2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring
A comfortable yet quick and efficient performer 2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring
MX-5 aside, the CX-3 is the sportiest looking new Mazda, but it’s more Dakar rally raid than take it to the track on Sunday. It looks like it could go anywhere, although let’s be clear, this isn’t the intention. Rather, you’ll look oh-so stylish pulling up to the ski lodge in this subcompact SUV, and you’ll get there using less fuel than the majority of snow slaying 4x4s.
Its variation on Mazda’s new corporate face might be the best yet. Its large and proud yet tasteful grille is almost stately, and certainly more premium than some luxury branded small CUVs, while its sharp and narrow combination headlamps add to the little soft-roader’s animalistic characteristics. Likewise, vertically stacked driving lights and fogs are particularly attractive while adding visual height to the design, these interrupted by a subtle front fender crease that flows past the bottom edge of each headlamp before arcing overtop the wheels and then bending into a beltline that swoops across the front door before disappearing midway through the rear access point, while another curving beltline arches over the rear fender before melding into the wrap-around taillights.
Wrap-around is a CX-3 theme, most noticeably the greenhouse that seems to continue from the rear quarter window to the back glass, the subcompact SUV’s D-pillars painted black to provide a near seamless look. From that rear angle the little Mazda looks like a hunkered down animal ready to pounce, but more of a vicious bad-tempered rodent (or a pesky flee) than anything feline, a large rooftop spoiler adding to its sporty personality, hovering over a taillight design that’s at least as appealing as the headlights up front.
I’m one the backers of today’s white color trend, or rather shade trend, especially on SUVs and crossovers that feature lots of contrasting matte black body cladding like this CX-3. Touring trim isn’t quite as aggressive as the top-line Grand Touring I tested a couple of months ago, but the CX-3 would look ready for action in steel wheels and hubcaps. You can’t even downgrade to those by choosing a $19,960 base Sport model being that my $21,960 Touring tester’s 16-inch Y-style five-spoke alloys being are standard, these finished in traditional silver-painted aluminum rather than the racier machine-finished 18s with black painted pockets on the Grand Touring.
With a body like the CX-3’s, you’d expect something special inside and Mazda doesn’t disappoint. A sculpted dash top might not be soft to the touch like some in this class, but its surfacing is matte finished to reduce glare while the primary gauge package is a beautifully designed aluminum-look bit of kit featuring a big analog speedo at center, a small digital tach and odometer to the left and digital fuel meter, average fuel economy indicator and exterior temperature gauge to the right. It should please conventional analog lovers as well as the digital crowd, a nice combination of high-tech and classic design elements, much like the rest of the CUV.
Design on the mind, personal CX-3 favorites include the three circular dark metallic, red-rimmed HVAC vents along the instrument panel, and the leather-like dash pad with red stitching ahead of the front passenger that looks gorgeous and feels very upscale. Mazda keeps the padded stitched leather theme going with knee protectors on each side of the center stack, albeit this time finished in wine red leatherette, while the same look with a slightly harder soft-touch treatment covers the armrests. The seats are eye candy as well, with leatherette bolsters, forward cushions and upper back supports, plus premium fabric inserts, trimmed top to bottom with wine red piping. It’s a highly unusual mixture of colors, but one that adds an element of elegance to what would otherwise be purely sporting if done out in black alone.
I happen to also love Mazda’s infotainment screen that sits atop the dash. It’s not too large yet amply big enough, while the resolution quality is excellent, colors deep and rich with good contrast, plus it’s a fully functional system even in the lower trims, with everything you need including HD radio (with an available HD radio traffic map system), a comprehensive fuel economy monitor, plus maintenance and warning guidance (fortunately no warnings were found) under the Apps section, AM/FM, aha, Pandora, Stitcher, Bluetooth, USB 1 and USB 2, plus optional satellite radio under the audio section, not to mention a button for the navigation system that you can add via SD card later if required. It’s all controllable via a large rotating HMI Commander Switch on the lower center console, a la Audi, BMW and the like, although unlike these the display is still touch-sensitive if you’d rather smudge it up with fingerprints. I find it easier to reach downward than stretch across to the dash, and once its dial and various buttons are located and figured out it’s easy enough to do with eyes still on the road. A reverse camera system is standard kit, by the way, handy in any vehicle, while the Touring also makes do with the base CX-3’s audio system, which includes six great sounding speakers, two USB ports, an aux jack and AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit.
Touring trim includes everything already noted as well as halogen projector headlights, heatable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity-sensing keyless access, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle, leatherette trimmed premium cloth upholstery, leatherette door inserts, a front armrest, plus heatable front seats, an overhead console with a very useful sunglasses holder, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.
A shortlist of standard Sport features that get grandfathered up to my Touring tester include a six-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, auto-off halogen headlights, daytime running lights, powered mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel with audio, Bluetooth phone and cruise controls, cruise control, filtered air conditioning, powered windows, remote locks that automatically engage while walking away, pushbutton ignition, a six-way driver’s seat, a trip computer, the seven-inch high-resolution infotainment display and console-mounted HMI interface mentioned earlier, a rearview camera, SMS text messaging, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, plus a cargo area that gets a 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks to increase stowage capacity from 15.9 cubic feet to a total of 53.9 cubic feet. This isn’t class leading or the most versatile system available, but I found it suited my needs well. Additionally, AWD can be added for $1,250 across the line.
Back in the driver’s seat, the CX-3 Touring’s steering wheel is designed in Mazda’s usual sporty three-spoke style, wrapped in stitched leather as mentioned, its spokes highlighted with a carbon-like patterned plastic and aluminum-look surfacing plus plenty of high-quality switchgear, a perfect fit for this sportiest of subcompact SUVs.
It really is the sportiest in its class, delivering a sense of connectivity between human and machine that few brands seem to get right enough for those of us who actually enjoy the process of getting ourselves from A to B quickly. Some in this class are as exciting to pilot as taking public transit, and while I’m not knocking the bus or train, they’re not exactly the types of wheeled conveyances I want to experience excitement in. The CX-3, on the other hand, responds immediately to throttle input, its 16-valve, DOHC, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder with dual electronically variable intake valve timing putting out a spirited 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque, but more so it’s the combination of six-speed automatic that adds adrenaline to the mixture. Sure I’d welcome a manual gearbox, any of Mazda’s would be a delight, but this is the modern age and a vehicle like the CX-3 won’t find many DIY stick stirring buyers, so a traditional torque-converted autobox serves the purpose very well, especially considering some of its peers choose to save fuel first and foremost with a CVT, robbing their engines’ potential performance by enslaving them to less than stimulating pseudo shifts.
Mazda ups the ante with a Drive Selection toggle on the lower console that lets you engage Sport mode when desired, the result being a truly reactive little CUV that’s a blast to scoot around town or flick through a winding stretch of back road. So set, revs are allowed to spin higher before the transmission shifts itself or gets prompted via the shift lever’s manual mode, or alternatively you may want to play around with the gas pedal that responds to quick taps from the right foot, immediately dropping a gear and only shifting back up if it detects you’re not staying on the throttle.
When I mention that some of its peers rely on CVTs to extract the best possible fuel economy, don’t think for a second that somehow Mazda’s forgotten this critically important aspect of small vehicle performance. Rather than dull down the experience to make the CX-3 more frugal, however, they’ve enlisted a host of technologies so innovative they’re deserving of a trademarked Skyactiv name. At first glance Mazda’s collective tech seems downright simple, and certainly their approach is nonconformist compared to their competitors, but their Skyactiv powertrains and drivetrains, which amongst other enhancements feature reduced internal friction, while the former incorporate dome-shaped pistons to raise compression and increase low- and mid-range torque, result in claimed fuel economy that’s every bit as good as lower output rivals with CVTs, albeit without negatively impacting performance, the CX-3’s EPA ratings being 29 mpg city, 35 highway and 31 combined with as-tested FWD or 27 city, 32 highway and 29 combined with AWD.
Of course handling is at least as important a component to a vehicle’s sporting behavior as power, which makes the CX-3’s independent front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam setup an anomaly, as it handles better than some rivals with independent rear ends. It all comes down to tuning, Mazda somehow making its identically sprung CX-5 run rings around most IRS equipped competitors too, but while the CX-3 manages curves so well, brakes impressively and just genuinely feels more engaging than its peers, it won’t disturb those looking for a comfortable ride either. I love a fun-filled drive, but rest assured that I wouldn’t put up with anything even remotely stiff and jarring when the road gets rough. I’m beyond that, so appreciate that the CX-3 left my back and bones feeling nurtured as I motored over inner-city streets and laneways that are often much less than ideal. All-round, the CX-3 is a comfortable yet quick and efficient performer, while it lives up to today’s safety expectations as well.
Those brakes I mentioned earlier include discs all-round with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, while electronic traction control and dynamic stability control kept my tester’s 16s glued to the ground despite not having AWD. Mazda also includes hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring, driver and front passenger seatbelt pretensioners, as well as the usual six airbags, while security gets beefed up by speed-sensing double-action door locks and an engine immobilizer.
As you can tell I’m a bit smitten with the CX-3, its styling, performance and tech doing a good job of winning me over. That’s not to say I don’t like some of its less thrilling competitors, as one in particular is brilliantly practical, but this is the subcompact SUV that plucks the strings of my heart. Like I spoke of in the beginning, the CX-3 is one of the sportiest models made by one of today’s sportiest brands, and I believe given enough time it’ll do very well for Mazda.
It’s only been on the market since August of last year, but 6,406 units sold over four full months still seems a bit on the low side, especially in a subcompact SUV market segment that grew by 75 percent and 188,622 units last year alone, from 141,514 sales in 2014 to 330,136 in 2015. Expect to see 2016 calendar year sales rise substantially again, as four of the compact SUV segment’s nine models arrived partway through last year, so we have yet to seen how all models will perform collectively over a 12-month period. Either way the CX-3 deserves to sell in much higher numbers than last year’s results showed.
If you’re looking to purchase a subcompact SUV, or any subcompact model, you should get close and personal with Mazda’s new entry. The CX-3 is a great little crossover that I can’t recommend any higher.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.