The new Mazda CX-3 is more polished with better handling than any other entry in the subcompact crossover segment.
Exterior styling and interior appointments
Quick steering and agile handling
Tight rear seat
Center arm rest issues
Seat cushions on the short side
2016 Mazda CX-3
The Mazda CX-3 is all-new for 2016. It shares a platform with the subcompact Mazda2 (currently re-badged as the Scion iA in the U.S.) as well as that vehicle's pint-sized interpretation of Mazda's handsome Kodo "Soul in Motion" design language.
On the outside and despite the fact it's quite a bit shorter (by 10.4 inches) and lower (by 4.8 inches) than its bigger sibling the CX-5, the CX-3 won't be mistaken for anything other than a member of the Mazda crossover family. Up front it features the requisite five-point grill that on all but its upper half is outlined by a chrome trim strip. This trim traces the lower two-thirds of the grille, rising until it meets and traces half the upper edge of the "eagle eyed" headlamps. Below the headlights a pair of narrow, vertical, fog lamp enclosures bracket an aggressive lower air intake. The rear elevation mimics the grill's five-pointed theme in the shape of the rear window, which sits atop a pair of narrow, horizontal taillamps.
Along the sides, 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 215/60R16 all-season tires are standard on the Sport model, replaced by alloys on the Touring trim and up. Our Grand Touring tester came standard with 18-inch alloys mounted with Yokohama Avid 834 215/50R18 all-season rubber.
The CX-3's trendy (not in a bad way) interior is absolutely stunning. This is especially true in Parchment, which features perforated white leather seats with contrasting black Lux Suede inserts along with soft red and black Lux Suede door trim. The black dash features soft-touch surfaces, faux stitching, contrasting white trim between the instrument cluster and passenger door, while the remainder of the interior also boasts of piano black trim and silver brushed-metallic accents. The simple instrument cluster (with head-up display), situated behind a 3-spoke steering wheel (with remote radio, phone and cruise controls), contains a central round speedometer bracketed by an electronic tachometer to the left and info/gas gauges on the right.
The center stack consists of a 7-inch touchscreen that can be operated from the console by Mazda's command remote interface – a six button, two knob setup that can operate everything from the various radio options to the navigation system (standard on the Grand Touring). Trust us when we say it's one of the best around.
Like the CX-5, there's also a "Sport" mode rocker switch that, when engaged, will increase vehicle acceleration response for any given position of the accelerator pedal.
The various gauges and knobs are clear and easy to read as well as intuitive. We also found that the console-mounted infotainment controls are not only intuitive, but the least distracting of any system of this type we've ever used.
Standard features across the lineup include the usually power amenities (windows, locks, mirrors) plus a tilt and telescoping steering column, air conditioning, the aforementioned touchscreen infotainment system ( which also offers Aha, Pandora, Stitcher and SMS text), Bluetooth hands free phone and audio, USB, keyless entry, push button start and cruise control.
The driver’s view out the front and sides is excellent, although the A-pillars aren’t all that narrow. The view out the rear three-quarters is helped by a small window between the C- and D-pillars, although the D-pillar, itself, is fairly wide. The view out the back isn’t helped by the rear headrests and smallish rear window, but both Touring and Grand Touring models get standard blind spot monitoring as well as a rear view camera (Sport models get just the camera).
The only glitches we noticed had to do with the seat cushions, tight rear quarters and the flip-down center arm rest.
We found the lower seat cushions to be on the short side. We realize that this is a subcompact and most subcompacts have, er, subcompact seats. But the fact remains that, at least for many American drivers, having a longer seat cushion would make the CX-3 a more comfortable cruiser on long drives. In addition, despite the fact that it's a crossover, its subcompact dimensions mean rear seat accommodations are limited. We recommend no more than two adults back there on longer trips.
Another gripe concerns the flip-down center arm rest between the driver and front passenger seat. When it's in the down position, it partially blocks the central radio on/off volume knob. You also have to reach down in front of the arm rest in order to work the menu navigation knob. Its lowered position also makes it nearly impossible to access the drink holder. On longer trips, we found ourselves simply flipping it up and out of the way, but this also meant we had nowhere to rest our inboard arms.
Under the hood
The CX-3 is offered with Mazda's normally-aspirated SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter inline-4 that, in this application, generates 146 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 146 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,000 rpm. It's mated to a blessedly conventional 6-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy is one of theCX-3's strong suits and not something you’d expect in a crossover that’s this much fun to toss around. The EPA rates the FWD CX-3 at 29/35/30 city/highway/combined mpg. AWD versions like this tester are rated at 27/32/29 city/highway/combined mpg, while our own observed fuel economy was an exemplary 28.9 miles per gallon in city driving.
On the road
Like its bigger brother, the CX-3 has established itself as the best-handling vehicle in its class. You can chalk this up to the fact that, unlike most subcompact crossovers, this one is actually fun to drive. Feedback through the steering wheel is excellent – nearly car-like. It tracks nicely down the road and suspension compliance is very good with body lean being well controlled through the corners.
We also have to admit that, like most Mazdas, the ride is on the firm side. That, combined with a shorter wheelbase (at 101.2 inches its 5.2 inches shorter than the CX-5), means that it might be too firm for a few drivers. But we should also point out that the ride is not at all jittery – not an easy thing to accomplish when faced with a crossover's overall taller profile.
Braking is also uniformly excellent. Like every Mazda we've ever driven, there's a nice initial bite to the pads with plenty of feedback to the driver and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
2016 Mazda CX-3 prices
2016 Mazda CX-3 pricing starts out at $20,840 for the FWD Sport trim. But the price can rise to over $31,000 for a fully-optioned and accessorized Grand Touring AWD model with the i-Activsense package (that includes such advanced safety features as radar cruise control, smart city brake support and lane departure warning).
The Meteor Gray Mica Grand Touring AWD tester we drove had a base price of $26,240. Adding $550 for Mazda Mobile Start, plus an $880 delivery, processing and handling fee, brought its' MSRP to a still-reasonable $27,670.
Needless to say, we were impressed by the 2016 CX-3. It features excellent fuel economy, more than adequate power, superb brakes and responsive steering. It looks and feels well-finished and it's also fun to drive.
On the flip side, the seats cushions are on the short side, the center arm rest comes with its own set of ergonomic issues and even we have to admit that its responsive handling probably isn't for everybody.
But the fact remains that the 2016 Mazda CX-3 continues to top our list of subcompact crossovers. Buyers looking for a versatile, polished, nimble-handling, small crossover will find it a joy and should put it at the top of their shopping lists.