Testing the 2016 Mazda CX-3, in Paradise!

DSCN4022The crossover segment is the hottest auto segment around the world right now. The appeal is easy to work out. Crossovers have the look of SUVs, yet have the comfort, fuel economy, ride and handling of normal cars.
While there are crossovers in all shapes and sizes available at the moment, the ones getting the most attention are compact crossovers. Thanks to ever unstable fuel prices, the buying public is more cautious than it has ever been before when choosing their next vehicle.
This year, a host of new compact crossovers will hit the market, and one of the first will be the 2016 Mazda CX-3. This little crossover is actually based on the platform of Mazda’s subcompact offering, the new Mazda2, which will arrive in our market next year.
So, if it is based on the Mazda2, why is the CX-3 not called a CX-2?
There are two reasons for that I think. First, it is slightly bigger than a Mazda2, and almost the same size as a Mazda3 hatchback. Second, the number ‘3’ has proven to be very valuable to Mazda – it is their best selling model in Canada and around the world, and this Japanese auto maker is obviously wishing that some of the good luck from the Mazda3 rubs off on the CX-3.
IMG_1412The connection between the Mazda3 and CX-3 goes even deeper when you open the hood. Here you will find an engine not from the new Mazda2, but from the current Mazda3. To be specific, it is a 2.0L, four-cylinder motor that features Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology – which comprises of a unique to Mazda piston head design, high compression ratio, among many other things – and produces 146 hp, and 146 lb-ft of torque. Power is fed to either just the front wheels, or all-wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. There is no manual gearbox currently offered for the CX-3, and as I found out at this vehicles launch in Paradise Valley, Arizona – a place that truly felt like paradise – that not having a manual is not a bad thing at all. The reason for that is because the CX-3 has a great automatic gearbox, which when used in its manual-mode, offers crisp gear changes, and it’ll even rev match on downshifts. So, if you like going through the gearbox as you wish, this is one of the few auto boxes that will satisfy you.
If you like carving up twisty, mountain roads, the CX-3 will also delight, because the chassis is simply excellent. Not only does this vehicle ride well over broken pavement, but also is stiff enough to let you really lean a car into sweeping corners at great speed. The electric power steering system offers up more feel than I was expecting, but I just wish it had a quicker rack – through tight, slow speed corners, you have to put in a lot of steering lock, more than I was expecting. Most people however won’t notice, and it’ll be just fine for them.DSCN4020
Most people nowadays do notice fuel consumption, and while I didn’t get to do my own independent testing at the launch event, Mazda claims the CX-3 in front-wheel drive (FWD) layout will consume 6.2L/100km on the highway, and 8.2L/100km in the city – that is quite good. If you want an all-wheel drive (AWD) version, it’ll consume roughly 10% more fuel.
After driving both versions, I’d be quite happy with the FWD model, since it is lighter, hence a bit quicker, and drinks less fuel. However, if you live where the weather gets quite bad in winter, the AWD version might suit you better, especially since the CX-3 features Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD system which minimizes wheel spin and reacts to changing traction conditions very quickly.
Speaking of quickly, I do wish the CX-3 was quicker. It is fine, especially when you engage ‘Sport’ mode, but for a chassis as good as this, it deserves more power. I suggested Mazda to give a call to Reeves Callaway – who is well known for tuning cars, and even did the engine work on the 2003 Mazdaspeed Protégé – to extract some more power. Let’s see if this ever happens, I sincerely hope so.
DSCN4025OK, so far I have talked about driving dynamics, but what about the interior? Well, if you own a current Mazda3, it’ll look very familiar. That is not a bad thing. The dials are nice and clear, the infotainment system is easy to use – since it has both touch and control knob functionality, and there is decent space for the occupants in the front. I, however, did not find the back seats to offer much room, and the trunk – while a decent size at 452 litres behind the second row seats – it is not the biggest in its class, and the loading height is a bit high in my opinion. So, if you have strollers to carry, you’ll be better off looking at the larger CX-5.
Any other complaints? Just one, I wish there was a power driver’s seat available in the top trim – after all, you can get one in the top model of the Mazda3.
Overall, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is a good vehicle. It is attractive too, thanks to short overhangs and taut lines. It will get your attention on the road, and will bring people into Mazda showrooms.DSCN4024
The made in Japan 2016 CX-3 will be in showrooms by the end of May, and will be offered in three trims, a base GX, a mid-grade GS, and the top trim GT model. Pricing starts from $20,695 for a GX FWD (add $2,000 for AWD), the GS range starts from $22,695, while a loaded GT will set you back $30,495. Don’t forget to add $1,895 for freight and PDE, and since air-conditioning is standard on the CX-3, that means the government will charge a $100 tax for that too.
In conclusion, the CX-3 is all the vehicle most buyers of compact vehicles are looking for, and I think it will steal quite a few sales from the Mazda3 hatchback. As long as people are buying a Mazda, the automaker and its dealers won’t care for which model you sign the dotted line.IMG_1378

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