Our latest update on our Mazda CX-3 long-term tester sees us heading off road to try out the car’s added ground clearance and AWD system. One of the key questions we’ve been asked is “Why would you buy this over a Mazda3?” and the answer is height and AWD. The CX-3 also has better insulation from wind and road noise and is a more substantial, comfortable package – but I digress.

Part of the draw for many buyers is likely the higher seating position and the easier egress and ingress that allows, but the ground clearance and AWD system make it a more winter-friendly device too. With some time between now and skid pad weather I wondered how I’d test that claim… and then I saw a gravel road.

Oh gravel road! Your potholes and dimples, your ruts and gullies, your soft, muddy shoulders and loose, scrabbly surfaces… oh, how I love you so.

So how’d the CX-3 hold up?

Driven gently the CX-3 handled the terrain with aplomb. Most importantly my trajectory was never altered even by large mid-corner potholes. Driven a little harder and the suspension began to crash a little over the bigger bumps, never upsetting the body proper, but definitely letting enough noise and harshness into the cabin to convince me to back off a touch.

The interior held up to the punishment too, I expected to hear some rattles and shakes from the dashboard or the switch gear while I bounced along my little track, but heard none.

I tested the slip-and-grip AWD system with a now-common “torture test” I like to give anything with an AWD badge. I stopped dead on a fairly steep gradient with one wheel in a muddy gully and the other three on loose stones and then gave it 100 percent throttle – up it went.

On smoother gravel the CX-3 was a joy, skipping through corners with just a hint of four-wheel slide, braking with confidence and turning in as smartly as it does on tarmac. Here, the balance of this fun-to-drive chassis really shows its stuff, dancing along the gravel track as though it wished I was a better driver.

Like to drive? Like to drive in tricky conditions? CX-3 does too.

But what about that ground clearance? Is it really helpful? You can thank a low-lying road and torrential rain for my ability to report that yes, it really is.

As one person in a compact sedan sat on the edge of floodway, summoning up the courage to ford it I watched a Jeep go through ahead of me. The water came just up to his hubs, so I figured I’d have enough clearance to get through. I was right.

More on autoTRADER.ca: First Look: 2016 Mazda CX-3

Bravo little Mazda! I enjoyed that experience so much I turned around and did it again, the whole time shouting “I am master of the flood!” and “Noah, ain’t got nothing on me!” Rain storms make me a little loopy sometimes.

During the last month I also discovered one of the frustrating quirks of the tight packaging in the CX-3. Turns out you must choose between space or bass. The false floor lowers to open up a touch more vertical space – which would have been perfect to wedge my carry-on bags and assorted other stuff in and allow me to still use the privacy cover. But, when you have the optional sub-woofer, there’s no longer enough clearance to get the false floor to fit into the pre-formed channels – so you’re stuck with the higher height.

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