2016 Mazda CX-3 Review

Sticking to a Winning Formula

Mazda is on a real roll right now.

Deep amidst a full-fledged SkyActiv onslaught, it appears Mazda can do no wrong. The Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5 are all favorites around the AutoGuide office. For 2016, a new member joins the Mazda family looking to continue to the hit-streak.

Called the CX-3, it’s yet another entry in the booming subcompact crossover segment. Based on the new Mazda2 platform, the CX-3 is indeed a small crossover. Measuring 168.3 inches in length, it’s shorter than the equally new Honda HR-V and almost a foot shorter than it bigger brother, the CX-5.

Looks Familiar

Wearing Mazda’s now ubiquitous KODO design language, family resemblance runs deep with the CX-3. But as much as it looks like every other modern Mazda, it has a certain sleekness that the CX-5 and CX-9 lack. With six-inches of ground clearance and a relatively low roof height, the CX-3 looks ready to attack a local rally-cross track.

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The CX-3 has a sporty appearance that stands out in a segment littered with awkward and boring crossovers. A few exterior highlights include optional 18-inch wheels, optional LED headlights, dual muffler tips and a wrap-around back window that helps with rearward visibility.

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Familiar Drivetrain

The CX-3 uses the same Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine found in many other Mazdas. In the CX-3 though, output has been reduced to 146 HP and 146 lb-ft of torque. The reason for the power decrease is due to the CX-3 not being able to fit the 2.0-liter engine’s regular exhaust manifold. A smaller, more compact one had to be fabricated that restricts airflow sort of like strapping a drinking straw to the end of a leaf blower.

Like most modern crossovers, the CX-3 can be had with front- or all-wheel drive. Regardless of which drivetrain is chosen, a six-speed automatic is the only transmission available. For now, the CX-3 will not be available in North America with a manual transmission, but the company is exploring the possibility of adding one in the future. For those saddened by the lack of a third pedal, the automatic does have a sport mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

2016 Mazda CX-3 Review

Not So Fast

But don’t be fooled into thinking the CX-3 is sporty, at least in a straight line performance sense. Even with decent power and light curb weight, Mazda claims the fastest CX-3 will still take over nine seconds to hit 60 MPH from a dead stop. That’s slow, but the focus of the CX-3’s drivetrain is on efficiency as front-wheel drive models are expected to get 29 MPG in the city and 35 MPG on the highway.

Still, the numbers can be a little deceiving as the CX-3 doesn’t feel that slow driving around the city. The engine builds power quickly and makes a subtly aggressive sound when under hard acceleration. When accelerating up to freeway speeds or climbing steep grades, the absence of power becomes more prevalent. It isn’t painfully slow, but a loaded up CX-3 with four passengers and cargo isn’t going to win the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb anytime soon.


Comfort and Cornering

Things do pick up when it comes to handling though. A base CX-3 weighs just over 2,800 lbs., which is lighter than key competitors like the Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade. The CX-3 attacks narrow mountain passes with surprising authority. Transitioning from side-to-side lacks the usual crossover body-roll and the vehicle always responds to a driver’s inputs quickly. Still, the CX-3 strikes a great balance between ride comfort and agile handling.

As strange as it sounds, the CX-3 actually feels more solid and substantially built than the CX-5. I’ve always noticed a somewhat hollow feel to the CX-5 that I chalked up to the crossover’s light weight. Yet, here is a smaller, lighter crossover from Mazda that lacks that feeling. Part of this has to do with the ample sound deadening material Mazda was able to add to the CX-3 while still keeping weight in check.


Budget Interior Done Right

Inside, the CX-3 resembles most modern Mazdas. A seven-inch tablet-like touchscreen protruding from the dashboard is standard as well as the usual infotainment controls placed on the center console. Materials throughout the cabin are a mixed bag of good and bad, but even the cheaper materials look more expensive than they actually are.

SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-3 Confirmed, Mazda5 Axed

Seating comfort is quite good in the CX-3, especially in higher trimmed models that feature the leather and faux-suede seat upholstery. Headroom for front passengers is great and after a few hours of driving, fatigue was minimal. One gripe I do have is the lack of a fold out center arm rest for rear passengers.

As is becoming the norm with Mazda’s latest offerings, the CX-3 can be equipped with fancy technologies like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward crash detection, head-up display and lane departure warning.


Surprising Space

Even if this is a subcompact crossover, Mazda wants regular-sized adults to fit in the back seat. With a theatre style seating design, rear passengers are placed higher and slightly more inward than those in front. At just over six-feet tall, I was able to fit comfortably in the back thanks to ample headroom and 35 inches of rear legroom that had my legs just brushing the front seats.

The rear cargo area isn’t quite as impressive. It can only carry 16 cubic feet of gear with the rear seats up, a number that shrinks to 14.4 cubic feet with the optional subwoofer in place. That space increases to 54 cubic feet if you fold the rear seats

Mazda expects the 2016 CX-3 will begin trickling into showrooms later this summer. Although pricing won’t be finalized until closer to the on-sale date, expect the CX-3 to begin in the low $20,000 range.


2016 Mazda CX-3 Review: The Verdict

It appears Mazda has done it once again. The 2016 CX-3 sticks to the brand’s praiseworthy formula of combining comfort, sportiness and efficiency in an attractive package. The CX-3 is a wholly competitive vehicle and appears to be yet another winner for Mazda.

Discuss this story on our Mazda CX-3 Forum