Mazda Cars: 2016 Mazda CX-3

Being behind the wheel of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is instantly familiar to other sixth-gen Mazda products like the current 3, 6 and CX-5.

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image1)

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image1)

There’s no doubt that subcompact enthusiasts were severely disappointed when Mazda announced that it had no immediate plans of bringing the next-gen 2016 Mazda2 to the U.S. Fortunately, there’s another viable option for passionate small-car fans that doesn’t involve stepping foot into a Scion dealership (where the new 2015 Mazda 2 sedan is sold as the 2016 Scion iA). Meet the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Based on the same platform as the Mazda2, the CX-3 will target younger buyers with an active lifestyle, with its taller ride height, added interior space and optional all-wheel drive.

Mazda’s answer to the growing number of subcompact crossovers, the CX-3 will be competing in a red-hot segment that Mazda Mazda believes is “set to explode” in coming years with some of these new mini-utes already on sale. For Mazda, the new CX-3 adds to a solid lineup of CUVs that now includes the aged-yet-proven mid-size CX-9 and the model that can easily be credited with helping to spark the brand’s recent renaissance, the compact CX-5.

With the 2016 CX-3 not expected to go on sale until mid-August, vehicles like the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500 and Honda HR-V have a significant head start, but I recently had the chance to sample the new CUV along the exciting roads of Southern California to see how much “zoom-zoom” Mazda can inject into a size- and value-driven segment.

Exterior

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image2)

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image2) 

Hands down, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is the best execution of Mazda’s Kodo design language to date. Bigger than the Mazda2, taller than the 2012 Mazda 3 and smaller than the 2016 Mazda CX-5, the proportions of this little crossover are almost perfect, with a bold design that is highlighted by crisp body creases, short overhangs and a sloped roofline.

The proportions of this little crossover are almost perfect with a bold design that is highlighted by crisp body creases, short overhangs and a sloped roofline.

Following Mazda’s recent design trends on models like the Mazda3, 2016 Mazda 6 and CX-5, eyes are instantly drawn to the face of the CX-3 with its upright grille, canted lower running lights and angled headlights. A chrome surround that forms the lower edge of the grille also cuts into the headlights and leads into the LED daytime running lights. Adding to the sporty front-end design is a protruding lower chin spoiler that is actually the forward-most point of the CX-3, and gives the crossover an extremely aggressive profile.

Speaking of the profile, the intricate lines and creases will allow the 2016 Mazda CX-3 to stand out even when parked alongside some other style-driven competitors like the 2015 Nissan Juke, 2015 Jeep Renegade and 2015 Mini Countryman. If there were any one area to criticize the CX-3’s design, it’s in the plastic used around the wheel openings. An industry norm for any automaker transforming a hatchback into a crossover, the cladding ends up making the wheels look very small despite the fact that Mazda says the CX-3 Grand Touring (shown here) has the largest (18-inch) wheels in the segment.

One easy styling trick that does work well on the CX-3 is the blacked-out D-pillar that complements the wavy beltline to add a slimming effect to the rear end of the crossover. Narrow, horizontal taillights along with the spread dual exhaust outlets and lower reflectors add a sense of width to CX-3’s rump, and the whole look is finished off in what is arguably this crossover’s best color: Dynamic Blue. Not lost on me was the fact that this tester wore a classic blue California license plate (it’s actually why I chose this particular CX-3 to drive), which was the inspiration for the Mariner Blue hue used on the original NA Miata.

Interior

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image3)

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image3)

Matching like the exterior design, Mazda gave the 2016 CX-3 an interior that looks and feels better than most people would expect from a sub-$20,000, entry-level crossover. This starts with an attractive instrument panel that is surprisingly free of clutter, thanks to the 7-inch display mounted on top and all of the major controls located on the center console controller (Human Machine Interface, in Mazda Mazda speak). When at a stop, the screen can also be operated using the touch screen. Careful thought was even put into the HVAC vents, with three circular vents and a fourth that is hidden in plain sight just below the infotainment screen.

The lack of power seats will be instantly overlooked when GT buyers experience the segment-exclusive Active Driving Display.

Having spent my time with the top Grand Touring trim, the cabin was wrapped in two-tone leather with red accents throughout. Despite being the top model of the CX-3 lineup, the GT trim does not offer power seats or lumbar support, which might turn off some of the crossover’s target demographic who are looking for as much luxury and tech as possible.

But the lack of power seats will be instantly overlooked when GT buyers experience the segment-exclusive Active Driving Display. This automatically retracting (trust me, don’t try to move it manually) heads-up display unit is extremely helpful as it provides a quick and easy view of information such as vehicle speed, turn-by-turn directions and safety warnings for lane departure and forward collision alert. Adding even more tech, this tester was equipped with the new Mazda Mobile Start feature, and although I wasn’t able to fool around with it, the quirky duo of antennas was instantly obvious when sitting in the front passenger seat.

My biggest gripe about the CX-3’s cabin is the cheap-feeling center armrest, which was not only positioned too high to be comfortable but also felt as if it were about to break whenever I put any real weight on it – a common occurrence during the twisty drive route.

In terms of space, there is a good amount room to realistically fit four adults comfortably for a road trip; with the rear seats in place, there is actually less cargo capacity than the Mazda2 (10.1 cubic feet versus 13.3), but folding the seats flat opens up 42.3 cubic feet – considerably larger than its Fiat 500X rival.

Prices

In base Sport trim (which wasn’t available for testing), the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is priced affordably starting at $19,960. This front-wheel drive CX-3 Grand Touring that I drove starts at $24,990, and it added the $1,920 i-Activsense safety package for an as-tested price of $27,990 including $880 for destination. The i-Activsense package features include adaptive cruise control with automatic braking, automatic high-beam headlights, rain sensing wipers and lane departure warning.

Conclusion

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image4)

2016 Mazda CX-3 (image4)

Thanks to the Mazda3, MX-5 and CX-5, Mazda practically has a monopoly when it comes to fun-to-drive cars priced under $25,000, and the new CX-3 easily extends Mazda’s advantage in this regard. Stylish, affordably priced and incredibly amusing, the 2016 Mazda CX -3 should be a big hit in the burgeoning subcompact crossover segment, which Mazda expects will quadruple in volume over the next few years. Based on numbers provided by Mazda, the small CUV market accounted for about 119,000 sales in 2014, and it is projected to tally closer to 300,000 units in 2015. By 2017, Mazda says that the segment could account for almost 460,000 sales.

Throughout my time with the 2016 Mazda CX-3, I couldn’t help but question why someone would choose this mini-CUV over the bigger, roomier and more affordable Mazda3 five-door, which also happens to offer the added benefit of a manual transmission. Styling will definitely play a role, as the CX-3 is more expressive than the 3, as will the availability of all-wheel drive, but at the end of the day, it will be crossover buyers (who don’t cross-shop standard cars) looking for a sporty alternative in this market. And that is where the Mazda CX-3 will truly shine.

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