The CX-3 is a cheeky little crossover that looks like it’s worth more than the sum of its parts.
With the subcompact crossover segment growing exponentially, seemingly by the day, it’s important to know which entry is truly the best. Amidst entries from Subaru, Fiat, and even Nissan, the two that immediately come to mind for me are the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3. The Honda HR-V (reviewed here) has excellent space management, Honda’s legendary reliability, and presents excellent value. The Mazda packs its own unique charm though, and is easily the best looking of all of these little utes. We snatched the keys to a fully loaded 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT in a stunning Soul Red Mica to discuss its merits and potential faults.
Sharing its family resemblance with the latest Mazda3 (reviewed here) and even the latest MX-5, the CX-3 is a cheeky little crossover that looks like it’s worth more than the sum of its parts. The standard two-box crossover design has been angled beautifully, like a parallelogram to a regular rectangle. It has a great stance, Mazda’s attractive corporate grille, and full exterior LED lighting (not to be taken for granted at this price point). Space management is inferior to the HR-V thanks to this quirky –and dare I say sexy – styling, but it’s not nearly as poorly executed as the Nissan Juke (reviewed here).
Front occupants in the CX-3 will be as comfortable as in anything else, and the leather and faux-suede upholstery stands out as well. The interior is very well laid out, but rear seat passengers will find accommodations pretty tight. Perhaps the largest compromise in favour of the CX-3’s looks is the rear cargo area. It’s not immediately evident, but the CX-3’s 408L of space (1,484L with the rear seats folded) is not enough to fit an oversized stroller. Outdoorsy couples or empty-nester parents won’t find this to be an issue, but a huge reason to step into this segment from a compact sedan or hatchback is for some added versatility for young families.
Usable space aside, Mazda has done a great deal to ensure that the CX-3 has the best interior in its segment. The Mini Cooper 5-door (reviewed here) is considerably more expensive when loaded up, and though its interior is nicely laid out, the CX-3’s looks the most modern and knocks the rest of the segment out of the running. Our GT test vehicle’s dashboard surrounds the 7” touchscreen display with Mazda Connect, controlled by the HMI commander. Other manufacturers use similar setups, but the Mazda’s interior is devoid of cluttered buttons and the infotainment system itself is a joy to use.
The GT is the top trim level for the CX-3, and starts at $28,995. This includes standard features like heated leather/suede seats, rain sensing wipers, navigation system, seven-speaker Bose audio system, LED lighting, intelligent key, and a power moonroof. A $1,500 Technology Package on our tester adds Smart City Brake Support, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, cross traffic alert, automatic high beam control, and satellite radio. Factoring in an extra $300 for the premium paint job, our vehicle stickered for $30,795 before delivery and PDI.
Mazda has always been known for wonderful driving dynamics, and the CX-3 is no exception to this. The only available powertrain is a modest 2.0L SKYACTIV-G inline four-cylinder, naturally aspirated. This motor is good for 146 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and 146 lb-ft of torque, peaking at 2,800RPM. Our loaded GT tester includes all-wheel-drive, and the only available transmission is a six-speed automatic. The lack of a manual gearbox is a bit peculiar, considering Mazda offers it on literally everything else in their lineup excluding the large CX-9 – yes, this includes the larger CX-5 (reviewed here).
The all-wheel-drive system splits torque as required, and this makes for a little crossover that could. It may seem like it’s not the fastest thing around, but the CX-3 tackles all driving situations with grace and composure. Throttle response is sharp, and the six-speed automatic does an excellent job knowing which gear to be in at what time. Ride quality is also on the firmer side of sporty, and those wanting a more comfortable setup will want to avoid the sleek 18” gunmetal wheels. Volume-seller models will typically be equipped with 17” wheels with a bit more tire, allowing for a softer and less jolty ride.
Purists and driving enthusiasts will like the 18” wheels because the grippy rubber Mazda offers makes for spectacular handling. The CX-3 has an image to carry, and in this case, the message it sends out is that little crossovers don’t have to be penalty boxes. Steering is light and responsive, and the little CX-3 tackles corners with more confidence than any of its rivals. As with any electrically assisted steering rack, raw feel is lacking, but the CX-3 also has a low center of gravity that reduces body roll considerably when driving it back to back with its nemeses.
Mazda suggests fuel economy figures of 8.8L/100km in the city, 7.3L/100km on the highway, and a combined rating of 8.1L/100km when operating on regular-grade gasoline. After a week’s worth of rigorous testing and two complete cycles of varying environments, the CX-3 finished its time with us with an outstanding 7.7L/100km combined. One challenge that buyers in this segment may face is that in order to save space and weight, nearly all subcompact crossovers have tiny fuel tanks – the CX-3’s will hold 45L of fuel.
Never having thought of myself as being a crossover guy, I now find myself as the closest member on the DoubleClutch.ca editorial team to actually having a family of my own. A few years ago, we all saw ourselves as single bachelors in our twenties and thirties that would do typical youthful things on weekends. With time, priorities change, and I now look at minivans, crossovers, and station wagons differently – from the eye of somebody actually in the market.
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 offers an incomparable driving experience to anything else in its segment, not to mention striking good looks. If you can get by with a little bit less interior space in favour of these qualities, it’s hard to overlook this little charmer. Even if you do require more space, options like the Subaru Crosstrek (reviewed here) and Honda HR-V offer better space management at the expense of the Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” approach.
2016 Mazda CX-3 GT Gallery