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2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Mazda CX-3

Mazda's new CX-3 is the standout of the small crossover class


         • SEE ALSO: Mazda Research and Buyers Guide

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Mazda CX-3

Automotive evolution is fascinating. We're in the midst of what, in biology, would be called an adaptive radiation. The truck-based SUVs of the 90s gave way to car-based crossovers fifteen or so years ago, first in the popular midsize class, and then in niches both larger and smaller. The most recent development is the "subcompact crossover", excellently exemplified by the new for 2016 Mazda CX-3.

The CX-3 slots below the mid-size CX-5 in the Mazda lineup, and is smaller than the compact Mazda3 hatch in both wheelbase (by two or so inches) and length (by seven inches). Weight is similar, and they share a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, although differences in tuning mean that the CX-3's makes a little less power, 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque versus the Mazda3's 155 and 150. The CX-3 is larger than the discontinued Mazda2 hatchback.

What's the difference between a crossover and a similarly-sized hatchback? Style. mostly. Usually, the crossover sits higher off the ground and is taller, for both the "SUV" look and, allegedly, interior space. Regarding that space, how many times do people stuff their crossovers or hatchbacks all the way to the ceiling? (If you're young and/or move often, often. Other than that, not so much.) Increased ride height offers some protection from parking stops, potholes, debris, steep driveways, and rolled curbs. But allied with a poorly-calibrated, overly-soft suspension, the crossover's higher center of gravity can mean dicey handling and a distinct lack of fun-to-drive character. That's acceptable for a transportation appliance, but some people want a good driving experience as well.

If you're among that group, the CX-3 is your small, efficient crossover. Its minimal footprint makes maneuvering in traffic and parking easy. In style, it just might be the best expression of Mazda's "KODO Soul of Motion" design language yet. The driving experience is more "sport hatchback" than "crossover", yet it sips fuel while being fun to drive. If you don't value the experience as much as the function, or you don't think you do, you will after driving a CX-3.

The CX-3 is offered in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels. There is only one drivetrain, the 2.0-liter 146-horsepower four matched to a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, but as is common in crossovers -- but not hatchbacks -- all-wheel drive is available. And on all trim levels, not just the top. The Sport has all the features you really need, including power mirrors, a rear wiper, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and all audio formats except Sirius/XM satellite radio (GT only), cruise control, and all contemporary safety equipment and much more. Touring gets you leatherette upholstery with heated front seats and outside mirrors, alloy wheels, and blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring. Grand Touring means a near-luxury experience, with leather, moonroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting with adaptive front lighting, a navigation system, the Active Driving Display heads-up system , and automatic climate control, all for comfortably less than a luxury-brand equivalent.

And that's this week's test car, a front-wheel drive CX-3 Grand Touring with the i-Activesense electronic safety systems package of radar cruise control, smart brake support, lane-departure warning, and other safety systems once only offered for luxury cars. Yes, all of the amenities and conveniences were nice, but I could live just as well with either of the lower trim levels. The basic package is quick enough to hold its own in traffic, entertaining to drive, even where you'd really rather have an MX-5 Miata, roomy for its small footprint, with all of the versatility of a five-door hatch, er, crossover, and did I mention a bit over 30 mpg with little highway driving, and the rest being as enthusiastic as if I was in an MX-5?

APPEARANCE: If you want to be anonymous, this is not for you. Small crossovers are usually heirs to the "sport-cute" styling of small SUVs, with a distinct lack of tone and muscle. Here, a high beltline, low greenhouse, and fenders accentuated by character lines on the sides give a toned, muscular appearance. Ride height is only a bit more than that of a sedan, but looks higher because of the dark cladding surrounding the lower perimeter, including the wheel arches. The blacked-out C-pillars make the roof look suspended over the body. The large rounded five-sided Mazda grille and crisply-sculpted hood establish identity at the front, while the rear window and taillight shapes do the same at the rear.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Mazda CX-3

COMFORT: At Grand Touring level, the CX-3's interior looks and feels more like that of an upscale European brand than a middle-class Japanese one. Credit clean, functional design, top-notch build quality, and interesting use of multiple materials, colors, and textures. Yes, the trim pieces are plastic, not metal and wood, but perforated leather for the seats, soft-touch materials for the upper interior surfaces, and convenient location of instruments, controls, and storage spaces make the CX-3's interior inviting. Front seat comfort and support are very good. Adjustment is manual. The leather-rimmed steering wheel adjusts manually as well, for both tilt and reach, and has cruise, audio, phone, and information system controls. Instruments are brightly-lit and easily visible in all lighting. The Grand Touring has a convenient head-up display projected on a transparent plastic piece ahead of the instrument cluster. Windshield glare is a non-issue. The navigation/information screen atop the center of the IP doesn't retract, but is low enough not to impede vision. The 60/40 split-folding rear seat is best for two, due to the high central tunnel. Storage and drink bottle holder are found in all four doors, and there is some hidden storage under the rear load floor, above the space-saver spare tire.

SAFETY: The CX-3's structure protects passengers with all of the currently required safety features and technology, including multiple air bags, safety cell and crumple zones, dynamic stability control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and backup camera. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. At Touring level and above a blind-spot monitoring system is standard. The Grand Touring's i-Activsense package consists of radar cruise control with proximity warning, smart city brake support and smart brake support systems, with collision warning, lane departure warning, distance recognition support, high-beam control, automatic headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.

RIDE AND HANDLING: If by reading the specifications, the CX-3 seems typical for a small crossover or hatchback -- transverse front engine, front- or part-time all-wheel drive, independent front suspension by MacPherson struts with a torsion beam axle in the rear -- design and execution make it stand out. Mazda's Skyactiv design and engineering concept means light weight, maximum rigidity and safety, and quick, predictable response to driver inputs. Attention to aerodynamic detail reduces wind noise and fuel consumption, and enhances stability. The suspension tuning is firmer than in most other small crossovers but far from harsh, and perfect for driving enthusiastically. The electrically-assisted power steering does not filter out feedback from the road. Good four-wheel antilock disc brakes use electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and traction control and the dynamic stability control system for stopping power in all conditions.

PERFORMANCE: Small size and light weight means better performance and economy. The CX-3's 2.0-liter engine uses aluminum for its block and head for light weight. A 16-valve dual overhead cam design, it uses variable cam phasing for optimum torque and efficiency over a broad rev range. Direct fuel injection allows a high 13:1 compression ratio to extract maximum energy from the fuel, and good combustion chamber design means that fuel in unleaded regular, not premium. Maximum horsepower is 146, at a high 6000 rpm that will rarely be reached. More importantly for daily driving, the maximum 146 lb-ft of torque is developed at a low 2800 rpm, and the six-speed automatic keeps revs there or below most of the time. "D" works well enough in daily use. For quicker acceleration, put it in Sport mode, and/or shift manually via the paddles behind the steering wheel spokes or the shift lever. EPA mileage is 29 mpg city, 35 highway, and 31 overall. Despite minimal highway slogging and with maximum enjoyment of the engine, I still got an easy 30 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: Mazda's new CX-3 stands out in the small crossover class.


2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD

Base Price $ 24,990

Price As Tested $ 28,340

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 146 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 146 @ 2800 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 168.3 in.

Curb Weight 2809 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.2

Fuel Capacity 12.7 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P215/50R18 92V Yokohama Avid S34FV m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, DSC, TCS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29 / 30 / 35

0 to 60 mph est 8 sec


Mazda Mobile Start $ 550

GT i-Activesense Package -- includes: Radar Cruise Control, Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, Variable Rain-Sensing Wipers, Lane Departure Warning, Auto On-Off Headlights, High-Beam Control $ 1,920

Destination Charge $ 880