[Review] 2016 Mazda CX-3 Sets High Standards in the Subcompact Crossover Segment

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Mazda has brought ‘fun-to-drive’ to the emerging sub-compact CUV segment.

Despite its taller body, the CX-3 displays the same driving dynamics that make the Mazda3 the darling of the compact car set among enthusiasts.

The new Mazda arrives at a critical time, just as this new segment is taking off.

Created by the Nissan Juke several years ago, it has seen the arrival of four newcomers in the past year alone, the Mazda as well as the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade.

As a result of this fresh metal, it is the darling of the industry and sales are growing with each reporting period.

The Mazda CX-3 is a good-looking vehicle and is distinctly Mazda — from the big grill to the shoulder lines that sweep up as they run rearwards.

The test vehicle came with 18-inch alloy wheels with a gunmetal grey finish.

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The CX-3 shares its platform with the little Mazda2, a sub-compact car we do not get in Canada. But Mazda builds a pair of copies for Toyota — the Yaris and Scion iA.

While the Scion is an American-only car, we do get the Yaris, which is virtually all Mazda from the behind the unique grill to the back bumper.

The CX-3 boasts the taller seating and available all-wheel-drive that are the base of this segment’s popularity.

The added height of the cabin not only makes for improved visibility, it means easier entry and exit, improved sightlines and makes it easier to put things in the cargo hold.

Speaking of which, that well-finished area is not only easy to access through the giant hatch, but features a perfectly flat floor with a useful storage area beneath. The space can be more than doubled by lowering one or both sides of the 60/40 split rear seat.

It is obvious the CX-3 was developed as a driver’s vehicle — from the driver seat. The dash is well laid-out and highly visible day or night.

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On the GT trim-level test vehicle, the tachometer dominates the instrument panel, the big round gauge front and centre, with a small digital speedometer in the lower right quadrant.

It is flanked by digital readouts for lesser information to either side.

A slick little heads-up display is situated straight ahead, adjustable for height and what it shows. A tablet-like readout is positioned atop the dash for the HMI, navigation and rear camera displays and big round knobs control the HVAC system. The HMI system, controlled by a dial and buttons aft of the shift lever is exemplary in its simplicity and ease of use.

The rear seat is as spacious as you can expect in a vehicle of this size, which his to say cramped for large adults.

The CX-3 is available with a Technology package that includes a raft of new-tech features, including rear cross-traffic, blind-spot and lane departure warnings and ‘Smart City Brake Support’ which utilizes a laser to detect vehicles and obstacles up to six metres away.

At up to 30 km/h, it moves the brake pads closer to the disc in preparation for a sudden stop. If the driver fails to take action it will apply the brakes and bring the vehicle to a stop.

On the road, the CX-3 charms. The ride/handling compromise is all but perfect. To some the suspension may feel a little stiff, but for those who appreciate such things, the type that goes for a drive for the simple pleasure of driving, the CX-3 is a delight, with accurate feedback from the steering, instant and progressive response from the brakes and an engine and transmission in tune with each other.

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Under the hood is Mazda’s 2.0-litre Skyactiv four-cylinder engine putting 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, through a six-speed automatic to the company’s excellent iActiv all-wheel drive system.

Performance is adequate if not exciting. Fuel economy is impressive. I averaged 8.7 litres/100 km over a week of mixed highway and city driving.

The compact size and very tight turning circle make this a breeze to maneuver in tight quarters, like crowded parking lots.

The Mazda fits into this new segment beautifully, bringing to the fold a degree of pizzazz and its SkyActive technology — by which everything from steering, suspension and brakes to engine and transmission are developed in conjunction with one another, not simply taken from various parts bins.

The result is a cohesiveness that passengers and drivers who find a vehicle as merely a necessary conveyance, may not be aware of.

But those who enjoy driving will pick up on it right away.

The Mazda CX-3 is a winner, figuratively and literally, having been named AJAC’s Best New SUV/CUV (under $35k) for 2016.

The Specs

2016 Mazda CX-3

  • Price: $20,695 base (GX FWD), $30,890 as tested (GT AWD) including freight.
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 146 horsepower, 146 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: six-speed auto
  • NRC fuel economy rating, (l/100km, city/highway): 8.8 / 7.3
  • Length: 4,274 mm
  • Width: 1,767 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,570 mm
  • Weight: 1,275 kg
  • Competition: Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Juke
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