You can pick up Mazda’s cute and useful little CX-3 crossover for as little as $22,050 (plus fees and taxes), or you can take the big jump to something like the test ride I’ve just visited – the $31,800 all-wheel drive (AWD) Platinum Quartz Metallic GT at a 50% premium over the front-drive base model with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The driver view.

Even after all these years of testing cars, I remain just a little aghast at how much you can add to the starter price of any vehicle. I mean, from $22,000 to $32,000 is a whopping jump.

If I’m spending your money, I’m all in for the Platinum GM. Mine? I’m moving up to a spot between the starter version and the GT, adding about $4,000 for Mazda’s excellent i-Active AWD, the six-speed automatic, and a roster of very nice additions – from a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, to automatic climate control, nicer cloth upholstery, shiny silver alloy wheels and more.

What does not change is the engine, a lively and responsive 2.0-litre four-banger rated at a thrifty 7.4 litres/100 km. You will not find, at this pricing, a city runabout that is nimbler, prettier, better equipped and more thoroughly satisfying.

Do remember, though, that the CX-3 has limitations. It’s small station wagon with fold-down back seats, not a panel van. While it nicely fits into shrunken urban parking spaces, you won’t be bringing home bed frames from IKEA, either. The rear seats are most ideal for kids or little folks of any age. The front buckets are decently padded, but still a bit thin for road-trip comfort.

Not all that much leg room in the rear.

The infotainment interface software is also just a little slow to respond, though the user-friendly simplicity of Mazda’s system here is simply outstanding. By that I mean, you can sync up your smartphone in a snap and if you’re an Apple CarPlay or Android Auto person, you will be right at home.

This car’s calling card, however, isn’t in the gadgets. They’re fine here, but there’s something more important at work in the CX-3.

You see, Mazda stubbornly sticks to the idea that there are people out there who still enjoy driving, who value a ride that joyously carves an apex, that precisely responds to steering inputs and stops on a dime. That’s this car. Those who embrace engagement with their automobile, get rewarded by the CX-3.

Front buckets: not ideal for long road trips.

Of course, the CX-3 delivers all the basics, too. Mazda’s reliability is very good, resale values are strong, the safety scores thoroughly competitive, and reliability is first-rate.

I, in fact, know millennials who have actually bought a CX-3 and lived to praise it. Perhaps there is a future for cars and car brands that unabashedly give you a driving experience that I’d call “reality reality,” rather than the virtual kind. If that’s what you want, this is your grocery getter.


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