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First Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring

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It wasn’t long ago that when something was considered a compact, it was legitimately a condensed sardine can. But now that everything has been Americanized to fit our plus-sized Costco runs, compact anymore has lost its meaning. So the automakers saw a new niche that needed to be filled and thus packed it with some adorable little cute-utes that you just wanna stuff in your pocket.

Crossover’s is a huge money maker, and where there is money to be made, car makers will do what they can to fill a gap in the market. However the reality is, are these really crossovers? I mean, it’s virtually a hatchback with a 3-inch lift. And just because you can add all-wheel drive, doesn’t necessarily mean it can handle curb jumping like their bigger brothers.

Mazda’s newest team member is certainly making heads turn with its new baby-ute CX-3. In fact when we looked out our office window and saw our sampler here in the parking lot, we could help by smile and d’aawww out loud! Following Mazda’s newest Kudo’s design language, the CX-3 is the cutest of the bunch. Our sampled top-of-the-line Grand Touring here was sporting its premium side with larger 18-inch wheels, LED lights all around, and a delightful little personality. Seen here in ceramic white, it really is an eye catcher from any given angle and with the bigger wheels, it definitely adds presence to its overall stature.

Even the interior on our top-tiered tester is outfitted well expressing many materials like the red leather on the doors & dash and even though the lux suede inserts on the seats is a nice touch, it’ll make your back sweat. At least with this being the GT model, we had leather seats with heated functionality but sadly were only manual adjustable. But most impressive is the amount of technology wrapped into a small little package offering a heads-up display, navigation, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive swiveling LED headlights. Additional features like the $1920 GT i-Activesense Package brings in lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and smart braking support. That’s pretty advance for an tiny little crossover.

Now, there are several problems here. You see we really enjoy the design Mazda is expressing in the interior cabins of their cars; however, once you go small, it’s time to start being creative, which Mazda wasn’t. So while the interior looks very well done, there is not functionality to it. There is no interior storage, the intuitive command center for the infotainment center is difficult to access, and if you want to use your cup holders, you can’t use the arm rest which also looks like an afterthought. And it gets worse, the back seats are too cramp for anybody over the height of 4 feet, there are no cup holders for rear passengers, and the cargo area is too small with a high loading floor. So if you go on a shopping excursion, prepare to ask a stranger to watch your bags while you go unload. The rear seats can fold in a 60/40 split for additional cargo space, but unless you don’t have passengers, you’ll just have to be creative for yourself.

Some goodness can come out this cute little face though… it is somewhat fun to drive. The bright light is shined on its chassis. It’s as snug as a bug in a rug. It expresses rigidness in its foundation and concords corners like a champ. The steering has a worthy on-center feel with a respectable heft in its motions. Riding on our 18-inch alloys, there is a fair amount of feedback back to the driver that provides a certain level of satisfaction. However, the true life in the CX-3 can spring to life with a switch of the sport button that optimizes longer gear ratios and quicker throttle responsiveness making it a sweet little ride – gear changes are snappy using the steering wheel paddle shifters and becomes an agile little bugger in traffic.

A compact car comes with a compact engine, 146-horsepower, naturally aspirated 2.0-liter SKYACTIV four-cylinder will do good to get you to 60 mph in just over 8 seconds. It’s a rambunctious little engine that hates to downshift through its six-speed automatic – and there is no manual option available here, sadly. It’s buzzy and loud at full acceleration like a hamster trying to spin the wheels but it gets the job done with adequate composure. Of course the ride quality in a hamster wheel would be better, this CX-3 did not handle the bumps well.

Everything comes down to the SKYACTIV engineering behind the CX-3’s cute little nose, which isn’t just known for its driving dynamics but fuel optimization as we averaged 30 mpg combined for the week overtaking their EPA rated 29 mpg. It only takes 11.9 gallons of fuel to make this thing happy giving us only 300 miles of joy.

Summing up our verdict, if you want something fun to drive, good looking and can fit things in the back, get the Mazda 3 5-Door – and that can come with a manual. But if all-wheel drive is something at the top of your shopping list requirements, the CX-3 is the best alternative. It isn’t exactly practical – but it is adorable and fun to drive.

Price (As Tested):
2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD: $26,240
Destination: $880
Performance Specs:
2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G 4-Cylinder – 146-horsepower/146lb-ft of torque – 0-60 MPH: ±8 seconds
EPA MPG: 27/32/29 (city/highway/combined) – SSB Average: 30 MPG’s | Fuel Range: 300 miles
Featured Options:
Mazda Mobile Start (App Based for Smartphones): $550
GT I-Activsense Package: $1,920
Grand Total: $29,590

3 Comments »

  1. Mazda has always had great suspension tuning and I think that’s one of the areas where the CX-3 excels. It’s the details that killed it for me. Volume knob down low on the console so you have to look down and contort your hand. The funky little head-up display that seemed to have more glare than utility. The mismatched vent types on the instrument panel making it look hodge-podge. Back to the drawing board with this one!

    • Yes agreed! The finishes work well but that design needs work. They should take a note from the Audi Q3. And that heads up display just seems out of place for the segment.

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