The Mazda CX-3 is a serious contender among subcompact crossover SUVs, a hot category. Sporty, attractive, and practical, the 2017 CX-3 is available at attractive prices and gets great gas mileage.
Introduced for 2016, the CX-3 hasn’t changed, apart from placing larger (18-inch) wheels on midrange 2017 Mazda CX-3 Touring models. Its platform stems from the Mazda 2, a subcompact car like the Scion iA no longer sold in the U.S.
The CX-3 is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive comes with predictive features.
All Mazda CX-3 models come with the same powertrain: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine driving a 6-speed automatic transmission. Developing a modest 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, the engine doesn’t sound like a powerhouse, yet it manages to deliver a level of enthusiastic energy and driving fun that’s not often found in the crossover SUV world. We found the CX-3 fun to drive.
At the same time, the CX-3 achieves frugal gas-mileage estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency: 29/34 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined. Mazda’s subcompact ranks among the best in its vehicle class. The Honda HR-V, a recent entrant and strong competitor against Mazda, is rated 28/35 mpg City/Highway, 31 mpg Combined.
In crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the CX-3 earned a five-star rating overall, and for frontal and side impacts (four-star for rollovers). One safety concern arose, though: In side-impact testing, the left rear door collapsed into the passenger area, raising the risk for spinal injury. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2016 CX-3 Good ratings in each test, naming it a Top Safety Pick +.
Mazda offers an i-ActivSense group of active safety features, including lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, adaptive headlights, automatic emergency braking, and rain-sensing wipers. It’s a $1,170 option ($750 less than the 2016 version), but only for the top Grand Touring model.
Mazda CX-3 comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($1,250).
CX-3 Sport ($19,960) includes air conditioning, Mazda Connect infotainment with a 7-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, cruise control, power windows/locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless start, and Bluetooth streaming audio and phone connectivity.
CX-3 Touring ($21,960) adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, six-speaker sound, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated mirrors. An optional Tech Package includes premium Bose audio, a panoramic moonroof, satellite radio, HD radio, and a cargo cover.
Grand Touring ($24,990) comes with paddle shifters, a head-up display, leather seat upholstery with suede inserts, heated front seats, LED adaptive headlights, LED foglamps and taillights, Bose seven-speaker audio, satellite radio, navigation, and automatic climate control. The i-ActivSense ($1,170) suite of active safety features is available.
Six airbags are standard. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
In a world of near-lookalike crossover models, the CX-3 is simply stunning, visually. Mazda’s designers appear to have adopted a goal of minimalism, but there’s nothing dull about the CX-3.
The body features sheetmetal transformed into a blend of sensuously flowing shapes and mildly complex forms. Taken as a whole, the end result comes across as both athletic and elegant, complementing the CX-3’s cabin, which is sportier in theme than most vehicles of this sort. Its stylish exterior makes excellent use of Mazda’s Kodo design language, developed some years ago.
Stepping inside, you can be excused for thinking that you’ve entered a Mazda3 hatchback. A tastefully laid-out dashboard, augmented by soft-touch components, helps deliver a premium look and feel. Climate controls appear sturdy, the steering wheel looks simple and modern, and instruments are clear as well as informative. In short, the interior is elegant and tasteful, to an extent not typically seen in smaller crossover SUVs.
On the negative side, the monochrome gauges have a low-budget, excessively basic look. Mazda’s head-up display, standard in Grand Touring models, lags in crispness, too.
Considering the CX-3’s compact exterior dimensions, cabin space is decent enough, depending on where you’re sitting. Up front, two adult males get sufficient head, leg, and shoulder room. Back-seat accommodations are less inviting. Legroom is about the same as BMW’s 3 Series, but the CX-3’s sloping roofline sharply reduces head space for back-seat riders.
Out back, the cargo floor is flat and rear seats can fold down to expand available space. Despite the tailgate angle, cargo volume comes to an acceptable 12.4 cubic feet, growing to 44.5 cubic feet with rear seatbacks down.
Swift might not be the most accurate description of CX-3 performance, but Mazda’s smallest crossover is emphatically brisk. Push on the accelerator pedal, and the 146-horsepower engine springs smartly into action.
Mazda has long been known for focusing on the driving experience, and the CX-3 is one more example of that successful formula. In a segment that tends to be somewhat dreary, Mazda’s entrant maintains a sporty personality and abundant road feel, inspiring a welcome level of confidence along with motoring pleasures.
On the highway and during suburban jaunts, the 2.0-liter engine typically purrs quietly. Around town, however, particularly when merging into traffic, growling sounds become noticeable. Pushed hard in Sport mode, the engine responds vigorously, willing to rev toward its 6500-rpm limit. But the sound it makes isn’t so satisfying.
Paddle shifters are standard on the Grand Touring, but unavailable for Sport or Touring editions. The 6-speed automatic on those models may be manually-shifted using a gate on the gearshift lever.
Low curb weight helps produce the CX-3’s peppy nature. With front-drive, it weighs a mere 2,809 pounds. Adding about 143 pounds to total weight, the available all-wheel-drive system doesn’t detract from the CX-3’s ability to maneuver nimbly through quick corners.
In the smallest crossover SUV category, the CX-3 ranks high for fuel-efficiency, comparable to the Chevrolet Trax and Honda HR-V. With front-drive, it’s EPA-rated at 29/34 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 27/32 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined.
The Mazda CX-3 delivers impressive performance for its class, zoom-zoom handling and an appealing set of standard features. Fun to drive, the CX-3 provides good value for a comparatively moderate price.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.