2016 Mazda CX-3 First Drive

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So, you’re growing up. That two-seat sports car was a great companion for many years, but there’s just not enough space for your stuff, your friends, your dog. What are you to do?

Check out the 2016 Mazda CX-3, that’s what.

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For the driver who loves the feel of a buttoned-down sports car, but needs a bit more practicality in the day-to-day grind, the CX-3 might just be the perfect fit. It’s light, it’s peppy, it’s fun to drive, it gets good gas mileage, it’s affordable, and it looks great. Let’s elaborate on those traits.

First up, the 2016 CX-3 tips the scales at just 2,809 pounds in front-drive form. That’s just 3 pounds heavier than the automatic-transmission Scion FR-S. That’s right. With four doors, a cargo area, and its own two wheels providing motive force, the CX-3 manages to tip the scales  barely any more than a light, nimble sports coupe—one that has been widely praised for its handling and nimbleness. Put in a more appropriate context, the CX-3 weighs about 100 pounds less than the CVT-equipped base-spec Honda HR-V.

2016 Mazda CX-3

2016 Mazda CX-3

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That’s the first point, because it affects nearly all of the others. Light weight makes for greater agility, better acceleration from a not-too-potent engine, better steering feel, and it even boosts gas mileage.

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Next up: the peppy, fun-to-drive qualities. Pep is provided by the 146-hp, 146-lb-ft output of the 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G four-cylinder engine. It’s managed quite well through the six-speed automatic transmission that is the only choice. In the Grand Touring model, paddle shifters are included for more driver control (Sport and Touring models offer manual shift mode through the console-mounted shift lever). A “Sport” button ticks up throttle response and transmission behavior. All of these combine to deliver a surprisingly satisfying pace of acceleration despite the none-too-impressive numbers (to sports car fans, at least).

Mix in the light weight and Mazda’s proven ability to tune a chassis and suspension, and you have a recipe for fun, engaging driving that’s rarely found in the crossover world, much less in the low-$20,000s. The electric power steering offers just the right amount of assistance, never feeling too heavy or too light, with a sense of feel that is, if not sports car-like, closer to that goal than anyone has a right to expect. Tossing the CX-3 around Arizona canyon roads, the little crossover felt more like a little hatchback, and a damn good one at that.

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