In global vehicle sales ranking, Mazda stands at a lowly 15. Even when you look at where Japanese brands stand, it trails not just Toyota, Nissan and Honda, but even Suzuki. But this Hiroshima-based carmaker seems to have a much clearer product plan than any of its bigger compatriots. None of them, with the possible exception of Nissan, cover as many bases in the lucrative utility vehicle segment as Mazda does. From the good old seven-seater CX-9 and the CX-5, to the currently China-only CX-4 and the CX-3, it offers the widest choice for customers in the market for an SUV or a compact crossover. It’s also different from its fellow Japanese brands in that it doesn’t skimp on the quality of materials or technical goodies to keep prices down, and hence doesn’t leave the customer feeling short-changed.

The CX-3, which is currently the brand’s smallest crossover, is no different. It follows the same styling direction as the rest of Mazda’s good-looking range. With the signature grille, sleek headlights, and sharply creased sheet metal, the CX-3 manages to look better than most of the other competitors in class like the Renault Captur, Ford Ecosport or the Nissan Qashqai. Even inside, quality of materials used and build quality combine to make it look and feel more expensive than it actually is, but even so you’ll be excused for thinking you stepped into a Mazda 2, as it looks identical in there. The layout of the dashboard is pretty much the same as the supermini’s, with a tablet-like screen taking centre stage. Like in many Mercedes models, the infotainment screen does look a bit tacked on, but the interface is easily controlled via the rotary knob and button placed conveniently on the transmission tunnel. The front seats offer ample space, with generous head-, shoulder- and legroom for two adults. However, the rear seats are hugely compromised when it comes to overall space, and will feel cramped for even passengers of below-average height.

While it’s not the most utilitarian of crossovers, the CX-3 is without doubt one of the most enjoyable to pilot in this segment. It definitely helps that the underpinnings are shared with the peppy little Mazda 2. It does feel a bit heavier than the hatch, and isn’t exactly as lithe. But for a crossover, the CX-3 displays impressively taut body control, and the well-weighted steering offers pleasingly accurate feedback. These, combined with the sprightly 2.0-litre Skyactiv four-pot that’s good for 148bhp and 192Nm of torque, and the smooth-shifting six-speed auto ’box, make the CX-3 a more entertaining vehicle to drive than most others in this class. Seats are comfortable and supportive, even at the back. Ride quality is also good, firm without being too stiff, and comfortable without being too soft, and pitch and roll are kept to the minimum even when driven enthusiastically.

The CX-3 is without doubt one of the most enjoyable to pilot in this segment. It helps that underpinnings are shared with the Mazda 2.

And as with every Mazda that’s come out in recent years, the CX-3 is also generously equipped with comfort and safety features that you usually find in cars from more premium brands. These include adaptive cruise control, which lets you set the distance between your car and the vehicle in front, a head-up display, a blind spot monitoring system, lane departure warning, smart brake support, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, dynamic stability control, and front and side curtain airbags.

It’s equipped with an intelligent all-wheel drive system, making it a proper soft-roader, but as you would imagine, with its low ground clearance, it won’t be able to handle serious off-road duties. But what it is, is a slightly more versatile alternative to a compact hatch or a supermini.

The CX-3 finds itself in a fiercely competitive segment that has models from most of the mainstream manufacturers from Asia, Europe and America. But with prices starting at Dh70,900 for the base front-wheel drive GS and going up to a hefty Dh94,900 for the top banana GTX, this little Mazda offers more value for money in base trim than most of the other offerings in this class. With its great looks, impressive fit and finish, and the abundance of features, this is a non-premium crossover that can compare with the likes of the Mercedes GLA. If you’re in the market for a small crossover and are not particular about owning a premium badge, then the Mazda CX-3 is worth serious consideration.