9. Mazda CX-3: Frugal fun
Base-price range: $20,840-$27,120
EPA fuel-economy rating: 29/35/31 mpg city/highway/combined 2wd, 27/32/29 awd
Introduced for model-year 2016, this little four-door jumps into the burgeoning subcompact-crossover class and lands near the top for looks, handling, and fuel economy. Tight rear-seat space and subpar cargo room are tradeoffs for that fetching body shape. But young urbanites are likely to find more appeal here than in more staid rivals, such as the Chevrolet Trax and Honda CR-V (leaving the Jeep Renegade to adventure-image seekers and the Nissan Juke to fringe tastes). The CX-3 snares the class-mileage trophy with help from Mazda’s holistic Skyactiv design approach, which emphasizes light weight and powertrain efficiency.
Base Sport, midlevel Touring and top-trim Grand Touring models are offered, all with a choice of front-wheel drive, or for an additional $1,250, all-wheel drive. The sole engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, the only transmission a six-speed automatic. The 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque is slightly below par even for the modest standards of this class. But no rival weighs less, and the CX-3 moves along smartly enough, aided by the throttle-sharpening Sport mode standard on every model and, on the Grand Touring, by the extra revs you can dial up with steering-column paddle shifters. The engine is loud and coarse at high rpm, though. But there’s rear design flair here, inside, and out. And sharp steering and an eagerness to tackle turns gives the CX-3 a playful sportiness to go along with its fuel frugality.