2016 Mazda CX-3 review

2016 Mazda CX-3 - stylish, fuel-efficient and oozing with Mazda's legendary 'Zoom-Zoom' DNA, the new CX-3 sets the new benchmark for sub-compact CUVs

2016 Mazda CX-3 – stylish, fuel-efficient and oozing with Mazda’s legendary ‘Zoom-Zoom’ DNA, the new CX-3 sets the new benchmark for sub-compact CUVs

We’re sorry to be handing back our 2016 Mazda CX-3 test unit today.

Let’s just cut to the bottom line:

How did we like the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3?

Loved it!  Loved it!  Loved it!!

The CX-3 is stylish, superbly fuel-efficient, and best of all, it drives like a Mazda.  You remember Mazda’s ‘Zoom-Zoom’  advertizing campaign years ago, well, that’s not just advertising fluff.  If you want an outstanding driving experience, just walk into your local Mazda dealer and choose anything.  Without insulting either company, Mazda is Japan’s ‘BMW.’

Driving

What makes the new CX-3 an outstanding driver’s car is its gutsy 146 horsepower 2.0-litre DOHC SkyActiv engine, which is perfectly matched to a six-speed automatic, combined with a very sportingly-tuned suspension.

Off the line, the 2.0-litre engine has plenty of grunt and first gear is low enough to give impressively eager acceleration from a dead stop.  The CX-3 has a ‘normal’ and ‘sport’ setting for its transmission.  Most cars feel sluggish in ‘normal’ mode, where the engineers have calibrated throttle and transmissions seemingly for optimal fuel economy.  Mazda’s engineers have programmed the throttle and transmission shift points to make the CX-3 feel sporty in ‘normal’ mode, and these settings are perfect.  I never felt the need to use the ‘sport’ setting which allows the engine to rev higher before shifting to the next gear.

The CX-3 GT is fitted with relatively meaty 215/50R18 tires, and its suspension is Euro-firm without being harsh.  Steering turn-in is quick and provides decent feedback, and I found myself taking corners and freeway off-ramps at a decidedly more rapid pace than the most of the test vehicles we’ve had over the past few months.  And compared to its bigger ‘brother’ CX-5 GT, the CX-3 has a slightly softer suspension, making it the more comfortable of the two, especially on Edmonton’s pothole scarred streets.

At highway speed, the CX-3 provides a quiet cabin with wind and road noise well controlled.  The Mazda CUV is definitely quieter (especially on the highway)than the similarly-priced 2015 Mercedes-Benz B250 4-Matic we tested recently.

Fuel efficiency

Regular CarAndRider.com readers know I’m a fuel economy geek.  Fuel economy matters, and the Mazda CX-3 delivers impressive numbers.  On paper, the CX-3 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine with 6-speed automatic is officially rated at 8.8/7.3 l/100 km (city/hwy).  During our week of testing, we averaged a very frugal 7.6 l/100 km in mixed (80-20-percent hwy/city) driving.

Interior

CX-3's 'heads-up' display is useful (showing speed, cruise control setting and lane-departure warning )if not a tad gimmicky.  The plastic display screen retracts when the car is turned off.

CX-3’s ‘heads-up’ display is useful (showing speed, cruise control setting and lane-departure warning) but. The plastic display screen retracts when the car is turned off.

The interior of the CX-3 is spacious and roomy, feeling like a much larger vehicle than its outside dimensions would lead you to believe.

The tall roof gives plenty of headroom for tall drivers, even with the GT’s sunroof.

The interior looks modern and looks and feels like a substantial, quality car.

One interesting ‘feature’ of the CX-3 is the heads-up display, which is useful, though redundant.  The HUD shows digital speed (in addition to the digital speed readout on the dash and the analogue speedometer), cruise control speed setting and lane-departure warning.  The HUD is displayed on a small plastic screen that retracts into the dash when you turn the car off, and automatically rises into view when the car is turned on.  I found this to be gimmicky and wonder if its just another thing to go wrong somewhere down the road. . .

Our GT lots of ‘luxury’ features such as heated front seats, climate control and backup camera, but the CX-3 is deficient in three obvious places, lacking:  heated steering wheel, power driver’s seat and power tailgate.

60-40 split second row seats fold easily and almost flat

60-40 split second row seats fold easily and almost flat

One of the great attractions of buying a CUV or SUV is their flexibility in carrying people and cargo.  While there are those who think CUVs and SUVs are too big, heavy and use too much fuel for daily driving, it seems North Americans have recognized these vehicles for their true utility for day-to-day life.  CUVs and SUVs are the stationwagons of the 21st Century.

The CX-3 fulfills this ‘stationwagon’ role admirably.  The second row seats, split 60-40 as is common practice in the category, fold down easily.  There is no fussing with the 2nd row head restraints when they’re in the low position; simply release the seatback and fold it down.  (Some small CUVs require removing the 2nd row head restraints in order to fold the seat down.)

The CX-3's front seats are heated and comfortable.  Mazda cut costs - the driver's seat is adjusted manually

The CX-3’s front seats are heated and comfortable. Mazda cut costs ins some areas – the driver’s seat is adjusted manually and a power tailgate is notably absent

An apples-and-oranges comparison

Interestingly, our loaded 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT test unit comes in with an MSRP of about $33,000 dollars, about the same price as the 2015 Mercedes-Benz B250 4Matic and 2015 Kia Sportage 2.0T SX we’ve driven recently, as well as a sub-$30,000 dollar Subaru Impreza 5-door.

For sure, comparing the CX-3 to isn’t a fair comparison, but all these vehicles fall into the same price point, all have fulltime all-wheel-drive with 4-cylinder engines and all have the practical and roomy CUV/stationwagon-style configuration.

In this decidedly oddball grouping, the CX-3 is unquestionably the most fun to drive.  It feels the most sporting, with its eager 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine/transmission combination, and in our testing, it got the best fuel economy of the bunch.

With the new 2016 CX-3 GT, Mazda has undoubtedly set the new benchmark for the sub-compact CUV class.

 

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