The subcompact crossover is, like the midsize sedan and the standard-issue two-row compact crossover before it, well on its way to becoming a commoditized fixture of the mass-market automotive landscape. Soon enough, every automaker will offer one, everybody will own one, and all the successful models will probably look and drive more or less the same.
For now, though, there’s some differentiation among these utilitarian vehicles. The CX-3 is one of the fun ones. It’s obviously not a hatchbacked MX-5, but it’s still a fairly precise people hauler without the expected handling slack or slop.
Acceleration isn’t exhilarating. Like most Mazdas I’ve driven, the car is on the edge of being underpowered. But it never quite feels gassed, and in the FWD configuration tested here, it doesn’t run out of steam under normal driving.
More importantly, it doesn’t feel huge or uncertain on the road. From a driving dynamics perspective, feeling controlled and compact is a good thing. I had a few of those commercial-worthy moments where I found myself driving a little harder through commute-spec corners than I otherwise might have and smiling contentedly to myself afterward.
In that respect, the vehicle is better than it needs to be to meet the lowest common denominator’s demands.
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing that the CX-3 has against it, it’s that same compactness. I hate to be the guy who digs through spec sheets to bring you boring info about cargo capacities, but the CX-3’s sleek hatchback look results in about 6 fewer cubic feet of stuff-space than, for example, the less-inspiring-to-drive Chevrolet Trax (42.3 to 48.4 with the second row folded down, respectively).
Researching and typing out these numbers has very nearly put me to sleep, but they’re important to consider on these utility-driven crossovers. Thus, I can’t help but wonder if the underpinnings would have been better served by a set of 2/3rds-scale CX-5 lines than the sportier sheetmetal it currently wears. The Fiat 500X faces a similar handicap.
On the other hand, a lot of people who end up in crossovers would have been perfectly served by a sedan, let alone a hatchback, before the crossover market emerged; anecdotally, the extra cubic capacity seems to get filled with junk.
So if you’re realistic about how much trunk room you need, the CX-3 is probably the most fun, best-trimmed option in this segment. I’d like to do a CX-3/HR-V/Trax/500X comparison to see how they all fare side by side.
–Graham Kozak, associate editor
Mazda CX-3 rides the crossover sales wave
Is there such a thing as too many crossovers (in the eyes of buyers, anyway)? Sure doesn’t look like it. Buyers continue to clamor for practicality and relative affordability, hoping to avoid …
This might be one of the most well-appointed compact crossovers I’ve sat inside. After coming out of the comparable Chevy Trax, I found the cabin of this Mazda stood out as surprisingly nice at this price point. Sure, Mazda could have saved a few bucks here and there and used a low-quality plastic and no one would have batted an eye, but most of the touch points of this Mazda are pleasantly soft.
Like Graham mentions, the acceleration isn’t exactly impressive, but it isn’t bad. This is as quick as the other compact crossovers that it would be shopped against, which says more about this style of SUV than it does about this particular Mazda.
The CX-3 might not have as much space in the back as the Trax, but if you’re apt to haul a lot of luggage/sports gear/nightstands, you might consider going up to a bigger crossover like the Mazda CX-5 or a Ford Escape.
Like Graham also mentions, the CX-3 doesn’t suffer from unnervingly numb and ambling handling characteristics. The CX-3 actually feels engaging to drive, and while it isn’t as capable as a Miata, it isn’t a bad time to drive. The body roll isn’t excessive and the steering is as precise as you’d ever want a compact crossover.
Compared to the Chevy, the CX-3 does suffer from a loud cabin. This can be remedied by turning up the radio, but it is still worth noting for folks who want a pin-drop quiet passenger area.
If you can deal with a louder cabin and less space, you will be rewarded with the CX-3s superior driving dynamics and more luxe-feeling interior.
–Wes Wren, associate editor
Base Price: $27,140
As Tested Price: $28,810
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter DOHC I4, FWD six-speed automatic
Output: 146 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,809 lb
Fuel Economy: 27/32/29 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Options: GT-I activsense package ($1,170); roof rack side rails ($300), rear bumper guard ($100); door sill trim plates ($100)