The Mazda CX-3 is an all-new subcompact crossover, a small SUV-like car smaller than the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover. Despite its crossover-type basic profile, the CX-3 manages to appear more racy than some sports cars.
Good looks aren’t everything, of course. Capability is important and Mazda’s impressive new entrant shines brightly on several fronts. As striking as the new design is, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 also delivers the goods in terms of comfort, performance, and overall ability. Buyers also get an abundant selection of standard equipment, even on the base model.
The CX-3 cabin is attractive and looks similar to that of the Mazda3. The front seats are roomy, the back seats acceptable, and the cargo area is useful for small loads.
The CX-3 is great fun to drive. It maneuvers through tight quarters well and the steering and suspension are tuned to offer responsive handling yet it is stable at higher speeds. Ride quality it good, the suspension filtering roughness out of the roads, and the cabin remains relatively quiet for the class. The standard 16-inch wheels and tires offer the better ride, optional 18-inch wheels and tires provide sharper handling.
Mazda CX-3 is almost alone in this new segment, rivaled only by such diminutive crossovers as the Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, and Mini Countryman. But the subcompact crossover market is expected to double in the next couple of years. Already on the way are the Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, and Jeep Renegade.
Mazda’s new Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine develops 146 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 146 pound-feet of torque, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 29/35 mpg City/Highway with front-drive, or 27/32 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive.
Smooth and quiet when cruising, the engine springs to life when needed, delivering brisk acceleration.
All-wheel drive enhances stability in wintry conditions. Front-wheel drive is standard.
The new CX-3 is among the most coherent examples of Mazda’s KODO design theme, which has served as the foundation for a series of recent models. KODO thinking emphasizes lush, complex curves, as well as sinewy shapes and taut, forceful lines.
Good-looking when viewed from any angle, the CX-3 exudes a sporty and athletic, even adventurous, appearance. At the same time, Mazda’s latest model also comes across as elegant and light, two attributes that don’t ordinarily come to mind with any crossover. In addition to overall appeal and an upscale demeanor, the CX-3 clearly promises the potential for sporty behavior. Not every crossover, of any size, can make such a claim.
Despite some hard plastic components, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 looks just as upscale inside as it does from outside. That aura is helped by such premium elements as contrast stitching, seat piping, substantial-looking controls, and soft-touch, wrapped dashboard items.
On the whole, the modern interior looks classier than CX-3’s moderate price would suggest. Someone who’s spent time in any recent Mazda should feel right at home with the cockpit’s look and feel, which suggest the compact Mazda3 sedan.
Sturdy-looking climate controls exhibit a sense of purpose. The simple steering wheel contains a selection of buttons. Instruments are clear and informative.
Front occupants get plenty of room all around, and the rear is acceptable for medium-height adults. Cargo space is hardly huge, but the load floor is flat and back seats fold down.
Mazda vehicles are known for graceful handling and a sportier-than-usual driving experience, and the CX-3 is certainly no exception. Simply put, it’s great fun to drive. On twisty back roads, this subcompact zooms around sufficiently for enjoyable spirited driving.
Roadgoing qualities of the CX-3 are among the best in this emerging segment, helped by nicely-weighted electric power steering. Caster angles in the steering setup have been increased, for better stability on straightaways, without impairing this mini-size crossover’s easy maneuverability in any way. Whether it has front-drive or all-wheel drive, the turning circle is tight.
Comfort doesn’t suffer, whether in urban driving or on the open road; for short treks, as well as long journeys. The CX-3’s suspension absorbs most bumps and holes without annoying any occupants.
Even when the pavement gets rougher, the CX-3 is impressively quiet. Road noise is minimal, especially with the 16-inch alloy wheels on the base Sport edition. Steering feel is a bit tauter with the 18-inch low-profile tires on upper trim levels, but expect mild road noise. The ride stiffens a little with the bigger tires, but not enough to be troublesome.
The engine is barely audible even at 70 mph on the expressway, breezing along at 2,300 rpm or so. In town, a bit of growliness might appear when accelerating. Otherwise, during normal driving, it’s smooth and quiet, though pushing the pedal harder does raise the engine-noise level.
Acceleration is surprisingly brisk and peppy, in view of the engine’s modest output. Light weight doubtless contributes to both the energetic acceleration and the thrifty gas mileage.
If equipped with all-wheel drive, that system can actually predict the need for additional torque at back wheels. Even at a standstill, it can supposedly predict whether AWD will be needed when starting off.
Strong on style and on value, with an impressive group of standard features, the CX-3 is rakish, modern, and among the most enjoyable vehicles of its type to drive. Mazda will be targeting young couples and older empty-nesters, rather than families with children, but nearly anyone is likely to be pleased with this little crossover’s behavior, zip, and comfort.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.