Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Driving -

Com­pact crossovers are an odd species. Though not big or ca­pa­ble enough to be taken se­ri­ously as true all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles, they lure dis­en­chanted hatch­back buy­ers han­ker­ing for bulk, a more com­mand­ing driv­ing po­si­tion and some­thing just plain dif­fer­ent. Join the queue.

Mazda's CX-3 ticks all the afore­men­tioned boxes. But be­sides that, it also has a zippy, growly yet re­fined pow­er­train and sharp han­dling that makes it a fun car to drive around town.

A kind of smaller clone of its bigger CX-5 sta­ble­mate, it leans more to­wards the car-ori­ented end of the cross­over spec­trum. It's got some of the cross­over look – though less so than some com­peti­tors – that is in­tended to res­onate with its owner's pre­sum­ably out­doors, ac­tive life­style.

From the driver's seat, The CX-3 does seem to have more in com­mon with Mazda's pas­sen­ger car line, which is af­ter all what it's based on. It sits a mod­est 160 mm or so off the ground and over­all doesn't have quite the pur­pose-built look and feel of a fam­ily cross­over, which might or­di­nar­ily have fea­tures such as roof rails.

If both­ered by the thought of mov­ing from small-car com­fort and con­ve­nience to a cabin de­signed more around util­i­tar­ian prac­ti­cal­ity, fear not: the CX-3 will feel en­tirely fa­mil­iar and car-driver-friendly. The in­te­rior presents a re­fined am­bi­ence with leather/cloth trim and sen­si­bly laid out controls.

Front ac­com­mo­da­tion is am­ple, but taller pas­sen­gers might feel a lit­tle short-changed at the rear, con­sid­er­ing the way the roofline slopes down­wards. Given the ve­hi­cle's per­ceived role, per­haps some more stowage space would have been a good thing, es­pe­cially in the boot.

Al­though some ve­hi­cles in this price bracket – and that in­cludes crossovers – are turn­ing to­wards down­sized en­gines us­ing tur­bocharg­ing, the nor­mally as­pi­rated Skyak­tiv di­rect in­jec­tion 2,0-litre petrol en­gine re­lies on the adage that there's no sub­sti­tute for cu­bic inches. As a re­sult, a smooth flow of torque is avail­able across a wide band for easy low-speed lug­ging. Fuel econ­omy is ac­tu­ally not bad, con­sid­er­ing.

The “learn­ing” auto box seems quicker than most to re­spond to one's driv­ing style. So, if you sud­denly start throw­ing the CX-3 about, it's quick to re­spond by down­shift­ing more ea­gerly and hold­ing on to a lower gear for longer to pro­vide en­gine brak­ing as you en­ter a bend.

Part of the driver aid suite, by the way, is G-vec­tor­ing, which uses the en­gine's torque to main­tain op­ti­mum body po­si­tion and thereby im­prove han­dling. A side-ben­e­fit of this is said to be re­duced driver fa­tigue be­cause you don't have to keep tweak­ing the steer­ing.

Ride is con­trolled and verg­ing on firm, with­out be­ing harsh, on its 18-inch al­loy wheels. As a re­sult the driver can feel quite con­fi­dent about pick­ing up the pace when nec­es­sary. The elec­tri­cally as­sisted steer­ing is light yet pre­cise, with suf­fi­cient feed­back from the wheels to keep driver in­volve­ment lev­els high.

Our col­leagues at CAR were moved to de­scribe the whole ex­pe­ri­ence as en­gag­ing and I'd be in­clined to agree.

The In­di­vid­ual Plus model tested here is one of the more re­cent ad­di­tions to the CX-3 range. As the flag­ship model, it comes with a com­pre­hen­sive stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion that in­cludes Sat-nav, sta­bil­ity con­trol, brake sup­port, blind spot and lane de­par­ture warn­ing and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with touch­screen in­ter­face.

I can't see the CX-3 be­ing bought pri­mar­ily for treks to out-of-the way camp­sites or ex­tended jaunts on farm tracks, but in fair­ness it's aimed at a more ur­ban life­style. There, at­tributes such as sleek styling, wieldy driv­abil­ity, ease of ac­cess and re­fined in­te­rior and ride add up to a cross­over with sporty in­ten­tions that is much more in tune with ur­ban war­riors. – A NTHONY DO­MAN

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