As a crossover, the CX-3 with the manual transmission feels nimble and lively.
As someone who regularly drives a compact hatchback, I’m a huge proponent of vehicular efficiency. It’s good to be small on multiple fronts: agility, peppiness, fuel economy and entry price, especially if you’re doing all your travels within the city. Granted, there are always trade-offs (power is the obvious), but usually the downsides aren’t actual needs. The subcompact crossover segment is now burgeoning with multiple offerings such as the Toyota C-HR (reviewed here), Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. When I was given the keys to the 2018 Mazda CX-3 GX, equipped with a new manual transmission, I was quite excited.
Like most of the competition, this CX-3 is based off the subcompact platform found in the Mazda2 subcompact hatchback. With a little engineering magic, the CX-3 is longer, taller, wider and offers a better road stance than its diminutive origins. As I’ve come to find from owners in this segment, one of the key selling points is ride height. Whilst Mazda doesn’t officially publish any ground clearance numbers, the vehicle looks considerably higher than a subcompact car thanks to the angles of the body. The general consensus is that the real ride height is likely only marginally better than a subcompact.
Thanks to the small footprint and decent turning circle (10.6 meters), the CX-3 with its higher stance is easy to park thanks to the combination agility and rear-view camera. Visibility is slightly compromised thanks to the C-pillar, which falls right in your shoulder blind spot. It can, however, be mitigated through adjustment of the side mirrors.
Even though the car is elevated, the odd combination of bucket seats and the side rails forces you to either lower or drop yourself into the seat and have to pull yourself. Once in though, the cockpit is rather comfortable and simple. Predominant at the center of the dash is a classic speedometer and to the left, a rather small digital tachometer with gear indicator and trip computer. On the right is your instantaneous fuel economy and fuel level.
The tachometer borderlines on being there just for the sake of being there, and this is rather disappointing. Off to the right of the wheel at the top of the center console is the Mazda infotainment screen which like the rest of the Mazda lineup, is operated via a knob located in the well between the two seats, which leads to me a grievance.
Ergonomics for most part are good in this vehicle with the one really stark exception: the $330 center armrest. This armrest, when deployed to do its job, will actively block your reach or at the very least cause you to deform your arm when pulling up the handbrake. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue if it were an automatic transmission but given that this is the manual option, it is infuriatingly in the way. For the week I had the vehicle, I didn’t bother flipping this armrest down. It also elevates your arm high enough that the knob used to control the infotainment system is barely within reach.
Back to the infotainment system, it continues to work very well with built in navigation maps and Bluetooth connectivity for calls and music, but also carries the trend by opting out of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen’s contents are quite easily visible in any lighting and while most people initially complain about the tablet design, it is very easy to quickly glance over and gather what you need from it. In today’s age of distracted driving, this is by far the best layout you can have for a seven-inch screen to easily view without drastically having to avert your vision from the road.
My primary joy with this vehicle was the highly rewarding six speed shifter which was dampened slightly by an overly light clutch and a drive-by-wire throttle. The throttle response is slightly muted and the clutch still has a pulse of feel but barely. Nonetheless, it was easy to launch and the gears snicked into place with a satisfying notch. However, when coupled with the 2.0L SKYACTIV engine under the hood putting out 146 hp at 6,000RPM and 146 lb-ft. of torque at 2,800RPM (redline is at 6,500RPM), this means you must shell out liberal right foot movements to rev this engine quite a bit.
To be blunt, the CX-3 with this powertrain is rather gutless. Load it up with a few passengers and your stop-and-go movements will be an exercise in patience. Fuel economy for the week with over 60% of driving on the highway netted 7.2L/100km combined. This compares favourably against the Mazda published numbers of 9.0L/100km city and 7.0L/100km highway, operating on regular-grade fuel.
On the topic of passengers, rear seating is tight, on par for the segment. Rear trunk space is a concern due to the fact that this car is offered with an optional all-wheel-drive drivetrain (manuals are front-drive only). As a result, the rear hatch floor is considerably high off the ground to allow room for the automatic transmission should you order it. This cuts into rear storage room considerably and makes the hatch opening much smaller.
With just 452L of storage space, the CX-3 feels rather small (to provide some reference, the Mazda3 Sport has 572L). I tried to fit a baby stroller into the rear hatch and whilst it wasn’t the smallest one on the market, I was unable to do so. Dropping the rear seats down does increase volume to 1,528L on paper but the actual useable room can be deceiving as the seats do not fold into a fully flat position.
One of the newest features that Mazda has debuted with this CX-3 is G-Vectoring Control. Whilst no heavy details are divulged, Mazda claims to provide more confidence and comfort by subtly coordinating and adjusting engine torque to optimize vehicle weight transfer during everyday maneuvers – all of this behind the scenes of course. On the street, the car’s suspension seems nice and tight without being uncomfortable over loose or broken pavement.
On the highway, G-Vectoring is a little more obvious thanks to the speeds involved. With the slightest tug of the wheel, the CX-3 exhibits a very immediate change in direction in what felt like as if the rear of the vehicle was doing some slight steering. Granted that if the computer were indeed using some sort of magic to somehow distribute the torque to shift the weight transfer such that the back were more lively, this would make sense. It was rather unnerving the first time I felt this as it was unexpected since the vehicle is front-drive. Given that there is no way to turn off this feature, I couldn’t really conclude that GVC was indeed the root cause and can only speculate.
As a hatchback, the 2018 Mazda CX-3 GX seemingly fails to deliver on the ubiquitous space that we’ve all come to expect. Yet aALooking at the as tested price tag of $23,604, it seems like it is a good value and compares nicely with the Mazda3 Sport (reviewed here). If one does want the higher stance and is willing to give up some space for a good package, the CX-3 has its place.