Mazda’s latest jack-of-all-trades

Building crossover vehicles comes much more naturally to Mazda than SUVs. The company got out of the compact-truck game long ago, and its first SUV was the Ford Escape-based Tribute. As car-based crossovers became more popular, Mazda applied its sporty-car expertise to the template and the results have been impressive. The CX-5 and CX-7 blend the fun-to-drive aspects of Mazda’s sedans with the all-weather confidence and utility of SUVs to great effect.

Scaling things down doesn’t hurt the formula at all. Compact crossovers are currently where it’s at, marketing-wise, so Mazda has taken things down a notch with the introduction of the CX-3 for 2016. As the name suggests, it fits into the lineup below the CX-5, and offers nimbler reflexes and a more affordable package that doesn’t feel cheap. Less weight and more compact dimensions are the quickest ways to improved handling, and the CX-3 delivers. It’s probably the closest to “fun to drive” that a crossover’s going to get this side of the Nissan Juke NISMO.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Mazda CX3.


2016 Mazda CX3 Review High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Mazda CX3 Review High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Mazda CX3 Review High Resolution Exterior
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The CX-3 stands out among compact crossovers. It’s probably the snout that does it. A prominent hood with aggressively arched fenders defines the CX-3’s face and seems to take up a third of the vehicle’s overall length. The result is an athletic-looking vehicle that’s just barely on the right side of “awkward,” proportion-wise. The projector-style headlamps feature LED accents and appear at a glance to be looking at you: Mazda did that on purpose. A big, bold grille with seven horizontal elements and a prominent Mazda "wing" dominates the front end, while the complicated and delicate waveform styling carries through to the greenhouse with gracefully sloped side windows and a pinched tail. The available 18-inch wheels look oversized, giving the CX-3 the puppy-ish look that’s common to many compact crossovers.


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Strategically-placed contrast stitching and piping provide an upscale look to the seats and dash cover, while silver trim is polished to resemble aluminum.

The CX-3’s cabin borrows heavily from the Mazda3, and that’s a very good thing. High-quality materials and dramatic styling would look at home in a car costing $10,000 more. Strategically-placed contrast stitching and piping provide an upscale look to the seats and dash cover, while silver trim is polished to resemble aluminum. The head-up display and free-standing seven-inch information screen from the Mazda3 make appearances as well. A rotary control for the infotainment systems (a la BMW’s iDrive) lives in the center console, where it’s easily used without forcing the driver to look away from the road. My tester featured a slick black and white interior with red accents that could have come from a custom car and looked fantastic without being garish.

Passenger space is generous up front and somewhat tighter in the rear. Mazda did this on purpose, too: the rear seats are set a bit closer together and higher than the front to facilitate conversation between front and rear-seat passengers. Cargo space behind the rear seats is 12.4 cubic feet, and this expands to 44.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

The Mazda Connect infotainment system is also available. The seven-inch touch screen includes voice control and a multi-function rotary control located in the console.


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All of Mazda's SKYACTIV engines are delightful performers, with an eagerness to rev and broad powerbands.

Mazda’s SKYACTIV 2.0 liter four-cylinder powers the CX-3. This engine produces 146 horsepower, and Mazda’s direct-injection and SKYACTIV engine geometry contribute to smooth power and efficiency. All of Mazda’s SKYACTIV engines are delightful performers, with an eagerness to rev and broad powerbands. When connected to the standard six-speed automatic transmission, it returns decent fuel economy, but low-end grunt seems a bit lacking. The transmission behaves as though it would rather provide smooth operation than performance, and is slow to respond to requests for downshifts, especially at freeway speeds. The available all-wheel drive system may be sucking up some of the power, but it pays off in smoothness. Adapted from the CX-5, the all-wheel drive has been lightened but retains its power-on-demand functionality. The CX-3 might be easier to toss around with a manual transmission, but unfortunately there isn’t one.

The suspension is one of the CX-3’s best features, and lives up to Mazda’s high standard. MacPherson struts are used in the front, and electronic power steering makes for pleasingly sharp reflexes. The rear is a torsion-beam suspension that offers surprisingly sophisticated response thanks in part to an extremely tight body structure. It’s just a bit taller than a car, with 6.1 inches of ground clearance, so this is largely a pavement-only vehicle.


2016 Mazda CX3 Review High Resolution Exterior
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The CX-3 features a full complement of airbags, including front and rear head airbags and dual side airbags up front. Stability and traction control are standard, and an emergency brake assist is available. Active driver aids include the available auto-brake Smart City Brake Support system, blind spot monitor, backup camera with cross-traffic alert, front collision warning and a lane departure warning system.


CX-3 pricing starts at $19,960. Mazda’s compact crossover comes in three flavors, starting with the Sport, moving up to the $21,960 Touring and capping out with the $24,990 Grand Touring, which is equipped with a seven-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, leather seats and LED lighting all around.


Nissan Juke

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The Juke set the tone for sporty subcompact crossovers, with its wild styling, entertaining performance and expressive interior. The design is polarizing, but the 188-horsepower 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine returns good performance and fuel economy. The Juke NISMO is modified for street performance and is one of the most entertaining vehicles in Nissan’s lineup.

Read our full review on the Nissan Juke here.

Fiat 500X

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Fiat’s sporty crossover is the farthest departure to date from the bubble-shaped 500 that brought the Italian marque back to U.S. shores. It’s got an edge in fashionable styling and attitude, and provides comfortable all-weather performance with a choice of powertrains.

Read our full review on the Fiat 500X here.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

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The Outlander Sport was one of the first subcompact crossovers to the party. For 2016 Mitsubishi’s updated it with a styling refresh. A choice of 148 and 168 horsepower four-cylinder engines motivates the nimble Outlander Sport, and interior upgrades help to keep things modern inside.

Read our full review on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport here.


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Mazda is on a roll, both in terms of style and performance. The CX-3 hits the ground as one of the more distinctive compact crossovers out there, and like the Mazda3, it’s outfitted like an unusually small luxury vehicle rather than an entry-level car. Drivers looking for a ‘round-towner that’s very similar to driving a car will find themselves right at home in the CX-3.

  • Leave it
    • No manual transmission
    • Engine feels wound-up at freeway speeds
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