The subcompact crossover segment has proven to be quite a successful one so far. Almost every carmaker now offers a cute little trucklet based on a proven subcompact platform.
In Quebec, the idea of blending subcompact car fuel economy with all-wheel drive capability is without a doubt a very interesting proposition, especially since statistics show that small cars are more popular in Quebec than anywhere else in North America.
Hence the 2016 Mazda CX-3. It’s a tiny and rather attractive little all-wheel drive urban runabout that may have just enough character to set itself apart from this highly crowded segment.
Using the same platform as the next generation Mazda 2, there’s no denying the fact that the CX-3 is a tiny vehicle. That being said, even though it’s classified as a crossover, the Mazda CX-3 is more of a sport compact car with an all-wheel-drive option than a sport utility vehicle.
There are however some cool packaging features to help make do with the CX-3’s limited cargo space. In the trunk, you’ll find a fake floor. Lift it, and you’ll find a second compartment just underneath, adding depth and extra practicality to its cargo area.
The tiny proportions also give the CX-3 an appearance edge over its competition thanks to a sporty stance similar to a hot hatchback’s and a stubby rear end complemented with flared wheel arches.
You quickly get a sense that the CX-3 wasn’t designed for a young family but more for young single professionals or active couples who favor dynamic driving characteristics and an attractive design over practicality. If you’re looking for a crossover that can fit a baby’s seat in the back, look elsewhere, I’m sure there are plenty of affordable boxes out there that can fit the bill.
Start driving the CX-3 though, and you immediately understand why this thing exists. This is by far the driver’s car crossover of the segment. Behind the wheel, Mazda’s efforts to keep the CX-3’s weight low is immediately noticed through a responsive and nimble chassis with near perfect weight distribution, qualities normally attributed to sports cars, not crossovers.
Actually, the CX-3 feels like the MX-5 Miata: light on its feet, engaging, dynamic, and above all, fun.
It also uses the same Skyactiv 2.0-liter 4-cylinder as in the MX-5, but in the CX-3, it’s good for 146 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. That being said, the CX-3 may not be the most powerful thing out there, but its engine is peppy, has an urgent and eager power delivery and a willingness to rev, further adding to the CX-3’s entertaining driving experience.
It also sounds rather angry as it barks through the revs, emitting a satisfying snarl every time it changes gears.
Add to that fantastic brakes, sharp steering and a quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission that actually changes its characteristics when put in Sport mode, and the CX-3 suddenly becomes more of a sports car than a utility vehicle.
This thing is not just fun to drive, it’s addictive.
Not only does the CX-3 look absolutely gorgeous from the outside, it looks even more stunning inside. This is not just an attractive cabin for subcompact crossover standards; this is an attractive interior period.
It’s a young, fresh and serene cabin filled with high quality materials, class-leading fit and finish and discrete design cues that really make you feel like you’re driving something special. I love the leather surface that spawns the simplistic dashboard towards the passenger door. Controls are also intuitive and like the MX-5, everything about the way the CX-3 operates works in massive common sense.
Is the CX-3 flawed? Of course it is, its interior, as attractive and comfortable as it tries to be, remains a rather cramped one. Rear leg room is limited, especially if the front passengers are tall. There’s quite a lot of wind and road noise going through the cabin. I also wish that little 2.0 liter made a bit more power and that a manual transmission was available with all-wheel-drive.
Nevertheless, kudos to Mazda for focussing on driver engagement with the CX-3. Considering that this segment is usually the antichrist for automotive enthusiasts, the CX-3’s fun factor behind the wheel is without a doubt a refreshing trait.
Prices for a 2016 Mazda CX-3 start at $22 705 for a front-wheel drive GS model and tops out at $31 005 for a top trim GT all-wheel drive model such as my tester. This puts it right in front of its most aggressive competitors, the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Chevrolet Trax, and Fiat 500X. GT trim comes standard with the 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. There’s only a $1 500 technology package available on GT models which add an array of electronic features that, in my opinion, are not worth the extra money. But that’s up to you to decide.
All in all, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 may not be the most practical subcompact crossover on the market, but it makes up for its tiny dimensions with Miata-like puppy-dog driving characteristics wrapped up in an elegant design and one of the most beautiful interiors in the segment. The CX-3 will guarantee you a big fan grin on your face every time you’ll get behind the wheel, a trait that has much more value in today’s automotive market than cargo space or legroom.