Mazda's decision to keep capacity high and go in search of cleanliness and frugality elsewhere has paid dividends again. Its Skyactiv engine suits the CX-3 extremely well; an entry-level option this petrol engine may be, but it certainly doesn't feel it.
You'll find yourself changing down a gear on particularly steep hills or when executing a countryside overtake, but most of the time the 2.0-litre unit is willing to pull from low revs. It has to be coaxed if you want a real turn of speed, but that's no hardship considering it remains so smooth. It's not particularly noisy near the redline, either.
The gearshifts is typically sweet for a Mazda, so when you do need to work the manual gearbox, there's no issue. It has a lovely throw and the precision with which it finds each gear is something rivals such as the Captur and Cactus could learn from.
With less weight over its front wheels than the diesel, this petrol feels slightly more agile at the front axle. You'll want to exploit that, too; the steering is a little vague off centre but weights up nicely by a quarter turn, and once settled the body stays upright and there's a good amount of grip to explore.
More of a problem is the ride. Our Sport Nav test car wore 18in alloy wheels, which picked up on sharp-edged imperfections too readily, and our experience of 16in wheels on the same route tells us they're the more comfortable option. Vertical body movements over harsh bumps and undulations is noticeable no matter which CX-3 you buy.
With its 18in alloy wheels, our car also kicked up quite a bit of tyre roar, particularly over the coarser roads of our route. The engine settles down at a cruise, though, and there's very little wind noise to report.
Inside there's a decent amount of room, and steering wheel and seat adjustment for the driver is generous, although tall rear passengers will find the top and side of their head resting on the ceiling and their knees against the front seatbacks.
The boot is a useful 350 litres in size (reduced to 287 for Sport Nav models thanks to a Bose subwoofer) and all cars come with an adjustable boot floor. With the rear seats split 60/40 and folded, you get a flat load bay front to back. However, the relatively small opening means access to the boot isn't class-leading.
Cabin quality isn't game-changing, but the classy trim inserts, soft, dense plastics and leather details certainly help the CX-3 surpass much of the current small SUV competition. Its standard 7.0in touchscreen system, which can also be operated using rotary dial and shortcut buttons between the front seats, is also one of the best on the market.
Standard equipment on SE includes 16in alloy wheels, air-con, electric front and rear windows electric mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth, two USB ports and DAB radio. SE-L adds rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights and wipers. Both these trims can have sat-nav added as an option to become SE Nav and SE-L Nav.
Range-topping Sport Nav gets navigation as standard as well as further luxuries such as larger 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and a reversing camera.