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2016 Mazda CX-3 First Drive

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 5/1/2015 Christian Seabaugh
2016 Mazda CX-3 First Drive

Well isn’t that something? Literally hours after our 2016 Honda HR-V First Drive review hit MotorTrend.com, I found myself behind the wheel of Hiroshima’s solution to the subcompact CUV question, the 2016 Mazda CX-3. And why is Mazda entering the segment? It has to do with the fact that the subcompact crossover segment is estimated to grow from 118,900 units sold in 2014 to 458,800 units in 2017, huge numbers that mainstream automakers including Mazda, Honda, and Jeep, can’t afford to miss out on.

Like a few of its competitors, the Mazda CX-3 is based on a stretched version of a subcompact hatchback, in this case the next-generation Mazda2. Despite its Mazda2 underpinnings, the CX-3 is actually slightly smaller than a Mazda3 hatchback, making it an easy transition for young buyers coming out of and upgrading from compact cars. One engine and one transmission are offered on all CX-3s, a 2.0-liter I-4 making 146 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. As you’d expect in the class, front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available across the board. Thanks to an estimated 2,800-pound curb weight for front-drive versions (figure another 150 pounds or so for all-wheel-drive CX-3s), the sprint from 0-60 mph will probably take around 8-9 seconds for both versions. While the CX-3’s numbers won’t set the world on fire, they’re about par for the course in the segment with the HR-V -- the vehicle Mazda targets as the CX-3’s biggest threat -- making 141 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. Mazda expects front-drive CX-3s to best the HR-V in fuel economy, so expect to see the cute-ute to net as much as 29/36 mpg city/highway for front-drive models.

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2016 Mazda CX 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 3

The Mazda CX-3 is compact, lightweight, and efficient, all of which makes it a pleasure to drive. At a drive event in Scottsdale, Ariz., I spent the morning behind the wheel of a loaded CX-3 Grand Touring equipped with all-wheel drive, before swapping into a front-drive mid-level CX-3 Touring. No matter the drivetrain, the CX-3 drives well. My biggest initial concern – a lack of power – turned out to be for naught. The CX-3 gets off the line quick enough around town and nicely accelerates to highway speeds. There’s plenty of passing power too, as I learned in what’s pretty much a perfect example of a worst-case scenario: on the highway, passing two eighteen-wheelers, uphill, at 4,000 feet, and in 95-degree desert heat. Not too shabby. The six-speed automatic is pretty good too, though it does try to spend as much time as possible in sixth gear.

2016 Mazda CX 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 3

Equally impressive is how true to Mazda’s roots the CX-3 is in twisty switchback roads. The CX-3 handles as well as you’d expect of any Mazda, with well-controlled body roll, quick responses, and the perfect amount of heft and effort from the steering. There’s a sport mode too, which quickens the steering and throttle responses, holds gears longer, and rev-matches downshifts.

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2016 Mazda CX 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 3

Inside, the moves Mazda has made recently to make its vehicles more luxurious carry over into the CX-3. While base sport models get cloth upholstery, mid-level Touring models add leatherette with contrasting cloth trim, and Grand Touring models are equipped with gorgeous leather and Alcantara interiors that feature contrasting trim. The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, with plenty of room up front. The back seats are a different story, as they’re designed with shorter passengers in mind -- so much so that Mazda thoughtfully designed the rear-seat height to be high enough to allow short rear-seat passengers to match the eye-level of front-seat passengers. That unfortunately means tall folks such as myself will have a hard time getting comfortable in back; with the front seat in my preferred driving position, there isn’t enough room in back to fit my six-foot frame. Foot room and knee room space is adequate (the latter thanks to a nice scallop in the back of the front seats), but leg room and headroom are pretty close to nonexistent for taller adults. Cargo space is tight too, thanks to that aggressive but really good-looking D-pillar. The rear seats fold forward (but not flat) in a 60/40 split.

2016 Mazda CX 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 3

A tight back seat and small cargo area are ultimately small prices to pay for what the Mazda CX-3 brings to the table. With a projected starting price of around $20,000 and topping out near $30,000, the CX-3 is attractive, value-filled, and most importantly, fun to drive. American buyers will find much to like about the little Mazda crossover once it goes on sale here this fall. As for how the CX-3 stacks up against the competitors that will contribute to what’s soon to be a near- half-million-strong segment, stay tuned.

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2016 Mazda CX 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 3
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