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Mazda CS-3 geared toward singles, couples

Mazda’s 2016 CX-3 junior wagon pushes all the right style buttons and looks every inch the brand’s practical and sporty image builder.

A spunky and thrifty four-cylinder engine is mated to a six-speed automatic, so there are no manual gearboxes here.

Small boxes that offer all-wheel-drive are being direct toward singles, young couples and empty nesters alike, and for the same reasons. The vehicles are relatively inexpensive, a breeze to maneuver in congested urban and extra-urban environs, can navigate poor weather/roads and can carry more gear than similarly sized small sedans or hatchbacks.

“Buyers love the fact that they’re small, economical, all-wheel drive and great on gas mileage,” said Tyler Parry, CardinaleWay Mazda of Las Vegas sales manager. “They also like the traction on the car.”

Parry added that he has noticed millennials gravitating towards the CX-3.

“It’s easy for them to put their small children in car seats in the back,” he said. “There’s not a lot of leg room, so it’s easier to fit car seats.”

And don’t forget they can be nattily attired in fancy accoutrements plus the latest in crash-mitigating safety technologies.

As a companion to the CX-5 small wagon, the CX-3 is about 10 inches shorter, 3 inches narrower and has 5 inches less distance between the front and rear wheels. It’s also at least 400 pounds more svelte than the 3,200-pound base CX-5.

The CX-3’s cabin purposely exudes an MX-5 (Miata) sports-carlike feel that’s interrupted only by a pop-up-style touch-screen display. The straightforward control-panel layout includes a trio of oversized knobs and a dashboard gauge pod flanked by twin info screens.

There’s not an excess of leg or headroom in back for adult-sized passengers, but the doors are at least wide enough for easy entry and exit. For storage, the CX-3 is about as spacious as most of its peers, whether the split-fold back seat is upright or flattened.

A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It’s uncommon for a nonturbocharged powerplant to produce that much twisting force, relative to horsepower, but Mazda’s high-piston-compression SkyActiv design makes this possible.

The sole available transmission is a six-speed automatic with optional paddle shifters. The on-demand all-wheel-drive system that is available in all trim levels is linked to the vehicle’s anti-lock brakes, stability control and onboard ambient thermometer.

It’s designed to “predict” front-wheel slippage and divert power to the rear wheels. Note that because of the space needed for the rear differential, all-wheel-drive models lose some of their stowage capacity.

The base price for the four-door subcompact wagon is $20,800 and the gas mileage is 27 mpg city and 32 highway.

Reporter Ann Friedman contributed to this story.

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