A rougher ride with the CX-3

Mazda has expanded its SUV offerings since the days when the compact CX-7 and the midsize CX-9 were the beginning and end of its repertoire. The CX-9 is still on the market, but Mazda now offers the compact CX-5 and subcompact CX-3. We were thoroughly impressed with the 2014 CX-5 we test-drove in 2013. As for the CX-3, its small cargo area and lack of refinement compared with the Mazda3, on which it's based, blunted our reaction to its taut handling and exceptional fuel economy.

When we last test-drove a Mazda3 in 2014, we described it as “a medium-priced compact sedan that aspires to near-luxury performance status, and mostly meets the standard.” Close your eyes while in the passenger seat of a Mazda3 on a winding road, and you'll be able to imagine yourself riding in an entry-level European sport sedan.

The CX-3 was noisier, with a firmer ride and a rougher personality. We'd have liked it better if it had been more like the Mazda3. After all, most people don't buy a CX-3 with the intent of driving it off the pavement. Rather, it's a hedge against snow and icy conditions.

Our CX-3 was a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model with all-wheel drive. Base-priced at $26,240, its bottom line came to $29,790, mostly because of a $1,920 GT I-Activesense package that bundled several desirable safety features.

For front-seat passengers, the CX-3 provides plenty of leg room and head room; however, seating in back is tight. Controls are straightforward and convenient. The multi-function Commander Control, which we've used before in other Mazdas, is easy to use and enables the driver to keep his eyes on the road.

The base CX-3 Sport, with front-wheel drive, starts at $20,840, including destination charge. A basic all-wheel-drive model can be had for a little more than $22,000. All CX-3s have the same 146-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. With front-wheel drive, the CX-3 delivers an impressive 35 mpg on the highway, using regular unleaded gasoline.

Even in Sport trim, the CX-3 has a respectable standard-equipment list: push-button ignition, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, Bluetooth, rotary audio control on the center console, and rear-view camera. The Grand Touring model's list was much longer: heated front seats, power driver's seat, blind-spot monitoring automatic climate control, navigation system, power moonroof and more.

Mazda's decision to offer downsized crossover SUVs is looking like a good one. According to Automotive News, the segment – inhabited by the CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V – saw sales double in the past year. The CX-3, a new model, managed 1,375 units sold in January. “This all-new segment and model for Mazda continues to outperform sales expectations,” Mazda stated in a Feb. 2 news release.

Crash-test data on the CX-3 are not yet available. The Mazda3 sedan has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy (semacoyt@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Mazda CX3 Grand Touring AWD

Price: $29,790

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 146 horsepower, 146 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 6.2 in.

Weight: 2,952 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 18x7-in. alloy

Tires: P215/50R V all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 10.1 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 42.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline