Christopher Little

Crossed Over: 2016 Mazda CX-3

A new breed of crossover has arrived, aimed at making another class of car obsolete. The compact crossover is a relatively new idea billed as more utilitarian without sacrificing size or efficiency. But yet another crossover variant makes us nervous. The SUV and extended cab pickup truck market has rendered the full-size sedan nearly extinct and crossovers have taken over a large percentage of mid-size sedan sales. If compact cars, small in stature but big in personality, are to go the same way, we can only hope the compact crossover retains some of their character. If the CX-3 is any indication, there’s no need to fear. Mazda hit it out of the park.

Mazda CX3 1

Compact crossovers are aimed squarely at that target market company’s love…millennials. We’re the all-in-one “active” generation that likes to get the most out of as little as possible, or so we’re told. Compact crossovers are built on the compact car platforms they seek to replace. This CX-3 shares its platform with the new Mazda 2. Similarly, the Honda HR-V shares its underpinnings with the Fit and the Chevrolet Trax stems from the Sonic. Sharing the same footprint keeps the cars small, perfect for parking where millennials live; the city. They also share the same engines, so they’re efficient and good for the environment, something the millennials care very much about. They also feature plenty of cargo space, more upright driving positions, and optional all-wheel drive so millennials can go everywhere and do anything with ease.  With all this millennial targeting, automakers might expect the average age of a compact crossover to be low, in the 28-32 range. But do you know who likes small, fuel efficient cars that are easy to get in and out of and have plenty of disposable income? Retirees.

Mazda CX3 9

Regardless of who is going to buy the CX-3, they’re buying quite a looker. Mazda’s KODO design starts with the large, angular front grille sitting nearly vertical at the forward-most point of the car. From there, the optional LED headlights angle back at the boarder of the long, sloping hood. The hidden c-pillars make it seem like the rear quarter glass wraps right into the rear window. There’s just enough plastic body cladding around the stylish 18″ wheels to give it a rough-and-tumble demeanor. The side profile of the CX-3 is phenomenal. The whole package puts the similarly-shaped but oddly-rotund Mazda 3 hatchback to shame.

Mazda CX3 3

Inside, our CX-3 Grand Touring tester featured a laundry list of upgrades. The sunroof, wheel-mounted paddle shifters, leather seats, heads-up display, navigation system, and Bose sound system are all unique to the Grand Touring. It’s the trim level to have. Even without them, the interior of the CX-3 is remarkably upscale with several different trims, textures, and colors to help make the space feel bigger and more premium than it’s Mazda 2 origin would have you believe. It starts with the seats; parchment white leather with black alcantara inserts and red stitching. That color scheme is continued throughout, with accent panels of various color on the dash, door cards, and console. Several faux-aluminum and faux-carbon fiber trim pieces add to the effect. It’s a very nice place to be. It isn’t without flaws, however. The rear seats are a bit less spacious than its competitors. The navigation system screen feels like an afterthought and the controls sit awkwardly low and underneath the armrest. On the whole, thought, the CX-3 has the best interior in its class.

The only thing better than a top-notch interior is a top-notch interior that you want to spend time in. With the driving characteristics of the CX-3, that isn’t a problem. The 2.0L four cylinder engine produces 146hp, but only has to propel 2,932lbs of vehicle. It’s not slow by any standard and rather quick in its class. A true six-speed automatic powers, in our tester, all four wheels. That impacts mileage a bit, but we still averaged 27.5mpg over the course of the week. Handling is tight. The CX-3’s short wheelbase helps it dart around town, with suspension tuning that doesn’t sacrificing ride quality. We were not expecting a crossover to be so communicative and enjoyable to drive. It was a true delight to see my colleagues jump behind the wheel and be genuinely impressed.

Mazda CX3 7

The Mazda CX-3 is a very honest, simple vehicle. It doesn’t get help from forced induction engines or special transmissions. It pairs wight savings with basic, natural aspiration and a straightforward automatic. That’s not unheard of in the compact crossover market, but Mazda’s commitment to lightness, responsiveness, and efficiency come together in a true gem. With an as-tested price under $30k and efficiency nearing 28mpg, the CX-3 is affordable to own and operate. With the all-wheel drive system and decent cargo volume, its also capable enough to support any activity. But beyond its affordability, efficiency, and practicality, the CX-3 is truly enjoyable to drive. It may be early in the year, but the Mazda CX-3 is already on our shortlist for best new car in 2016.

-Christopher Little

2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Soul Red paint $300
i-ActivSense Package $1,920
Destination Charges $880
As Tested MSRP $29,340

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