TWO qualities elevate the little Mazda CX-3 up the league of must-have compact SUVs.
First, to most people's eyes it's easily the best of breed when it comes to good looks.
Those smooth, swoopy lines are not stifled by the shortened dimensions, indeed it manages to appear even better balanced and co-ordinated than its big brother, the CX-5.
It has impact and character, without being too macho - important in this sector dominated by women buyers. And neither is it too quirky in its styling, an aspect than can prove divisive for potential purchasers.
Secondly, it happens to be possibly the best all-round drive with car-like handling and a decent ride that strikes the right note between being firm enough to inhibit cornering roll without spoiling the suppleness of the suspension or harming ride comfort.
Based on the established Mazda2 hatchback, the five-door CX-3 isn't however the roomiest crossover in the car park. All's good in the front where there's ample legroom, headroom and even elbow space despite the cabin being quite narrow.
The facia is smart and driver-orientated and the driver sits relatively low down, emphasing the car-like nature of this SUV.
The Sport Nav version driven here comes with upgraded Bose sound, head-up display and reversing camera.
In the back, it's somewhat tighter for legroom and six-footers can find their heads close to the roof lining. With 300 litres of luggage space in the boot, it is less roomy than some of its main rivals.
Of course, the rear seats can be folded to increase the cargo area which can then absorb a reasonable 1,200 litres.The boot floor is quite high and there's a lip over which cases must be lifted.
Three engines are available, but it's the 1.5-litre diesel in front drive form - rather than either of the 2.0-litre petrol models - that Ichose to drive.
Despite only being able to call on only 103bhp, the CX-3 acquits itself well in real life conditions blending strong acceleration with unusually good fuel economy.
The diesel engine is strong on torque and works well with the slick six-speed gearbox. An automatic is offered as an option.
While not exactly in the hot hatch bracket, a 0-62mph time of around 10 seconds places the Mazda among the nippiest of small SUVs.
The engine is reasonably quiet and unstrained which helps make long journeys easy going. Some road noise is passed into the cabin from the wheels - this is most noticeable over older motorway surfaces.
Cornering grip is strong and directional changes are coped with well. The steering offers reasonable feedback and handling is much more athletic than the majority of crossover rivals.
Over 600-miles of long distance runs, my average was 54mpg with a best of more than 60mpg. With CO2 emissions of just 103g/km, it's also cheap to tax.