2016 Mazda CX-3: Moving in Fast Compact Segment

By Frank A. Aukofer, October 17th, 2015

It is surely no coincidence that Mazda introduces the new 2016 CX-3 crossover SUV at the same time as its famed roadster, the MX-5 Miata. With these two new models for 2016, Mazda now spans the gap between an affordable small CUV and the driving joy of a pure open sports car.

Manufacturer photo: Smartly designed and capable of handling many of life's adventures, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of car buyers, supporting creative, adventurous lifestyles wherever -- from the urban sprawl to the weekend getaway
Manufacturer photo: Smartly designed and capable of handling many of life's adventures, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of car buyers, supporting creative, adventurous lifestyles wherever -- from the urban sprawl to the weekend getaway

The CX-3, with four doors, passenger room similar to that of a compact car but twice the cargo space, does double duty as an economical small runabout and family vehicle with optional all-wheel-drive for those who need or want it.

It is imbued with Mazda's SkyActiv technology, which scrutinizes every aspect of the vehicle, down to the tiniest components, to render them as efficient and lightweight as possible. The result is a compact CUV that comes across as more than the sum of its parts.

It arrives at a time when subcompact and compact crossovers are the hottest selling vehicles on the market, and competes against such opponents as the Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Mini Cooper Countryman and Fiat 500X. Mazda anticipates that sales of subcompact CUVs by 2017 will nearly quadruple from about 119,000 sold in 2014.

The CX-3 comes in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and GT. All get the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Each is available with FWD or AWD. The only transmission is a six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode, though only the GT gets shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

Manufacturer photo: Smartly designed and capable of handling many of life's adventures, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of car buyers, supporting creative, adventurous lifestyles wherever -- from the urban sprawl to the weekend getaway

Prices range from $20,840 for the FWD Sport, to $29,040 for the GT with AWD, leather upholstery and Mazda's $1,920 iActivSense suite of safety enhancements, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, brake support and rain sensing windshield wipers.

All versions have pushbutton starting, a 7-inch dash mounted touchscreen with rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity for telephone and audio, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, remote locking, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a six speaker audio system.

This review focuses on the mid-level CX-3 Touring model, which starts at $24,090 and includes blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, and heated front seats and outside mirrors. The test vehicle came equipped with a $1,410 option package that added a motorized glass sunroof, upgraded Bose audio system, satellite radio, HD radio and a cargo cover.

An immediate impression of the CX-3 is its street presence -- a substantial appearance that belies its classification as a subcompact CUV. Among other things, it emphasizes a long hood and short front and rear overhangs.

It is 7.3 inches shorter bumper to bumper and 3.6 inches taller than its garage mate, the hatchback Mazda3. They have about the same cargo space but the Mazda3 has 16 cubic feet more passenger room and does not offer AWD.

Manufacturer photo: Smartly designed and capable of handling many of life's adventures, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of car buyers, supporting creative, adventurous lifestyles wherever -- from the urban sprawl to the weekend getaway

The CX-3 uses a torsion beam rear suspension that is less expensive than sophisticated independent systems. But you'd hardly know it. The CX-3 capably attacks curves and delivers a comfortable ride.

It has a driver selectable sport switch that changes the shift points, holding each gear to higher rpms for instant throttle response. Unusual in this class, the system incorporates automatic rev matching on downshifts, both automatic and manual.

A touch of the switch reverts to the standard setting, which is more comfortable in daily driving. Curiously, more engine noise intrudes into the passenger pod at lower rather than higher rpms.

Front seats are supportive and comfortable. In back, as you might expect in a small CUV, there's barely enough knee and head room to accommodate an average sized adult. Upholstery is a stylish combination of leatherette and cloth.

Overall, however, the CX-3 delivers a credible entry in the subcompact CUV class

Specifications

Base price $24,090 (as tested: $25,500)
Curb weight 2,809 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder
Epa mileage rating 29 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 12.7 gal.
Horsepower (net) 146 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 168.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 146 at 2800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger subcompact FWD CUV
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