America is finally getting into smaller cars—especially smaller crossover SUVs. The niche is exploding, with new entries that range from the very carlike Honda HR-V, to more rugged ones like the Jeep Renegade.
Now it's Mazda's turn. And, no need for a spoiler alert here, it takes a turn toward the sporty end of the spectrum.
The 2016 CX-3 scores before it even starts. Mazda’s come up with a shape that's one of the most attractive in the class, all sinewy curves and taut lines. The little runabout has an eager, urbane attitude and wears it on its sleeve--there's not even a little bit of SUV in the shape.
Inside, it’s more of the same. There are plenty of hard plastics in the cabin, but the CX-3's cleanly styled dash can be wrapped in contrasting colors and stitching. The look comes off much better than its low-$20,000s starting price implies.
Drive it for just a few miles and it's clear. The CX-3 is of the best-driving vehicles in this new segment. The electric power steering has good, clean feel. The ride is firm but not frazzled.
It's probably at its best--and most like Mazda’s sweet little 3 hatchback--in base front-wheel-drive trim with 16-inch wheels. Step up to 18-inch wheels and all-wheel drive, the CX-3's crisp steering gets duller and its 155-horsepower four a little more taxed.
There's just enough power to get the job done. But If we were in charge we'd put the paddle shifters on all versions--we've been shifting a lot to squeeze all the juice from the CX-3's frugal little four-cylinder.
The upside? Mazda puts the CX-3's highway mileage at up to 35 miles per gallon--and we've seen that in hard driving.
The CX-3 doesn't sacrifice much for its fun road manners. The cabin's very comfortable, though long-legged drivers might want a little more seat travel. Headroom is great, even in the back seat, and knee room is cozy but not cramped.
The CX-3 doesn't quite have its cargo game down like the Honda HR-V. The rear seats are tougher to fold down from inside the cargo hold, and they don't fold down quite flat--or tilt up like Honda's Magic Seat.
There's no crash-test data for the 2016 CX-3 yet but Mazda's made lots of advanced safety features available, like a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors.
One we'd skip: the lane departure warning system. It can be set to put out an eerie warning tone when you cross the double yellow line--it sounds like a Moog synthesizer gone bad.
Other features include a Mazda Connect infotainment system, inexpensive navigation, Bose audio, and satellite radio.
What's the bottom line with the 2016 Mazda CX-3? It's a zippy, stylish hatchback that has all-wheel drive--and it's about as far from SUV as a crossover can be.
For more information be sure to read our full review of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 here.