NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The biggest trend in cars right now are small cars that are taller. Some call them SUVs, others call them crossovers. They come in more extreme forms, such as the Jeep Renegade, but they also come in the mildest forms.
The Mazda CX-3 is the best example of that milder tone.
The Mazda CX-3 driven for this review was the front-wheel drive only version and reasonably well-equipped. It cost $28,340 before discounts. It's essentially a short hatchback, based on an evolved Mazda 2, but it's taller, making it more spacious and easier to enter and exit.
What sets it apart is the styling. There are some reasonably good-looking micro-SUVs and crossovers, although many of them are also bland.
Not the Mazda CX-3. The designers really outdid themselves. It looks fantastic from any angle.
The interior also looks great, and it has numerous contrasting colors and textures. But the look is overall clean with few buttons on the instrument panel. The interior is reminiscent of the Audi A3, which is a several thousand dollars more expensive. The Mazda CX-3 looks and feels more expensive than most of its peers.
The basic controls, such as the climate knobs, are the easiest to use of any car on the market and should be industry standard.
A knob between the seats controls the infotainment system. Here's one place where the design could have been better. While the knob itself feels expensive, it is too far back, leading to an uncomfortable arm position to operate it.
The infotainment system is easy to operate, but its glaring omission is the lack of Android Auto and Apple (AAPL) CarPlay. More than anything, this is the main reason someone might not want to buy this car. Many of the competitive brands such as GM (GM) , Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Honda (HMC) have just started rolling out Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The test car was equipped with a heads-up display, which was useless. It provided no incremental information or anything else worthwhile.
The other shortcoming in the interior is the lack of a good enclosed space in the center console in which to put a wallet or equivalent. It is rare that a non-sports car lacks this feature.
The rear seat and luggage space are not large, but large enough to be useful for modest family duties. This is what you would expect from a small car.
The handling is good, if not spectacular. The car also has a small footprint -- short and narrow -- so it's easy to park.
The CX3's weakness is the engine-transmission combination, which does not feel special in any way. It's serviceable for daily reliable use. However, it's not the kind of thrill you experience in a VW Golf, Audi A3 or Ford (F) Escape or other cars -- admittedly, some slightly pricier -- with more engaging drivetrains. It's roughly what the better cars in this class were a couple of years ago.
Fuel economy is rated at 29 miles per gallon city, 35 miles per gallon highway, although the mileage was slightly lower in the test car. These numbers are not remarkable for a car of this size, power and weight.
The Mazda CX-3 will be successful in the market. Superb looks sells, and the small cross-over category is growing in popularity. Its drivability and user-friendly controls will find draw new customers.
The price may be an impediment. Most CX-3 variations sell between $27,000 and $29,000 before discounts. There is tough competition with other competitors offering more spacious interiors and better engines/transmissions for similar prices. Some of these vehicles are larger, too.
Still, none of them looks this good.