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Mazda CX-3 a youthful crossover even a grandmother could love

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2017 Mazda CX-3 exterior

The CX-3 is small, sporty and exuberantly designed. Its $20,000 price tag targets first-time buyers.

If you’d asked me last month to describe the typical Mazda CX-3 driver, school teachers would have made the cut. Grandmothers probably not.

The CX-3 is Mazda’s subcompact crossover. It’s small, sporty and exuberantly designed. Its $20,000 price tag targets first-time buyers — young professionals and educators, families just getting started.

But a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law Lori announce there would be a CX-3 in her future. A longtime schoolteacher, Lori satisfies one of our criteria. But she’s also a grandmother, which blows up our tidy categories.

2017 Mazda CX-3

The littlest Mazda’s Interior is contemporary and fresh.

Admittedly, I had to consider Lori’s news before the sense of it began to sink in; Her kids may be grown and gone, but she remains, as they say, young at heart.

On reflection, she and the CX-3 seemed a good fit.

Now in its second year of production, the CX-3 has carved out a unique niche. Lightweight and responsive, it’s one of the segment’s most enjoyable rides. Spot-on steering and crisp handling affirm Mazda’s Driving Matters tag line.

Yet, despite the CX-3’s short wheelbase and taut suspension, ride quality is very good and the cabin is surprisingly quiet even at highway speeds.

If I had to guess, I’d say design was a driver in Lori’s decision. Crisp and flowing character lines lace the CX-3’s tidy exterior. Interior design is contemporary and fresh, and top of-the-line models, like our Grand Touring tester, sport soft-touch surfaces, attractive materials and state-of-the-art infotainment options.

Mazda’s Head-up cockpit strategy places key information in the driver’s line of sight, minimizing eye-time away from the road. To further reduce distractions, most infotainment functions can be managed via a console-mounted knob, rather than a touchscreen.

On the downside, some functions are buried too deeply in onscreen menus.

The driver and front passenger sit high in the cabin. Narrow A and B pillars produce good forward and lateral sight lines but the sloping roofline and beefy C pillar impede rearward vision.

The rear seats are reasonably comfortable but limited legroom means this cabin is best suited to an adult or two and their offspring — or their belongings.

Indeed, only so much usable space can be carved out of such a small package. There’s scant room between the rear seatbacks and liftgate and, even with the seatbacks dropped, cargo space is might best be described as modest.

All CX-3s are powered by a 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with AWD available on all three trim levels.

The also efficient; AWD models clock in at 29 mpg combined/27 city/32 highway.

For 2017, Mazda drops the price of its iActivSense safety and driver assistance suite, which is available only on the top-level Grand Touring trim. iActivSense includes adaptive radar-based cruise control; forward-collision alert and automatic braking; lane-departure warning; automatic high-beams; rain-sensing wipers; and automatic ON/OFF headlights, and is now priced at $1,150, a drop of $750.

It’s a good system but — and all good grandmothers would agree — it should be made available to every CX-3 owner.

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2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Vehicle base price: $19,960
Trim level base price: $24,240
As tested: $28,810
Options: rear bumper guard; roof rack with side rails; door sill trim plates; iActivSense driver-assist package.
Towing capacity: Not rated in US
EPA ratings: 29 combined/27 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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