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Speaking in general terms, of course, the average compact crossover offers about as much driving excitement as a Rubbermaid Roughneck wheeled trash can.

The genre tends to be filled with soft-roaders endowed with dull, lifeless steering, wobbly handling, and droning engines delivering the performance of a Toro ride-on mower. 

Then there’s the little Mazda CX-50. 

This compact bundle of all-wheel drive joy is brimming with zoom-zoom. It’s the automotive equivalent of a two-month-old golden-doodle pup, gushing with boundless energy, yanking at the leash, and barking “let’s go, let’s go”. 

Pricewise it’s a deal. The eight-model CX-50 range kicks off from around $32-grand and goes up to $45,000 for a turbocharged 256-horse, leather-lined funster guaranteed to put a mile-wide Julia Roberts grin on your face. 

Built at the joint Mazda-Toyota plant in good ol’ Alabama, it sits alongside Mazda’s super-successful, similar-sized, similar-priced CX-5. 

Whereas the “5” is a little taller and a little more restrained style-wise, this CX-50 looks like it drove out of a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. 

OK, the beefy, black plastic body cladding and faux air intakes are a little bit overdone. But I love the bulldog stance, the low roofline and adventure-seeking vibe. 

And Mazda still does one of the most distinctive, most clean-cut front-end designs, with that trademark grille, cats-eyes LED headlights and bold lower style. See it filling your rear-view, and you’re going to move over. 

A 2.5-liter 187-hp four-cylinder powers the entry models, but it’s that optional 256-hp turbo motor coupled to a six-speed automatic you’ll want. 

It’s what powers the fancy-pants CX-50 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus range-topper – price $44,720 exceptional well loaded – I’ve just spent a fun-filled week piloting. 

How loaded? Open the door and just gaze at the lovely toffee-brown leather seats with baseball-style contrast stitching, the power panoramic glass moonroof, Bose 12-speaker stereo, and rear power liftgate. The list of features is longer than the items on your phone bill. 

Inside there’s space for four adults, five at a pinch, though that swoopy roofline means headroom in the back can feel a little tight. Luggage space behind the rear seats is excellent, more excellent with the seat backs folded. 

You sit nice and low in the driver’s seat gazing at an almost retro-style, button-rich dash. Non-techies who squirm at the current trend for big screens and touchscreen controls will love the CX. 

Here there are knobs for climate control, buttons for audio, a proper, lovely-to-hold gear shifter, and crystal-clear analog gauges that could have come out of a BMW 3-Series, circa 1995. Like the proper, sporty cute-ute that it is, it comes with a heads-up display. 

And to drive it is to love it. The combo of that turbo-4 and Mazda’s intuitive, quick-shifting six-speed automatic is a match made in heaven. Punch the throttle from a green light and the CX-50 slingshots off the line, tach needle spinning to the red line before a rapid-fire shift takes you from 0-to-60 in just 6.6 seconds.

Yes, there’s a “sport” mode for the transmission. But unlike so many rival offerings, this one actually makes a difference. Toggle the switch into sport, and the steering firms-up, and the engine feels like it’s taken a gulp of Red Bull, perking-up significantly. 

Show it a twisty back road, or at least a tight freeway on-ramp, and this little Mazda remembers it’s related to every Miata two-seat roadster on the road. 

The steering is sharper than McDreamy’s scalpel and beautifully-weighted, the suspension responds to every blacktop undulation, while standard all-wheel drive and 20-inch rubberware at each corner provide balance and grip.

While it adds sparkle to even the most mundane of office commutes or runs to Home Depot, here’s a sport ute that will make you long for a snaking Carolina mountain road. No wonder it won Car and Driver’s Editors’ Choice Award for compact SUVs.

Yes, there’s no shortage of choices in this booming compact crossover sector of the market. But this fun-driving CX-50 gets my vote as the most fun, most-zoomy of them all. 

 

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