The Cute Ute That Loves To Scoot
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 joins the exploding category of small crossovers, a diverse B-segment bunch that includes everything from the Nissan Juke, the original standard-bearer, to the also-new Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. With styling that says “Why no, I’m NOT a sedan driver” and some cargo functionality thrown in, the segment is almost a perfect match for young America’s motoring psyche.
We enjoyed our first drive of the CX-3. Associated editor Christian Seabaugh said he was impressed with “how true to Mazda‘s roots the CX-3 is in twisty switchback roads.” He also said power didn’t seem to be a big issue from the 2.0-liter I-4 that produces 146 hp and 146 lb-ft. So we were looking forward to results of our instrumented tests.
The CX-3 ran to 60 mph in a not-so-bad 8.6 seconds. It hit the quarter mile in 16.6 seconds at 83.3 mph. Of small mainstream crossovers we’ve tested, that’s second only to a 2015 Nissan Juke SL AWD that took 7.4 seconds to go from 0-60 mph and finished the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 88.9 mph. The Honda HR-V is another of the segment’s flashy new toys. A 2016 HR-V AWD we tested had a 0-60 time of 9.5 seconds, almost a full second slower than the CX-3. So the speed is good, well ahead of class averages.
The crossover’s interior really stood out. Our CX-3 Grand Touring model came with a cream, red, and gray interior with leather/cloth seats, plenty of soft touch spots on the doors and dash, and, well, a dashing, cream-colored padding area on the dash itself. It looked and felt luxurious.
After some early issues, the 7-inch screen and the Mazda Connect experience are easy to use. I’m still not totally sold on the flip-up HUD screen despite online production guru Zach Gale’s reminder that it works with polarized sunglasses, unlike other systems. And the CX-3 avoided a common CX-5 complaint by not putting the front/center HVAC vents too low.
The only standout problem reasserts a common engineering conundrum in small vehicles. There’s just not much space between the front seats to easily include cupholders, USB and other ports, and a traditional center armrest. Our car had a prototype armrest, but it covered part of the cupholder area, making the cupholders of little use unless the armrest was up. And space was noticeably lacking behind the rear seats, too. Again, it’s typical of the class, but it makes you fully aware of one the tradeoffs of dropping down from the CX-5 or the Mazda3 to the CX-3.
At the test track, the CX-3 prototype went toe to toe with the best athlete in the class, the Nissan Juke. The CX-3 tied the Juke with an average lateral acceleration around the skidpad of 0.85 g. The CX-3 finished our figure-eight test with an average time of 27.6 seconds at 0.66 average g versus 27.1 seconds for the Juke. The CX-3 stopped from 60 mph in a reasonable 117 feet.
The CX-3 was a joy to drive on the freeway and over moderately bad pavement. It dispatched bumps and lumps generally well, its solid sounds those of a well-welded and well-fastened vehicle. And the handling, especially for a crossover, inspires confidence. Finished with a photo shoot in Woodland Hills in northwest Los Angeles and faced with rain-soaked freeways and slow, heavy traffic, I took some canyon roads down to Malibu as a back way to the office. The AWD system and the CX-3’s responsive, well-weighted electric steering allowed me to have quite a bit of fun despite the rain without ever feeling unsteady or unsafe. The six-speed automatic is programmed well and shifts smoothly. It willingly winds up the 2.0-liter for hard acceleration but reduces rpm as soon as it can.
The variety in this segment means consumers will inevitably divide it into sub-segments. People who don’t want or need the enormous capacity of an HR-V or a Renegade will overlook the small space behind the CX-3’s seats. That small space and Mazda’s “we’re fun to drive” ethos put the CX-3 more squarely in competition with the Juke.
Despite the Juke’s slight performance advantage, the 2016 Mazda CX-3‘s combo of just-enough power and class-leading handling, tech, and interior quality should propel it to a good start when it goes on sale in the fall.
|2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$29,650|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door crossover|
|ENGINE||2.0L/146-hp/146-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|L x W x H||168.3 x 69.6 x 60.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.6 sec @ 88.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 feet|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||27/32/29 mpg EPA|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/102 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.65 lb/mile|