By: Dan Heyman & Lacey Elliot
When I was asked to take the 2016 Mazda CX-3 for a spin, I found myself surprisingly excited considering that this type of a car—small/compact crossover—isn’t usually my cup of tea; as a certified auto journalist, and thus, somewhat unbalanced, I’m a big station wagon and hatchback kind of guy. I’ve always felt they provided all the creature comforts of an SUV or CUV, while still providing an engaging ride.
However, the CX-3 is a Mazda, and Mazda has to be respected for always finding a way to add that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a car fun to drive and behold, whether that has to do with some funky styling, a firm chassis or engaging powertrain. That’s what happens when you’re known for continually building one of the world’s most exciting, fun-to-drive and above all, affordable, sports cars on the market: the MX-5.
So, with that in mind, I sauntered up to our CX-3 tester, finished in brilliant Soul Red metallic paint, and took it in.
The first thing that jumped to mind is just how proportional it all is. I would say that the slim front fascia, the short overhangs and slightly canted-forward stance are much more reminiscent of the MX-5 than they are with, say, the Mazda3, which is a good thing. It’s not that the 3 looks bad, it’s just that the MX-5 looks better. Those headlight lenses are especially menacing, and are so narrow you’re surprised they work at all. They do, and are quite powerful in LED form, which my?tester had as they come standard on the top-spec GT trim.
In profile, while the little roof spoiler falls towards the “cutesy” side, the plastic cladding ‘round the wheel wells and rocker panels (for hardcore off-roading, you know) are just butch enough to let folks know that the CX-3 is more than simply a Mazda2 hatch—with which it shares a platform—on steroids. It’s eye catching, most definitely in a good way. Same goes for the sharp-looking 17-inch two-tone wheels. I’d have these on an aftermarket conversion, that’s for sure.
Women want to look good behind the wheel, and we want the car we drive to excite us every time we see it. If we don’t like how it looks, taking it for a test drive is usually out of the question. There is no doubt that this sporty looking subcompact crossover turns heads of both men and women. I describe it as a perfect balance of aggressive and cute wrapped up in one great little package.
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Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design is powerful and sharp looking. Assertive headlights and a wide, forward stance make it look like it’s ready to pounce at any moment. I agree with Dan.?? Fluid lines bring it all together and looking at it from the side you can definitely describe it as ‘cutesy’.
The good looks continue on the inside. Nothing in this segment comes close. The sweeping dash is well laid out and easy on the eyes. Splashes of color, large dials and plenty of soft touch points make this vehicle appear to cost more than it really does.
Interior space, styling and ergonomics
The first thing that catches your eye, of course, is the white leather that covers the seats and parts of the dash; it’s some pretty blinding stuff, and I’d probably avoid it because a) it looks way too pretty for my liking and more importantly, b) white leather scuffs, it absorbs dye from your wet jeans and it’s blindingly reflective in direct sunlight.
What I’m a big fan of, however, is the Lux Suede inserts on the seats, which are comfortable and supportive; I definitely wasn’t expecting quality chairs like this in a micro-CUV. It’s great as it tends to not get so hot in the summer or cold in the winter, and it grips your hiney when the goings get twistier. I also like the red and black leather inserts; in fact, I’d like to see more of both colours, the red in particular.
What I’d also like to see more of—and which may be a tougher ask, unfortunately—is room. It’s OK up front; the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and the six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat allows for 954 millimetres of front headroom and 1,058 mm of legroom, but it’s mighty tight in the back. If I were to sit behind the driver’s seat adjusted for my 6’3” frame, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be my first choice of transportation, and though Mazda claims it seats five, that’s really, really pushing it. It’s very snug, to the point where I wouldn’t recommend putting much more than a baby seat back there. Or, fold the seats down flat, making room for 1,484 Litres of cargo space, and 1,528L if you don’t have the premium audio system whose subwoofer takes up room back there. Plenty of room to fit a set of golf clubs or an adult-sized hockey bag. Unlike the CX-3’s CX-5 big brother, however, you don’t get the 40/20/40 split folding rear seats, meaning you have to make do with a more traditional 60/40 set-up.
Interior space, styling and ergonomics
I keep most of my personal belongs in my purse and toss that on an empty seat; keeping my cell phone and coffee cup close by. Lack of space is usually an issue in smaller cars and the CX-3 is no different. The cup holders are too close to my elbow and the rubberized pad for a phone won’t fit anything larger than the iPhone 6.
I am smaller than Dan and found the front seat to be acceptable. The back seat however is another story. Adults will not be comfortable in the back seat, headroom is ok but legroom is extremely limited. A single or couple needing to run errands will find the trunk big enough for a few groceries bags but not room for much of anything else.
Performance, ride and handling
If you’re planning on spending most of your time behind the wheel, however—as I would—then there’s a lot to like about the CX-3. While the power figures won’t necessarily blow your socks off, the 146 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque, what?it does provide is more than enough to have the lil’ CX-3 zipping along at a good speed. The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic (whether you select an AWD or FWD model), so that makes the buying process that much easier.
So while it may not kick your butt too hard on the drag strip, it’s still a fun car to thread through the urban jungle, where it demonstrated precise steering and fairly flat cornering, the latter feature making for much more comfortable long-distance drives.
Adding to the comfort is the surprisingly supple suspension; indeed, the sporty hatch guy in me—and he’s a big guy—would’ve liked a slightly firmer set-up, but in the end, this here’s a vehicle that has to appeal to a much broader buyer base.
Performance, ride and handling
The one thing that keeps popping into my mind to describe the ride feel of the CX-3 is spirited. It is super easy to dash in and out of city traffic or take a corner in a?suburban neighbourhood.
On the winding highway roads going to Whistler for the weekend I was actually taken by surprise. This little SUV feels grounded and capable on every bend. Road and engine noise was to a minimum; something that Mazda has really improved on their vehicles over the last couple years.
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Unlike Dan, I loved the supple suspension.
The only transmission available is a very quick shifting and smooth 6-speed automatic. I was having so much fun on my drive not once did I wish I had a manual.
Safety and technology
All CX-3 trims get the Mazda Connect infotainment system, which provides a 7-inch colour touchscreen and something called an HMI controller, mounted on the centre console, to help navigate all the menus. When I first experienced a system of this type on a BMW, I was less than impressed; however, as we’re seeing more of a switch to an all-touch set-up in the industry, I’m glad to have an actual knob to turn. I find it easier to work with, as I don’t like having to reach over to a touchscreen in order to change audio tracks or sources.
Once you do finally settle on an audio source, rest assured that the seven-speaker Bose sound system (a six-speaker unit is standard) will please your eardrums.
My?tester’s Tech Package also provides a whole suite of electronic driving aids, including auto braking (brakes are applied automatically if the car senses the driver is too slow to react in a panic-stop situation), lane departure warning system, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which can sense approaching cars as the driver backs out of a parking space.
Safety and technology
This AWD system is not going to be capable of off-roading. In my opinion, proper driving techniques matched with winter tires is more than adequate for Canadian winters.
That being said, knowing my vehicle has AWD gives me a feeling of security. I feel more confident behind the wheel. Some Canadians will agree with me and find that the additional $2000 for the optional AWD will be worth it.
If you are really looking for a sense of security and safety, the top of the line GT, priced at $31,020 comes standard with AWD and you can add on the ‘Technology Package’ for $1500. The tech package should really be called the safety package; it gives you blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and the High Beam Control system.
The base model comes equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, push button start and rear view camera. The one feature I wouldn’t want to live with out is heated seats and they come standard on the next trim level up, the GS. The GS also has a power moonroof and Leather wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift knob. Not needed, but they are features that really enhance my drive enjoyment. For a starting price of $26,220 this would be what I would spend my money on.
In the end…
I really like the CX-3; I think it looks great, it’s an able performer—especially in the ride and handling departments—the interior is well-appointed and has the style to match the exterior. So there’s lots to like about it, as long as you’re willing to put up with the tight confines of the interior, especially in the back seat. It’s so snug back there, it’s almost a surprise Mazda’s provided two rear doors.
Indeed, you’ll find more room in the Mazda3, but with that car, you won’t quite find the cachet you get with the CX-3.
Let’s see if Lacey agrees.
This spirited little crossover is top of my list in this growing segment. The Nissan Juke would be a close second. And it’s sporty handling that has me leaning more towards the CX-3. This vehicle would be a wonderful first vehicle for a couple or single that maybe has a dog and are thinking of starting a family one-day. A couple with an infant can?get into this vehicle very easily and upgrade into a large member of the Mazda line-up as they grow their family.
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