Seat Time: 2016 Mazda CX-3

August 31st, 2015 at 2:00pm

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Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: Sean McElroy
Manufacturer: Mazda
Make: Mazda
Model: CX-3
Type: Subcompact Crossover
Competitors: Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Buick Encore, Nissan Juke
Price: Base – $20,840; Grand Touring – $25,870 + options
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Drivetrain: 2.0L SKYACTIV-G; 6-speed AT; optional AWD
EPA Ratings: 29 city/35 highway/31 combined (27/32/29 AWD)

Final Impression:
Mazda-CX-3-Interior-1Mazda is a hard brand to figure out. It seemingly makes some very good products, but yet it’s barely increasing sales in a market that’s seeing some pretty good growth. Its sales are up just .26% so far this year, while the total market is up 4.7%. But the automaker is looking to change that around as it jumps into the red-hot subcompact crossover segment with the CX-3. And if you pair the way it drives with the way it looks, the CX-3 fits right in with Mazda’s sporty persona.

It’s powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, which can be found in other vehicles in its lineup and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The suspension package features a MacPherson strut setup in front and torsion-beam out back. So, how does this translate to the road? Well, I think it’s better than any other little CUV out there today. While the CX-3 has a ride quality similar to its competitors on surface streets and the highway, this small crossover really starts to shine when you push it. It’s surprisingly well balanced through tight twisting turns. Push a little too hard and the weight up front does want to carry you wide, but the vehicle gives ample feedback before that happens. This can partly be attributed to a reworked all-wheel-drive system that’s now taking readings from 7 additional sensors, which helps it predict what’s going to happen. And for a little extra fun, switch into sport or manual mode to hold gears a little longer and get the most out of its torquey engine, which starts to kick in around 3,000 RPM.

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While some of its competitors have gone for a cute, funky or fun look for their vehicles, Mazda has chosen a more sporting appearance. The CX-3 marks the 5th and most recent vehicle introduced in the U.S. with Mazda’s KODO design language, helping to tie it to the rest of the lineup. Mazda’s goal with the CX-3 was to create a vehicle that has great presence, balance and proportions in a compact practical package. It wanted a vehicle that looked like it was moving, even when it wasn’t. Note how the vehicle has a raked-forward stance, almost like lion ready to pounce. To achieve this, designers formed the passenger cabin to lead into the long, sloping hood that narrows into Mazda’s now signature grille. Even the two strong character lines that intersect one another on the side of the car flow to the front. The designers hope people will feel like the vehicle has some life and emotion to it.

Mazda-CX-3-Interior-2The CX-3 is both shorter and lower than the CX-5 and when you hear the word “subcompact” attached to its title, you might think there’s not much room on the inside. But that’s not necessarily the case. At 6’4”, I fit just fine into the driver’s and passenger seat with still enough leg room for anyone under 6-feet to comfortably sit behind me. Well, at least for a short trip. While the CX-3 is not the worst in the segment when it comes to cargo volume, it does find itself towards the bottom of the list. At 44.5 cubic feet with the 2nd row folded down, it’s more than 10 cubic feet less than the Honda HR-V. Part of the issue is how the back of the passenger cabin tapers down, but if Mazda had changed that the vehicle would have lost some of its sporty look. Another factor is that the vehicle has a high load-floor height. And if cargo volume is important to you, don’t opt for the BOSE sound system. It eats up even more cargo space because the subwoofer is mounted inside the spare tire.

Maybe in an effort to make up for the lack of space, Mazda did pack the CX-3 with a bunch of safety and amenity features. It comes standard with the automaker’s Connect infotainment system that’s highlighted by a 7-inch touchscreen display. It’s capable of streaming music and enabling hands-free phone operation. Also available is the suite of i-ACTIVSENSE safety features, which includes lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, Smart Brake Support, rear camera, Smart City Brake Support and Mazda Radar Cruise Control. In an effort to keep the driver’s eyes on the road, a head-up display is an option as well. But unlike other systems I’m familiar with, the CX-3’s HUD is not adjustable. I tried adjusting the seat so I could see the HUD readout properly, but that put me in an uncomfortable seating position. So, I opted to just put the seat where it was comfortable to me and not worry about the HUD.

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There’s no doubt that Mazda will increase sales with an all-new vehicle in its lineup, especially one that performs and looks as good as the CX-3 does, but the real question is, can it catch up to the rest of the market?

One Comment to “Seat Time: 2016 Mazda CX-3”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Interesting insights on one of the sportier subcompact CUVs.

    Priced well and fun to drive. What more can one ask for.

    As far as no increase in market share and you ll find Honda, Nissan and Toyota subsidized lease rates at least in the northeast are so aggressive poor mazda can’t offer the same deals…..hence consumers who lease are foregoing zoom zoom for a few extra bucks in their pockets every month with lower cost lease deals from competitors.

    Just staying slightly above past years sales volume is impressive without being able to give their cars away like those other brands is an impressive feat.

    Jmo and thanks for a great writeup