Originally published May 4, 2015

Scottsdale, Arizona – It’s not often I desperately want to drive that road again in a crossover, but there I was, looking for a safe pullout where we could head back over the pass between the ghost town of Jerome and points west and south like Prescott and Phoenix. The Mazda CX-3 made me do it. It made me forget I was driving a subcompact crossover. It focused my attention on the weight transfer under heavy braking, the whine of the little 2.0L four-cylinder screaming up to its 6,500 rpm redline, turning the steering wheel, and lo and behold, the car simply diving into a corner a crossover simply has no business attacking. So we turned around. We went back. We drove it again, my driving partner and me each getting an extra dose of Hwy 89A’s twists and turns, sometimes even without dawdling traffic holding us up.

But you’re not here for that are you. Dammit Mazda, quit confusing us poor helpless enthusiast automotive writers. Don’t you know that all customers care about is cargo capacity, ease of entry and fuel efficiency? And getting a sunroof without leather seats (or vice versa)? And the tan leather interior with the red exterior? Why do you keep delivering little cars that are just so damned fun to drive, distracting us from critical issues like lack of an armrest, or the weird location of the cupholders?

Okay, time to get back to work and examine the CX-3 in context, in relation to its peers rather than for its connection to the roads we live to drive. The CX-3 joins an exploding segment, the Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi RVR, Chevy Trax and Subaru XV Crosstrek having established a foothold in the crossover market, and now the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X all slotting in beneath the conventional compact crossover segment. Mazda, as in other segments, is aiming to distinguish themselves with a quality interior, sporty driving dynamics (I think we’ve established that it delivers on that front, yes?) and good solid value with a range of technology in a sophisticated package.

A spirited driving experience has long been Mazda’s calling card, and despite the simplicity of the CX-3 on paper, it delivers that quality up and down those roads you go out of your way to tackle. It all starts with the platform, sharing its basic building blocks with the CX-5 and Mazda3, but shorter than either and taller than the Mazda3. By using high-tensile steel in key areas (and 63 percent of the body overall) combined with the shorter wheelbase, Mazda was able to eliminate two heavy cross members and the extensions of the longitudinal beams under the trunk by stamping the floor in the shape of the beam and designing it to dissipate energy in the event of a collision. The result, a lighter, more rigid body with top crashworthiness targets. Curb weight lands at 1,275 kg in FWD and 1,339 kg in AWD trim, lighter than most competitors, including the new Honda HR-V (1,320 FWD CVT/1,389 AWD CVT).

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