The crossover segment is so hot it’s on fire, which means everyone is trying to introduce the next big thing to lure all those buyers. The CX-3 is Mazda’s attempt to introduce a not too big, not too small car to slot in between the existing Mazda3 and the CX-5. Does this small crossover have what it takes?
Mazda has something of a reputation for being fun to drive and the CX-3 looks the part. It it a small crossover, but with beefy 18″ wheels. Black fender flares make them look even bigger and the front end design gives it a low, sports car look rather than making it look like a crossover. At every angle, it’s a crossover that’s hiding something more beneath its skin.
That something more is a Mazda 4-cylinder 2-liter Skyactive engine with 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Those numbers aren’t impressive, but this is a Mazda, so what they do with those numbers is far more than you might expect.
Our drive route took us through winding California roads the day after driving the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. The pressure was on and our expectations were firmly in check.
What we got was a surprisingly fun crossover. No, it’s not the MX-5 Miata, but the CX-3 handled the road confidently. There is no manual option, but the automatic shifts are smooth and fast. There is also a sport mode that allows high revs that will hold as long as you want for more spirited driving.
Your fuel economy will suffer when you’re in sport mode, so if that’s your priority, then leave that button alone. You’ll still have an enjoyable, responsive ride that achieves 29/35/31 city/highway/combined in the FWD variant or 27/32/29 if you go for the AWD model.
The low horsepower is only occasionally an issue, most noticeably when hitting the gas hard going up hill. It takes a split second longer than we’d like to react, but once it knows what you want, the CX-3 quickly gets its act together and sprints forward.
The electric power steering offers a moderate amount of road feedback. If this was a Miata, it would be disappointing, but this is a crossover so it feels in line with similar vehicles like the Jeep Renegade or Fiat 500X.
The Mazda Connect infotainment system is standard in every CX-3 and features a 7″ full color touchscreen. An optional 7-speaker Bose sound system makes whatever music you decide to play sound warm and rich.
There is also an a available heads-up display that has a plastic screen/flap that pops up on the dash in front of the driver. The heads-up display is great, but the little piece of plastic is odd. It looks like it should manually fold, but if you you try, then you risk snapping it clean off, so be warned.
An extensive suite of safety features is available based on the model you select. Standard features include a rear camera and a tire pressure monitoring system. Available options include lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alerts, radar cruise control, and blind spot monitoring.
There are three different models starting with the $19,960 Sport that lets Mazda proudly say the CX-3 starts at under $20K. Next up is the Touring at $21,960 and it all tops out with the Grand Touring at $24,990. The numbers go up, but they stay manageable making this a real contender in the crossover marketplace.
Crossovers aren’t innately sexy cars. They get the job done by hauling small families and their assorted cargo from point A to point B without a lot of focus on how fun it is to make that drive. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 will change your perception of what it means to drive a crossover. You won’t mind driving all over town when it’s this much fun.