2017 Mazda CX-3

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 26, 2017

Buying tip

The Mazda CX-3 with all-wheel drive better make sense, otherwise you'll do better to consider front-drive hatches that cost less and get better mileage, such as the Honda Fit.

features & specs

Grand Touring AWD
Grand Touring FWD
Sport AWD
MPG
27 city / 32 hwy
MPG
29 city / 34 hwy
MPG
27 city / 32 hwy
MSRP
$26,240
MSRP
$24,990
MSRP
$21,210

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 keeps the most attractive features from last year: its price and its handling.

Looks only tell half of the 2017 Mazda CX-3's story: The body cladding and badging on the CX-3 point toward a soft-roader based on the fun-to-drive Mazda 3, but there's more to its tale. 

The CX-3 earned a 7.2 overall rating on our scale, which is fairly high for the budget hatchback. We like its fuel economy and features, but it has room to improve on features and overall comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling and performance

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The CX-3 is more closely aligned to the Mazda 2 (sold in the U.S. as the Toyota Yaris iA) and the cladding only covers up a wagon version of that car—but those aren't bad things. We say that because the Mazda CX-3 may be best considered as a hatchback version of a small Mazda sedan, with more usable space and available all-wheel drive.

Even more, the Mazda CX-3 is a stylish wagon that embodies the best of Mazda's "Kodo" design language. It's sinewy and flowing forms underlie the sporty, athletic style on the inside, and its tasteful and elegant interior not found on many small SUVs. If we have one nitpick on the inside it's that the budget roots start to show in the monochrome gauges. We'd prefer that Mazda kept the cash they used to develop the available head-up display (which isn't all that useful) and designed better-looking gauges instead.

The 2.0-liter inline-4 may not be the strongest performer on paper—only 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque—but it is fun to drive and brisk in the corners. The CX-3 is silent and unobtrusive in highway cruising; throaty (albeit a little gutless) in city runabouts. Accordingly, the CX-3 manages good fuel mileage numbers from the EPA that place it among the best in its class along with the Honda HR-V.

It's available all-wheel drive system includes useful predictive features that help spin up wheels that need power—in some cases even from a standstill. Its low curb weight only adds to its tossability in fun corners.

Comfort, safety, and features

Safety scores for the CX-3 are mixed. The NHTSA found in its side-impact testing that the Mazda CX-3's left rear door could collapse into the passenger and increase their risk for a spinal injury. In separate testing, the IIHS called the CX-3 a Top Safety Pick+ for 2017, which reflects good crash safety and available advanced active safety features.

Despite that, Mazda makes available a suite of active safety features, dubbed i-ActivSense, on top models that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, adaptive headlights, automatic emergency braking, and rain-sensing wipers.

7

2017 Mazda CX-3

Styling

The Mazda CX-3 is a stunner on the road, and punches way above its weight class.

The Mazda CX-3 embodies the automaker's design language—called Kodo—down to its welds.

The CX-3 approaches minimalism without being boring: its flowing, sinewy forms and slightly complex forms envelop the surface, arch and join, flare and recede. The overall effect is sporty and athletic, light and elegant. At the risk of being flowery, it's a breath of fresh air for small SUVs.

The CX-3 is exceptionally styled on the outside—inside is a little bit of a mixed bag. We gave it a 7 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Inside, if you're not paying attention, you may think that you were in a Mazda 3. The dash is tasteful, with soft-touch wrapped elements for a more premium look and feel. The center stack is simple, and the HVAC controls look sturdy and purposeful. The steering wheel is modern and simple despite the wheel-mounted buttons, and instrument panel and dash look good.

The only wart on the nose of the Mazda CX-3 is the the gauges within the instrument cluster. While they're clear and informative, the monochrome displays look old and utilitarian. The quality and crispness of the head-up display was also disappointing; while it's remarkable to have such an option on a small crossover in the first place, we wish it looked slightly better.

For a hatchback that starts around $20,000, there is plenty of tasteful styling in the CX-3.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

Performance

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 isn't quick, but it is brisk—and we like it.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 comes alive when its pressed into duty—driving duty, that is. Like all Mazdas, the small hatchback puts a premium on the experience of driving, communicating the road through the wheels, inspiring confidence, and enabling a sporty character in an otherwise dullsville automotive segment.

The 2.0-liter inline-4 is an eager companion, regardless of the driver's style. On the highway, the engine hums along quietly at around 2,300 rpm at 70 mpg. Around town, there's a perceptible growl—especially when merging with traffic—thought it's mostly quiet and unobtrusive everywhere else.

The CX-3 gets a good point here for good steering and handling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Engage Sport mode, stamp the throttle, and the engine comes alive. It's not a race roar, or even especially pleasing, but the engine sounds willing and able to rev to its 6,500-rpm redline. Despite a relatively modest 146 horsepower rating and 146 pound-feet of available torque, the CX-3 briskly accelerates through its 6-speed automatic by itself, or with help from its paddle shifters.

(We were disappointed to note that the paddle shifters that are standard on the Grand Touring model aren't available, even as an option, on the base Sport or mid-level Touring trims. While you can shift those models using the alternate gate on the gear lever, we missed paddles for spirited driving—and we'd suggest that Mazda consider making them optional.)

The all-wheel-drive CX-3 also comes with an impressive computer-controlled system that not only compensates for lost traction on the front wheels, but predicts the need for more torque at the rear wheels. It does this through a network of sensors and data including ambient temperature, steering effort, steering angle, vehicle acceleration, and more. More impressively, it does all of this even when the vehicle is at a standstill—predicting the need for all-wheel drive before the driver even puts a foot on the gas. It's impressive both in theory and in practice.

Part of that peppy feeling, despite the relatively low power output and computer input, comes from the light curb weight: The CX-3 weighs just 2,809 pounds in front-drive form, and 2,952 pounds in all-wheel-drive guise. Worth noting, too, is that while the front-drive model feels a touch nimbler—likely owing to its lighter curb weight—the all-wheel-drive model is just as fun to hustle quickly.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

Comfort & Quality

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is best thought of as a more usable hatchback Mazda with available all-wheel drive.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 doesn't change from last year, when it was all new. The CX-3 has decent cabin space considering its compact dimensions (just 101.2 inches between front and rear wheels) and shared platform (it's based on the smaller Mazda 2 that isn't sold in the U.S., not on the Mazda 3 as its name would imply).

Seating in the front row is spacious for the two passengers with enough leg, head, and shoulder room for two adult males.

We gave the CX-3 a 7 out of 10 thanks to good room up front for driver and passenger, and good room in back for their gear, but nothing too extraordinary. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The space in the rear seat is a different story. Leg room is 35 inches—same as a BMW 3-Series—but its sloping roof line cuts deeply into the head room; children, teenagers, and medium-sized adults can fit just fine, but there's not much more room than that. We think the Honda HR-V does a better job at packaging passengers, but the Honda isn't quite as fun to drive. Compared to the back seat Mazda 3, the Mazda CX-3 is a big step up.

(We choose to think of the CX-3 as a more usable Mazda 3 hatchback with optional all-wheel drive.)

That said, Mazda isn’t aiming this car at the young-family market—that’s where the CX-5 comes in, it says. The CX-3 is intended for young couples or empty-nesters who want enough space for occasional passengers, some cargo, or a dog or two. That said, the CX-3 will likely be pressed into young family service anyway, and we expect it to perform admirably.

In the cargo area, you're again dealing with the compromises of a crossover with such a small exterior footprint, but the load floor is flat and the rear seats fold down. Despite the angle of the tailgate, cargo volume is a tolerable 12.4 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 44.5 cubic feet with the seat back folded down (which is how we expect many CX-3s to spend much of their time). For comparison, that's about equal to what you'll find in a typical compact hatchback with a lower roofline—and far from the most capacious in the CX-3's segment.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

Safety

Ratings are fairly good for the 2017 CX-3, with one important note.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 has been tested by federal officials, and like last year, the results are mixed.

The good news? The NHTSA gave the CX-3 a five-star rating for overall safety, which is its highest rating. The bad news? Side-impact crash testing revealed that the left rear door could protrude on an occupant and increase chances for a spinal injury. The feds gave the CX-3 a four-star rating in rollover crash safety.

The IIHS gave the CX-3 a Top Safety Pick+ rating thanks to top "Good" scores and advanced safety features.

That TSP+ nod, five-star rating, and available safety tech would be good enough for a 9 score, but the special note necessitates that we drop it down to 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The i-ActivSense package of electronic safety systems is offered as a $1,170 option, but only on the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model. It includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking, smart headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and auto on/off headlights.

The CX-3 comes standard with six airbags (front, front-passenger side, and side curtains), stability control, and the rest of the electronic traction control systems that are now mandatory for 2016 models.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

Features

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 adds bigger wheels on its mid-level trim and cuts the cost for its active safety features.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 comes in three trims, all equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 and 6-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is a $1,250 option across all trims, and Mazda carried over the same competitive pricing from last year that put it head-to-head with the Honda HR-V. The Mazda CX-3 starts at $20,860 after a mandatory $900 delivery fee is included.

We gave the CX-3 a 7 our our features scale for good base content and a nicely fitted infotainment screen. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

This year, Mazda is making standard 18-inch wheels on Touring models—previously standard on Grand Touring trims—and reducing the cost of its suite of safety systems, dubbed i-ActivSense, by $750.

Options include a $1,420 Tech Package on the Touring model, which bundles the premium Bose audio system, the panoramic moonroof, both satellite and HD radio, and—oddly—the tonneau cover that covers up the cargo area, which we'd expect to be standard on a mid-level model. The package of active safety systems, which is available on the Grand Touring model, includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, adaptive headlights, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and rain-sensing wipers. That package costs $1,170 this year.

All models get standard Mazda Connect infotainment with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and rearview camera, Bluetooth streaming audio and phone connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with wheel-mounted controls, and keyless ignition.

Touring models get blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, six-speaker stereo, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated side mirrors, and brighter interior accents.

Opt for the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model and you get all of the Touring’s features, plus LED headlights with adaptive lighting, LED fog lights, LED taillights, a head-up display, leather seats with suede inserts, heated front seats, Bose audio with seven speakers, satellite radio, navigation, automatic climate control, and paddle shifters.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

Fuel Economy

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is among the leaders in its class for fuel efficiency—provided you consider it a crossover SUV.

Last year's ratings for the CX-3 put it among the leaders in a relatively new segment for car buyers—subcompact SUVs—and this year's ratings haven't changed.

According to the EPA, the 2017 Mazda CX-3 manages 29 mpg city, 34 highway, 31 combined for the front-drive model, 27/32/29 mpg for the all-wheel-drive version.

Those numbers fare well among its competitors such as the Chevy Trax (26/34/29 mpg, front-wheel drive) and Honda HR-V (27/32/29 mpg, all-wheel drive). To do much better, you'd have to consider other hatchbacks such as the Honda Fit (33/41/36 mpg, front-wheel drive) that don't offer all-wheel drive at all.

The CX-3 earned an 8 our our fuel economy scale, which is near the top without being a hybrid. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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7.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 7
Fuel Economy 8
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