Mulholland Highway is legendary. A writhing ribbon of 2-lane blacktop draped atop the Santa Monica Mountains, it stretches from suburban Calabasas to Pacific Coast Highway, a driving enthusiast’s version of Mecca, one best driven on a weekday afternoon after the cyclists are off the road and while the talentless hordes and their home-built drift machines are stuck in the Valley doing the 9-to-5 grind.
Yet here I am, on a Saturday morning, running hard on the stretch between Decker and Encinal Canyon, a huge and entirely unexpected grin on my face. My hands grip the perfectly shaped steering wheel of a 2016 Mazda CX-3, the Sport driving mode is engaged, the 146-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is revving smoothly but loudly, and I’m astonished at how much fun I’m having slinging this subcompact crossover SUV from curve to curve.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be. Mazda is, after all, the purveyor of automobiles that go “zoom-zoom” and, as of late, the auto industry assertor that “driving matters.” Nevertheless, after an overnight trip to Palm Springs in this cramped, buzzing, and bouncing little box on wheels, expectations for driving enjoyment on my usual test loop were tepidly optimistic at best. Thus, my audible giggling as the CX-3 tore down Mulholland like a Chihuahua on crack.
Easily the most engaging vehicle in its class to drive (with the possible exception of the Nissan Juke NISMO RS) on a twisty 2-lane road, the Mazda CX-3 is a crossover SUV only because an all-wheel-drive system is an option. With no more than 6.2 inches of ground clearance, a smidgeon more than a Mazda Mazda3 supplies, the CX-3 is basically a 5-door hatchback sitting on a Mazda Mazda2 platform. Since people don’t want to buy cars anymore, Mazda cancelled the Mazda2 in the U.S. market, effectively replacing it with the CX-3.
My test vehicle was the mid-grade Touring model with front-wheel drive and small 16-inch wheels wearing 60-series all-season rubber. And it was still fun to drive. I can only imagine what the bigger 18-inch footprint on the Grand Touring trim level might do for this spunky little sport-ute’s ability to plaster a smile on the driver’s face.
Passenger and cargo room are sacrificed for style. Despite significant front overhang and a stubby tail, the CX-3 looks exactly right from any angle, and especially in Grand Touring trim. Tall adults will not enjoy riding in the back seat, and this is not a good vehicle for new parents with children in car seats. Plus, the 12.4 cu.-ft. trunk is tiny and maximum cargo volume of 44.5 cu.-ft. is stingy even among other mini-SUVs.
Singles and couples without kids will find the CX-3 appealing, especially the Grand Touring model. It boasts leather, automatic climate control, a power sunroof, a Bose premium sound system, navigation, a head-up display, and a slew of LED lights. All of this, and more, costs just $25,870. You’ll even get paddle shifters that might actually prove useful rather than decorative.
Better yet, the Grand Touring opens the door to Mazda’s suite of i-ActiveSense driver assistance and collision prevention technologies, including low-speed pedestrian detection and all-speed automatic emergency braking. A blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is standard for Touring and Grand Touring models, while all CX-3s have a Mazda Connect infotainment system with E911 automatic emergency calling capability.
Consider the Mazda CX-3 from the proper perspective, and you’ll find it quite appealing. This vehicle is all about style and dynamism trimmed in technology and value. Practicality and utility take a figurative back seat.
Therefore, if you can’t live with the CX-3’s cramped seating, restricted cargo space, and lack of aptitude when the pavement ends and the dirt begins, choose something else to drive. If, however, you’re more inclined to zip around corners, slice-and-dice through traffic, and occasionally take the long way home, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is the subcompact SUV to put in your driveway.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2016 Mazda CX-3 page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Copyright 2016 AutoWeb/Christian Wardlaw/Mazda