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2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

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Looking for a small crossover with both sport and utility? It’s called the Mazda CX-3


                  • SEE ALSO: Mazda Research and Buyers Guide

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What's the difference between a crossover and a hatchback of similar size? Style. A crossover sits higher off the ground and is taller, for both the "SUV" look and, allegedly, greater interior space and ground clearance for active-lifestyle activities. Regarding that space, how many times do people stuff their crossovers or hatchbacks all the way to the ceiling? 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 might be 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 "sporty 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 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, and could be seen as its replacement.

The CX-3 debuted for model year 2016, and has only minor changes for 2017. 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 — Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring — 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 and above only), cruise control, 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 an upscale 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, and available electronic all for comfortably less than a luxury-brand equivalent. The news here is that the GT's i-Activesense package of electronic safety aids including radar cruise control, smart brake support, lane-departure warning and other features has decreased in price. Not just a token, it's down by $750.

And the front-wheel drive 2017 CX-3 Grand Touring that was my test car for the past week was so-equipped. I also noticed that the base price was the same $24,990 as the similar 2016 example I drove back in late 2015. The CX-3 is still the sportiest and most fun to drive of the small crossovers. It's also one of the smallest, but if you don't need a large amount of space, no problem. If you need that capacity, look at the CX-5 or the Mazda3 hatch. Like its cousin the MX-5 Miata, the CX-3 is not about blistering acceleration, but about a well-rounded driving experience and fun. It holds enough for two people or even a young couple and one child and kid stuff. Even keeping it in Sport mode and not doing much highway driving I got 30 mpg. Try that in a larger crossover…

APPEARANCE: No changes, none needed and don't mess with success. If you want to be anonymous, the CX-3 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.

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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. 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 — 2800 pounds — 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 miles and with maximum enjoyment of the engine, I still got an easy 30 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: Looking for a small crossover with both sport and utility? It's called the Mazda CX-3.


2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD

Base Price $ 24,990

Price As Tested $ 27,260

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 / 34 / 30

0 to 60 mph 8 sec


Rear Bumper Guard $ 100

Door Sill Trim Plates $ 100

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 $ 1,170

Destination Charge $ 900