The 2016 Mazda CX-3 (I give it three out of four stars) aims to add some sporty appeal to the growing class of subcompact crossover SUVs.
The CX-3 competes with small SUVs like the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Nissan Juke.
Its sleek looks suggest an enthusiastic driving experience the drivetrain doesn’t entirely deliver, but the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model offers a lot of features and exceptionally attractive materials.
Prices start at $19,960 for a front-wheel-drive base Sport model. All CX-3s come with a 146-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive models start at $21,210.
I tested a loaded Grand Touring AWD with blind spot and cross traffic alerts, a sunroof, Bose audio, suede upholstery and more.
It stickered at $27,550. All prices exclude destination charges and CX-3 prices are comparable to similarly equipped competitors.
Shorter than the Mazda 3 compact hatchback by 7.3 inches, the CX-3 is based on the same architecture as the subcompact Mazda 2 sedan and hatchback cars. Mazda doesn’t currently sell either of the 2s in the U.S., but Toyota’s Scion brand offers a rebadged version of the sedan as its iA. The CX-3 has the same 101.2-inch wheelbase as the iA, but the hatchback SUV is 3.4 inches shorter, 2.9 inches wider and 2.2 inches taller than the Scion. It’s a much more dynamic-looking vehicle, with a bigger, more powerful engine and tonier interior than the unassuming Scion.
The car’s exterior dimensions are similar to the small SUVs it competes with, but its interior is at the small end of the class.
My test car’s interior looked nearly luxurious. The oyster-shell leather seats had black suede inserts. More oyster and burgundy-colored leather adorned parts of the dash, doors and center console. The rest of the dash and doors consist mostly of hard plastic that seems a bit at odds with the ritzier materials.
While the interior looks terrific, it’s not very practical. The CX-3 offers substantially less passenger and cargo space than its competitors. There’s very little stowage in the front seat for sunglasses, phones, cups, music players and the like. The two small cupholders between the front seats are directly below the folding armrest. The driver can have someplace to keep coffee or rest his right elbow, but not both.
Mazda’s combination of a rotary controller and touch screen works reasonably well, but some tasks, like changing the audio source, are a bit cumbersome.
The CX-3’s 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque rank in the middle of its class. Acceleration is not exciting. My test car had more of Mazda’s “zoom zoom” motto written on its license plate holder than under the hood.
The fuel economy matches the Honda HR-V for most frugal in the class. The Environmental Protection Agency rated AWD models of both at 29 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
The sporty and more powerful Nissan Juke AWD has a higher rating, 31 mpg city/highway, but its requirement for premium fuel makes it more expensive to run despite getting better fuel economy, according to EPA estimates.
The CX-3’s long nose, bold grille, flared fenders and low roofline give it a sporty appearance. Visibility is good, in pleasant contrast to stylish vehicles that trade the ability to see traffic around you for a sleek body, narrow windows and low roof. The CX-3’s meager ground clearance — 6.1 inches for the base model, exactly the same as a Mazda 3 compact sedan — should end of any thoughts of off-road driving. Even in the class of “soft-roading” subcompact SUVs, the C X-3 is a city mouse.
Road noise is quite noticeable at highway speed. The car’s handling is responsive, well suited to quick turns and country roads. The suspension absorbs bumps well.
While Mazda’s “zoom zoom” slogan suggests the CX-3 should set a high-water mark for compact SUV performance, the little SUV’s outstanding features are its fuel economy, sleek looks and upscale interior.
By The Numbers
Price as tested: $27,550 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: Three out of four stars
Reasons to buy: Looks; Fuel economy; interior materials
Shortcomings: Passenger room; interior storage; cargo space
Engine: 2.0-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder
Power: 146 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 146 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 168.3 inches
Width: 69.6 inches
Height: 60.7 inches
Curb Weight: 2,952 pounds