Mazda CX-3 — Small crossover perfection

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We found the sub-compact 2016 Mazda CX-3 crossover an appealing little hatchback for a variety of reasons not the least of which is its cornering and handling attributes, displaying a remarkable composure on the twists and turns with a precision steering feel more like a small sporty car than a family crossover.

The CX-3 takes on a sports car persona by toggling a switch to the Sport mode, which holds the transmission in gear a bit longer while downshifting as you brake into a corner. In straight line acceleration, however, we cannot call the CX-3 fast. It is endowed with a more quick-like-a- cat feel, suddenly leaping at the ball of twine as the light turns green. Its 0-to-60 time of mid-eight-seconds is relatively mundane in the vast world of automobiles; however it's fast in the world of tiny crossovers, most straining to break the 10-second barrier.

This semblance of performance comes thanks to the crossover's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. As with most vehicles in the sub-compact segment when it comes time to make a passing maneuver on a two-lane road planning is necessary, and when merging into fast-moving traffic you may have to stick your foot into it. But overall, the little engine matches up well with the crossover's lightweight 2,932-size.

The engine delivers excellent fuel economy listed as 29 mpg city, 35 highway and 31 overall in front-wheel drive, and 27/32/29 in all-wheel drive models. Mazda says the CX-3 has "class-leading fuel economy." Mazda appears to be correct, but there are several crossovers that come very close including the Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax.

The CX-3 was also attractive to us because of its stylish flowing exterior with its long hood and tapering roofline, and its very upscale and equally stylish interior. Our mid-level Touring test car came with black leatherette sport seats trimmed out with burgundy ribbing. The black theme was broken up nicely with burgundy stitching and the luxury look was carried throughout with swatches of burgundy on the arm rests and the edges of the center console. Very classy, indeed, and definitely above its pay grade.

All CX-3 models get an easy-to-read seven-inch infotainment display screen mounted on top of the dash. The screen is operated by a control knob on the center console. We like the format, but discovered some of the functions such as changing a satellite radio station to be a multi-step process. Also the volume knob sits between the seats and can be hard to reach. We found ourselves fumbling around attempting to turn the volume down without completely taking our eyes off the road. On the plus s
ide, we like the big center tachometer with digital speed embedded in the corner. And we found the three-knob climate controls user friendly.

The front seats proved comfortable and supportive and should wear well during a long drive. If you are used to power seat adjustments, however, you will have to look elsewhere. Only manually adjustable seats are available regardless of trim level. Where the CX-3 comes up just a bit short of segment average is cargo space, measured at just 12.4 cubic feet with all seats up. With the rear seats folded, cargo space increases to 44.5 cubic feet.

The CX-3 comes in three trim levels — Sport, Touring and Grand Touring — starting at $20,860. Mazda offers considerable standard equipment for the base price including automatic headlights, push-button ignition, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, cruise control, air conditioning, rearview camera, and a six-speaker audio system with seven-inch touchscreen.

Touring starts at $22,860 and adds heated mirrors, a blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, keyless entry and ignition, leatherette and cloth upholstery, heated front seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Grand Touring starting at $25,890 adds 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, upgraded instrumentation with a head-up display, leather and synthetic suede upholstery, navigation, a Bose sound system with satellite radio, and automatic climate control. All-wheel drive can be added to all three trims for $1,250.

We discovered that our all-wheel drive Touring model, outfitted with a $1,410 option package that included the Bose audio with satellite radio, and a power moonroof, was all we would need coming in with a bottom line of $26,150. If you live outside cold-weather country and can get by sans the all-wheel drive, the bottom line would have dropped to $24,900.

We consider the all-new CX-3 the current benchmark for small crossovers — despite a few shortcomings — with the right mix of features, style and performance.

Base price: $20,860; price as driven, $26,150
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 146 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 146 foot-pounds @ 2,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 168.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,809 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 44.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 27 city, 29 combined
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade

The Good
• Classy interior
• Many appealing features
• Excellent fuel economy
• Sporty handling

The Bad
• Some awkward controls

The Ugly
• Small cargo capacity