2016 Mazda CX-3
The new 2016 Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover offers European-style driving fun with good fuel economy.
Mazda has done it again--built a European-oriented, fun-to-drive vehicle with its 2016 CX-3.
This Japanese automaker is keeping in step with the times by making the CX-3 a crossover vehicle at a time when crossovers of all sizes are extremely popular.
Mazda, a relatively small automaker, calls the CX-3 a "subcompact crossover SUV." That puts it up against such mass-market cars as the Chevrolet Trak and Nissan Juke.
But the CX-3 has a lot going for it. It looks sharp, with a long hood and short overhangs. Its relatively long 101.2-inch wheelbase helps establish "flowing" proportions and a fairly roomy interior.
However, the styling causes the seats to be set low, which may cause shorter occupants to object. (The very supportive driver's seat has a manual height adjuster.)
The quiet interior is upscale, especially in the top-line Grand Touring model with its stitching on the seats and dashboard. Controls are easy to use, especially the large dashboard climate controls.
Four tall occupants fit comfortably, although a tall passenger behind the driver might want more legroom. Rear door openings are rather narrow.
The CX-3 is well-equipped and comes with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). However, the AWD is for bad-weather road driving, not off-road jaunts because the CX-3 has limited ground clearance. It's shorter and lower than the Mazda CX-5 crosssover and shorter and narrower, but higher, than the Mazda3 auto. It's essentially a tall hatchback car. There's no high-riding SUV feel.
And that's a good thing because the CX-3 drives like a user-friendly car. It comes in just three trim levels. There's the $19,960 Sport, $21,960 Touring and $24,900 Grand Touring version, which is what I tested with the optional ($1,250) AWD system.
Powering the CX-3 is a 2-liter, 146-horsepower engine that provides good city and highway performance, although the engine gets coarse during full-throttle passing on highways.
The engine is hooked to a swift-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift sport mode operated by the console-mounted shifter. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are only in the top-line Grand Touring.
A console "power" button seems to hold engine revs higher in each gear for faster acceleration onto freeways and for mountain driving, but the "normal" driving mode is best for regular use.
Estimated fuel economy is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on highways with front-drive and 27 and 32 with AWD. Not bad for a lively car that weighs 2,809 to 2,952 pounds.
Steering is sharp with decent road feel. The rather firm ride is supple, although sharp bumps can be felt, and handling of my test Grand Touring CX-3 with its wider (50-series) tires on larger 18-inch (versus 16-inch) alloy wheels and AWD was quite good, with minimal body lean when storming around curves. The brakes are impressive, controlled by a pedal with a linear action.
All CX-3s are well-equipped, although specifications may change.
For starters, they all have a backup camera and push-button starter.Even the entry Sport has cruise control and power windows, door locks and remote keyless entry. There's also a split-fold 60/40 rear bench seat, tilt-telescoping wheel, cruise control, air conditioning--and "Mazda Connect," a 7-inch full-color touchscreen infotainment suite integrated with a control knob and Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing and audio streaming.
However, the push-button starter is partly blocked by a steering wheel mounted control stalk, and the split rear seatbacks are needed to expand the marginal cargo area.
The Touring adds leatherette seating surfaces with cloth inserts, heated seats, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, advanced keyless entry and a small center armrest.
However, the armrest blocks the console's dual cupholders unless pushed back out of the way.
An optional Touring Technology Package adds a power sunroof, Sirius XM and HD radio.
The top dog Grand Touring I drove provides a standard one-touch power sunroof, automatic climate control, navigation, Active Driving Display pop-up head-up display, leather and Lux Suede two-toned seats, 7-speaker Bose audio system and paddle shifters. It also has the 18-inch alloy wheels and wider tires for better handling.
One rather unusual Grand Touring feature is a large tachometer in front of the driver (where you expect to find a speedometer) and a smaller digital-readout speedometer, with readings that can be displayed on the windshield.
A helpful option is the $1,920 "i-Activsense" safety package that features such things as lane-departure warning, "smart" brake support and Mazda Radar Cruise Control.
Residents in northern snow-belt areas of the country should note that the sophisticated AWD system for all models takes temperature, road conditions, steering angle and weather into account to help optimize to which wheels engine power is sent for the best performance and stabilty.
Versatile, but much plainer cars than the CX-3, long have been popular in Europe, where narrow roads, stiff fuel prices and lower incomes necessitate owning only one family car. Versatility also is prized in America, especially among younger, budget-minded buyers. A crossover such as the CX-3 offers that feature and much more.