As many of you know by now, I’ve never been a big fan of crossovers. Why? Well, you get just as much cargo space and practicality from a modern wagon or hot hatchback, cars that will stir your soul a lot more than any jacked-up plastic box ever could.
But because crossovers are a thing these days, and, let’s face it, are selling like hotcakes, they must be reviewed. Plus, as long as winter’s not over, I’d rather keep my Chevy Camaro or Focus RS reviews for warm summer days.
So, here we are with another subcompact crossover. This time, it’s from Mazda, and the first thing you notice when you drive the CX-3 is that Mazda didn’t really care about building a subcompact crossover. Instead, they built one of the most enjoyable sport compact cars available on the market today.
Built for Hobbits
If you think of it as a crossover, the CX-3 is not exactly what you would call practical. Built on a brand-new subcompact platform that will underpin the next generation Mazda 2, the CX-3 is indeed a very tiny vehicle. It also sits much lower than any crossover should.
Any vehicle whose roof line isn’t higher than my neck can’t be considered an SUV in my book.
The lilliputian proportions also heavily affect cargo space and rear seat legroom. Anyone over 5’7″ will hit the roof with their head if they sit in the stadium-style rear seats. And if the front passenger happens to be a full-size adult, such as myself, he’ll have to chop the legs off the rear occupants just to get them inside the car.
Also, because of the way it’s designed, as well as the puny doors, the b-pillar is right smack next to your head, making for a very large blind spot area. The result is a vehicle that provides very poor visibility.
The CX-3 is so small in fact that it’s a full 18.5 cm shorter than Mazda’s official compact car, the Mazda 3, which also happens to have more trunk space than this little crossover.
We can safely say then, that as a vehicle designed to offer practicality, the CX-3 fails miserably.
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Start driving the Mazda CX-3 though, and you’ll immediately feel a firm, lightweight chassis, composed road manners, and a dynamic charm usually not found in this segment.
Actually, the last time I felt a car so freakin’ fun to drive was when I was behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5.
Toggle Sport mode on the 6-speed close-ratio automatic transmission and it completely changes its characteristics to mimic those of a mini Porsche Macan. Revs are kept hanging for your throttle inputs, downshifts are quick and accompanied by throttle blips, and the entire system seems to know when you’re about to enter a corner as it braces itself to find the best gear.
To get even more pleasure behind the wheel, put the transmission in manual mode, pull back on the perfectly placed, and so-much-fun-to-operate paddle shifter to the left, squeeze the throttle, and listen to the raspy 2.0-liter naturally aspirated Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine as it barks urgently to redline.
I don’t know what they’ve fitted in its exhaust, but the CX-3 sounds seriously angry. Unfortunately, you also hear a lot of wind and road noise throughout the entire cabin.
Also, there’s not much actual power going on under the hood; about 146 horsepower. I do wish it had a bit more. Like 50 more. But the CX-3 makes up for that with an urgent and eager power delivery that adds even more pleasure to its driving experience.
Keep pushing the CX-3’s limits and you’ll notice its strong oversized brakes that seem to be able to handle serious torture all day long. Turn in is sharp, steering is responsive, body roll and nosedive are basically non-existent (for this type of car), weight distribution is spot on, and there’s just an overall feeling that the whole vehicle was designed to make you smile.
No, sorry, laugh your face off.
And suddenly, it hits you: the CX-3, well, it’s not a crossover. It’s a driver’s car. It doesn’t give a crap what your passengers, kids, or luggage have to say about it. It just wants to play.
It’s a Looker
I have to admit, I’m really enjoying the appearance of modern Mazdas. The CX-3, like the beautiful Mazda 3, the stunning Mazda 6 and the properly attractive new MX-5, is a truly astonishing design execution. It looks upscale, refined, yet properly Japanese, without being overdone. Thanks to its micro dimensions, the CX-3 is stanced like a hot hatchback, further emphasizing its stubby rear end and flared wheel arches.
The interior is also comfortable (but cramped) and wonderfully appointed, with high-quality materials, excellent build quality and an overall young, dynamic, and serene design language.
This is not a beautiful interior by subcompact crossover standards. This a beautiful interior period.
It’s a cabin filled with subtle design cues that make you feel like you’re driving something special. I love the leather surface that spans the dashboard towards the passenger door. Controls are straightforward and intuitive, and like the MX-5, everything about the way the CX-3 operates works in massive common sense.
There’s also a sense that this interior will still look fresh 20 years from now. Are you reading Volkswagen?
My tester, painted in the sublime Ceramic Metallic paint job, was the top-of-the-line GT model fitted with Mazda’s i-Active all-wheel-drive system, sumptuous white leather Lux Sued trimmed upholstery, power sunroof, 18-inch wheels, navigation, a Bose sound system, and a gimmicky, yet seriously cool heads up display. Equipped this way, your CX-3 will cost you $31 005 with only the $1 500 technology package left as an option. The latter includes a blind spot monitoring system (I would have left that one standard), rear cross traffic alert, smart city brake support, lane departure warning system, high beam control system, and Sirius XM satellite radio – in case you feel the need to add these useless options to a subcompact crossover.
The CX-3’s entry level price is $22 705 for a front-wheel drive GX model. Unfortunately, the only transmission offered is a 6-speed automatic. I do wish a manual box was available with all-wheel drive.
Injecting Some Soul in a Soulless Segment
The CX-3 is a breath of fresh air in a segment filled with soulless self-driving appliances. It’s a sign that there’s still hope in today’s automotive industry for affordable, fun-to-drive, and value-packed vehicles. While some may argue that you can go out and get a more off-road-capable Jeep Renegade or a roomier Honda HR-V for the same price, the CX-3 has aces up its sleeve with its Miata-like puppy-dog driving characteristics wrapped up in an elegant design and one of the most beautiful interiors in the segment.
If you’re looking for a crossover to fit a baby’s seat in the back, look elsewhere, I’m sure there are plenty of affordable boxes out there to fit the bill.
However, as a fun little urban vehicle full of character with all-wheel-drive capability, the Mazda CX-3 ticks off all the right boxes. It’s perfectly suited for young couples or single professionals.
In my book, any vehicle that puts a big fat grin on my face deserves a special place in my heart. Cramped interior or not.
Review of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 by William Clavey – *2016 Top 10 Contender
+ Beautiful exterior design.
+ Attractive and well appointed interior.
+ Seriously fun to drive.
– Cramped interior and cargo space.
– Lacks power.
– Loud tire and wind noise.
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: Valleyfield Mazda
Photography: Myle Appearance
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org