By now you’re probably tired of reading about how Mazda have some sort magical zoom-zoom characteristic. Well, you’re not getting any respite with the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Because in the hot world of subcompact sport-utility crossovers, the CX-3 has veritable wings on its heels.
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 joins the Mazda CX-5 and the Mazda CX-9 (there was a Mazda CX-7, but it was deemed too close in specifications and market to the Mazda CX to either side) in Mazda’s crossover family. It’s actually a part of a lineup that includes the Mazda Mazda3 hatchback and the Mazda Mazda5, a sort of mini-minivan.
What makes the Mazda CX-3 stand out from the other Mazda CX models, of course is its size. The CX-3 joins a field that includes, for example, the Honda HR-V and the Buick Encore—the latter of which is, by the way, the best-selling Buick model. The class is a hot commodity, as we’ve noted before, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
Mazda puts its own spin on the class with a very Mazda model. That it’s a Mazda is obvious, sharing major Mazda’s “KODO” design elements with a particularly strong resemblance to the Mazda6 sedan in the grille, hood and fender lines, sharing even the front overhang of Mazda’s mid-size sedan. From A-pillar back, it becomes its own vehicle, with an exaggerated swelling over the rear wheels, a tapering roofline, and combination rear side window and black-out treatment that gives a floating roofline that end in a tapering spoiler.
It could, were it not for black cladding around the wheel openings and along the rocker panels, look like a compact wagon rather than a crossover.
It meets the requirements of either. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is a five-door hatchback with easy access to the cargo area, which is limited by the CX-3’s overall size. The cargo capacity, with rear seat raised and below the tonneau, is a mere 12.3 cubic feet (and less in the Grand Touring edition). But that expands to almost 45 cubic feet with the rear seatback lowered for maximum capacity, which is a prime consideration with a five-door hatch. And we’ll call the load floor “almost flat” with the rear seatback folded.
Despite a generous cargo capacity for its size, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is small in a number of ways. Its two-liter four cylinder is rated at 146 horsepower and lb-ft or torque. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but with a sub-3,000 pound curb weight, it means the CX-3 has relatively spritely performance, equal to or better than its peers. The weight and horsepower combination gives the CX-3 an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/32 mpg city/highway. In mixed driving, moderately cold weather and the enthusiastic foot, we recorded 27.6 mpg. No doubt you could do better.
It’s not usual for only the base trim level for a model to have the option of a manual transmission, with upper levels offered only with an automatic. That’s not the case with the Mazda CX-3. There’s no manual option at all, despite the availability of a stick with the same engine in the larger CX-5. Figure marketing and the costs associated with two instead of one powertrain.
On the other hand, the six-speed automatic is smart, knowing when to downshift on its own, for example, and a sport mode. But for paddle shifting this autobox, buyers will have to opt for the top Grand Touring trim level. Otherwise, any manual shifting will have to be done with the stick shift on the center console. It’s not the best arrangement, but for what it is and the price point, it does it very well.
Of course the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is available with either front or all-wheel drive, but seriously, a crossover doesn’t make sense, at least to anyone near the Snow Belt, without all-wheel traction. We would have welcomed slippery stuff during our time with the CX-3, but such was not to be. At least the AWD eliminated whatever torque steer the engine might have been able to dish out.
Trim levels for the 2016 Mazda CX-3 start at the $19,960 Sport base level. The CX-3 Sport is well equipped for its price, and although it comes with steel wheels, standard equipment includes Bluetooth for phone, push-button start and keyless access, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, and power windows and locks. Also on the base trim level are Mazda’s CONNECT infotainment system with a seven-inch monitor, rear camera, voice control, AM/FM/CD/USB plus Aha/Pandora/Stitcher internet radio compatibility, SMS text message audio delivery and reply, and E911 Automatic Emergency Notification. Adding all-wheel drive raises the base price of the CX-3 Sport to $21,210.