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Roseville, Calif.- My first thought when I saw the all-new Mazda CX-3: Is this really a sport utility vehicle? It looks more like a tall hatchback than a subcompact SUV.

Is there a plan behind Mazda labeling the 2016 Mazda CX-3 as an SUV? You betcha. Most U.S. car buyers prefer an SUV over a hatchback or a wagon. So putting the SUV tag on the CX-3 could go under the category of savvy marketing.

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There are definitely a lot of similarities between the CX-3 and the very popular Mazda3. However, the CX-3 is 7.3 inches shorter in length, narrower by one inch, and sits 3.4 inches higher than the Mazda3, which has more interior space.

The CX-3 is based on the revamped Mazda2, which is expected to debut sometime in 2016. One expects the CX-3 to be comparable to the highly praised CX-5 SUV, but it’s is definitely not a smaller version of Mazda’s compact SUV.

2016 Mazda CX-3

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 146 horsepower;
  • Mileage estimate: 27-35 mpg
  • Price: $19,960 to $26,240
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance 3 years/36,000; corrosion 5 years/unlimited

There are some definite positive aspects concerning the CX-3, but interior space isn’t one of them. Interior room is the biggest drawback to the CX-3. The backseat can feel cramped for larger folks and the trunk space is inadequate with 12.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats. With the backseat folded down, the space increases to 44.5 cubic feet, which is far short of another new subcompact SUV – the Honda HR-V (58.8).

The CX-3, which starts at just under $20,000, has competition that includes the HR-V, the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, and the spunky, turbocharged Nissan Juke. It would be surprising to see some more newcomers emerging since the subcompact class has become more popular in recent years.

Standard features for the CX-3 include rear roof spoiler; push-button ignition; Bluetooth (phone, audio); rearview camera; six-speaker audio system (CD player, USB port, auxiliary audio jack, Aha/Pandora/Stitcher Internet radio); and 7-inch touchscreen with voice control.

The CX-3 comes in three trims (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring), but has just one engine, a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque.

The front-wheel drive CX-3 goes 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, giving it a little more quickness than most of its rivals. It registers solid gas mileage of 27-35 mpg. Note that the CX-3 has an all-wheel drive option.

Although the ride is firm, handling and precise steering are two strong qualities of the six-speed automatic CX-3. The car can be noisy at higher rpms and has some wind noise as well.

While not a fan of the overall interior makeup, the CX-3 does provide solid room for the driver and passenger. The cabin has a black cloth interior and is efficiently set up. It features a sleek dashboard, is made of good quality materials, and is fairly easy to master. The interior does not include a center console and could use a few larger storage areas.

The CX-3 is a nice addition to the growing class of subcompact vehicles. It has solid versatility, better than average performance, and provides a nice ride. However, for a few thousand dollars more, one might consider passing on the CX-3 and purchasing the more practical compact CX-5.

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