The highlight of driving the new 2016 Mazda CX-3 CUV came while listening to Colleen Brown’s tune Love You Baby on CKUA. This upbeat song started playing while I was piloting the little sport cute around town in the bright summer sun. Colleen’s song seemed very fitting for a fun subcompact car like the CX-3.
The Mazda CX-3 now joins the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Honda HR-V all vying for a piece of the compact utility vehicle market. A market segment that is hot right now. The fun starts with CX-3's one engine option – a 2L SkyActiv four-cylinder making 146 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 146 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 RPM.
Buyers have their choice of front- or all-wheel-drive across all three trim levels (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) but power only gets to the wheels through a six-speed automatic. Engine performance is good, with smooth, linear acceleration. Put your foot into it hard and there's no harshness, just glass smooth power even at higher rpms. If you’re a little aggressive the engine still returns very good fuel consumption. Weighing in at about 2,800 lbs. the CX-3’s engine isn’t straining to move this little CUV so you benefit at the pumps. Mazda rates the Grand Touring AWD at 7.3L/100km on the highway and 8.3L/100km around town. My results were 7.8L/100km and 8L/100km which were mostly urban driving with me or a passenger. Fuel consumption is slightly better with front-wheel-drive models.
My GT All-Wheel-Drive model had a top-notch suspension. Grippy and taut without being very harsh. Providing tight handling with enough compliance so as not to transmit an over-abundance of road imperfections. The ride comfort was much better than I anticipated. The CX-3 never bounces or floats and the steering is very responsive requiring minimal input for turning or steering corrections. You can toss it around turns without any drama.
Mazda did not skimp on the inside. One of the most significant visual centrepieces of an automotive interior is the seating surfaces. The leather on my Grand Touring seats had a premium look and feel. The overall design of the GT interior is nicely done with warm colours and textures like soft leather and Alcantara. There's good use of chrome accents finishing off a very pleasant environment for the eyes. The seats are just right with a good balance of firmness and comfort which will make your butt happy. Interior room might be of concern if you’re six-something like me. When I adjust the driver's seat to my liking and hopped in behind it my knees pressed into the backside. A situation that’s OK perhaps for a short trip, not OK for a run exceeding 20 minutes. Fold down the 60/40 rear seat back and you get 1,484 litres of cargo space. Good sound insulation gives you peace in the passenger cabin whether you're driving around town or on the open road.
I have to mention some of the tech features on the CX-3. The high-mounted, seven-inch touchscreen is standard across all three trim levels. This allows for one of Mazda's "killer-app" features. Any CX-3, regardless of trim or initial build options can be upgraded with factory navigation at the dealer by installation of an extra cost module.
Mazda Connect is also compatible with Aha, Pandora and Sticher. The CX-3 is also compatible with Mazda's new Mobile Start app, allowing drivers from their smartphones to remotely electronically manipulate many features including the ignition; however a subscription to the service is required. Other noteworthy standard features include a rear-view camera and keyless entry, with advanced (hands-free) keyless entry available on Touring and Grand Touring models. Mazda's i-ActivSense safety suite is also available on Grand Touring models, bringing with it features such as lane departure warning and forward collision assist. Some of those are featured as part of the Technology Package which is a $1,500 option.
On the outside designers have done a very good job, too. The contrast-coloured fender outlines convey a rugged, off-road look which I think comes off better on the CX-3 than its big brother the CX-5. The overall look tends to make the CX-3 look more hunkered-down and aggressive. The black trim on the fender arches also flatter the wheels, both shrinking the CX-3's external presence and giving it more of a wheels-at-the-corners look.
This is supposed to be an entry level, affordable CUV. Perfect for seniors and 20-somethings who have finished their post-secondary education and want a practical vehicle for an active lifestyle. I would not recommend the CX-3 for young families who have a little one still in a car seat. There is not enough room in the back seat and precious little room behind the back seat for cargo. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 starts at $20,695 for a FWD model. My GT All-Wheel-Drive tester starts at a reasonable $28,995.
Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the ’70s.