20 percent lighter than the one found in the CX-5, adds 170 pounds to the curb weight. Although EPA numbers are yet to be finalized, Mazda is projecting front-drive CX-3s will earn estimated best-in-class 29/35 mpg stats while their AWD counterparts will roll in with 27/32 mpg figures. 

Leveraging its inner beauty 

In keeping with its primary mission to attract young active-lifestyle singles and couples, the 2016 Mazda CX-3's cabin matches contemporary character and impressive isolation with an abundance of features. Even the cloth-trimmed base CX-3 Sport features a Mazda Connect Infotainment system, which includes a 7-inch touchscreen, multifunction rotary control and Bluetooth streaming phone/audio. The trim level also includes a full range of power assists, cruise control, a tilt-telescoping steering column and air conditioning. The top Grand Touring versions we spent time in add everything from leather/Lux Suede upholstery, a power moonroof and dual-zone climate control to Navigation, Bose audio and Mazda's trick head-up Active Driving Display. 

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Although lacking power adjustability, the CX-3's front seats are based on the same superb design as those in the Mazda6 and deliver equally high levels of comfort and support. Nearly as comfortable in its own right, the 60/40 split rear bench offers more in the way of head room than leg room, but its backs do fold flat to create a good load floor when cargo calls and the CX-3's decent-sized hatch facilitates loading and unloading. Mazda had no official word on dimensions or capacities, but we suspect at least one - the new Honda HR-V - and possibly more of the CX-3's key rivals will offer more absolute seat/stow space. 

Setting the standard for active safety 

Part of the firm's boast that the CX-3 delivers "class-defying features" centers on its standard and available safety elements. One key to support that contention is the i-Activesense Package offered on the Grand Touring. These assists adds lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, Smart Brake Support, Smart City Brake Support, a rear camera and Mazda Radar Cruise Control. While the only other technical option set is Touring-only Premium that brings Bose sound, the power moonroof, SiriuxXM radio and more, Mazda has confirmed that the SD-card based Navigation will be available for the Sport and Touring as a dealer option. 

Final pricing for the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is yet to be announced, but expect the CX-3 Sport to start "in the low $20s" and AWD to add about $1,250 to any version. A CX-3 Grand Touring AWD with the iActivesense Package will likely cost around $30,000. 

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