MALIBU, Calif. -- We follow wiggly asphalt trails through Malibu canyons like Encinal and Zuma on a wheel-squealing romp across the Santa Monica Mountains steering Mazda's new CX-3, a curvy-cool crossover utility vehicle for the itty-bitty subcompact class.
Don't let the wee dimensions deceive you: Mazda's latest vehicle preserves the sporty fun-to-drive traits we expect from that "Zoom-Zoom" brand out of Japan. It seems like the CX-3's product designers mated an agile sports car with the structure of a SUV.
Mazda makes the CX-3 in 5-door hatchback wagon format in three trim grades (Sport, Touring, Grand Touring) with each available in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction mode and packing a punchy SKYACTIV-G 4-in-line engine plus a smooth SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed electronic automatic transaxle with manual shift mode.
The 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G 4-cylinder engine -- outfitted with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing with multi-hole injectors to enhance fuel spray characteristics -- musters 145 hp at 6000 rpm with 146 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm.
EPA fuel economy figures for the 2.0-liter engine in front-wheel-drive configuration climb to 29 miles per gallon for city driving and up to 35 mpg on the highway. Add optional all-wheel-drive traction and the EPA numbers come to 27/32 mpg (city/highway).
Styling of the 2016 CX-3 appears lean and aggressive with swoopy exterior lines spread across a broad structure and bulbous arched fenders that protrude beyond a curt roll of the front hood to articulate the large low-profile tires mounted on aluminum alloy wheels. A raked windshield flows over the roofline that tapers toward a curt hatchback tail, seeming like a sporty coupe due to the muted outline of rear cabin doors.
The face focuses on a prominent 7-fin wing grille set between narrow streaking corner headlight clusters with optional LED tube lines linking lamps and grill.
Like a curve-craving sports sedan, Mazda's CX-3 rides on the front-wheel-drive chassis of a car. The vehicle contains a rigid high-tensile steel structure with wheelbase of 101.2-inch wheelbase and overall length of 168.3 inches.
For stopping power, a disc brake mounts at each wheel with front vented rotors and rear solid rotors. All tie to an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution, traction control system plus a dynamic stability control anti-skid device.
Mazda's optional all-wheel-drive traction system suits weather-challenged venues. The electronic AWD hardware disburses engine torque between front and rear wheels as warranted by pavement traction situations.
Cabin dimensions inside the CX-3 are generous, despite the pint-size category of subcompacts. And Mazda trims it with downright upscale features, as all trim grades stock a push-button starter, power windows and power door locks, a remote keyless entry system, backup camera and the Mazda Connect infotainment device with Bluetooth, audio streaming, USB ports and a 7-inch color touchscreen interface.
The CX-3 Sport rolls on 16-inch steel wheels capped by 215/60R16 tires and provides standard air conditioning, cruise control, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, premium cloth seat upholstery with 60/40 split-fold rear bench seat and Mazda Connect with AM/FM/CD player.
The CX-3 Touring adds 16-inch alloy wheels, heated exterior mirrors with mirror-mounted turn signal lamps and a 6-speaker audio system. Optional gear ranges from leatherette seats to a 7-speaker premium Bose audio system and power glass moonroof.
The CX-3 Grand Touring dresses up with big 18-inch alloy wheels and 215/50R18 tires, LED headlights with adaptive front lighting plus LED fog lights and LED daytime running lamps, power moonroof, automatic climate control system, Active Driving Display, paddle shifters, leather/Lux Suede seats, driver and front passenger seat heaters, a navigation system, 7-speaker Bose premium audio system, SiriusXM/HD radio and a rear cargo cover.
The optional GT i-ACTIVSENSE package encompasses Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, lane-departure warning system, high beam control, automatic on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
Mazda's CX-3 MSRP points begin at $19,969 for CX-3 Sport FWD. Top model CX-3 Grand Touring AWD tallies to 26,240, with the i-ACTIVSENSE package adding $1,920.