When Mazda quietly stopped importation of its petite Mazda2 hatchback, theirs was a decision hard to understand. Now, there is nothing wrong with the 2017 Mazda CX-3 subcompact-SUV we tested here but The Mazda2 hatch was one of those great little secrets in the automotive world whose benefits were whispered about in enthusiast’s conversations. Heck it was one of the base vehicles for a Pirelli World Challenge class, a worthy successor to showroom stock as Touring Car B (TCB). But we all know buyers nowadays just want crossovers.
So the Mazda2 didn’t sell well enough to stick around and in 2016 the Mazda CX-3 was introduced, as a subcompact crossover vehicle available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. For sure a Cute Ute, it slotted in smaller than both the CX-5 and newly-refurbished CX-9. A wee bit smaller than Mazda’s Mazda3 handsome hatchback, the CX-3 makes its visual marks through muscular appearance, its high shoulders, character body lines, slight greenhouse and slightly higher ride height than a Mazda3 sedan and hatch.
The crystal white pearl mica color of our 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring front-wheel-drive CUV is exceptionally rich and, with black surrounds to windows and wheel wells, the sloping roof with its rear awning adds a rich look to this car. The long wheelbase of the crossover aids its ride and handling as well as making for truly cohesive visuals. Daytime LED running lights add to the sex appeal, as do the LED adaptive front lighting system with LED fog lights. Visibility, even in rainy Southern California weather, is excellent thanks to these features.
The running gear of the 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD appear mundane to one examining the engine/transmission on a casual basis, but in reality, the 2-liter directly-injected Skyactiv-G inline four-cylinder engine’s 146 horsepower at 6000rpm, together with its 146 lb-ft of torque at an excellent 2800rpm works exceptionally well in Los Angeles’ cut-throat traffic. A six-speed automatic transmission offers paddle shifters to enhance this sporty crossover’s appeal and, with MacPherson/torsion beam axle suspension the Mazda fully encompasses the company’s desire to build vehicles that people enjoy driving.
Steering is through rack-and-pinion electronic power assist and all-wheel disc brakes, ventilated at the front are standard equipment on this car. A 34.8-foot turning circle means the CX-3 can slot itself just about anywhere. Add the fact that this is a relatively lightweight crossover, at 2809 pounds as tested, with excellent rigidity and predictable response in all situations. Noise intrusion is minimal, seams are exceptionally tight and uniform. Yokohama 215/50R all-purpose rubber rides on 18-inch twinned five-spoke gray and polished alloys; they handle superbly.
Mileage from the 12.7-gallon tank is rated at 29/34/31 and that’s using regular fuel. Over the slightly more than 300 miles we spent rushing to and from Pomona for the start of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, our average ranged between 31-32 in mixed, enthusiastic driving. Mazda’s Skyactiv technology is based on an excellent aerodynamic package with light weight, safely, reliably predictable handling and economical and ecologically sound drivetrain. It succeeds on all of these fronts.
There are three different varieties of CX-3 available from Mazda: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The third option, driven here, has exclusive features not available on lesser models, but the costs go up incrementally. This vehicle, which starts at $25,890 after freight charges are locked in, has several options that boost the bottom line to $27,755. These are an interior lighting kit, a charge for the exterior color, a rear bumper guard and door sill trim plates, together with Mazda’s GT iActivsense package.
The latter package ($750 less than it cost in 2016!) consists of radar cruise control, which can be adjusted for appropriate following distances, smart brake support, lane-departure warnings, automatic headlights, high beam control and variable rain-sense wipers. The latter were quite handy during the rainy season that’s permeated this area of the world. But it’s what’s included on the Mazda CX-3 without extra cost that adds to this vehicle’s desirability.
Three-position seat heaters, leather-wrapped steering wheel controls (audio, trip info and phone on the left, cruise control on the right), gorgeous black-and-white manual seats that are so easy to find the right settings for anyone, an excellent navigation system that has either 2- or 3D settings, a multimedia interface in the tunnel that keeps messy fingers off the screen, an active driving display (heads-up) that rises and retracts on start-up and shut-down, pushbutton start and proximity key, two-way sunroof with one-touch opening, one-touch driver’s window, automatic climate control and an amazing Bose-based audio system with Sirius/XM, aha, Pandora, Stitcher and, of course Android and Apple Car Play.
Like so many Mazda vehicles, the CX-3 does not have a temperature gauge. The tachometer is prominent in the driver’s display with left and right screen pods. Odometer/trip odometer and gear selection are left of the tach. The right side screen houses the fuel gauge, trip information, current temperature and cruise control information, which is duplicated in the heads-up display. Both of these dash displays tend to wash out in sunlight.
I was really taken by the nav system with its street signs and speed limit signs; once over the limit by even one mile per hour, that symbol changes from white to red. The audio handled my propensity to listen loud and long without complaints and the sound was excellent and crisp, no matter how loud or soft. I loved the digital speedometer that’s visible both on the gauge cluster and in the active driving display; it took only a single trip to become accustomed to it.
The Mazda CX-3’s cabin’s interior is truly striking with red accents in areas below the dash and around the central stack. While there is no covered storage in this cabin aside from the glovebox, there are a pair of USB plugs, one auxiliary and a 12-volt plug at the base of the central stack. A grippy floor allows phones to charge without losing their bearings during heavy cornering. Rear seating is a bit on the tight side and there is no ventilation; there are cup holders in all four doors but the front tunnel cup holders are directly below the driver’s armrest.
It’s possible to turn off the blindspot monitoring and lane departure avoidance with buttons to the lower left of the dash; the fuel filler remote is in that general vicinity but sole access to the hatch is achieved through the touch pad at its opening. Mazda states the cargo space is between 10-12 cubic feet with rear seats up and 42.3 to 44.5 cubic feet with rear seats folded flat. I was able to fit my 22-inch suitcase, large backpack and a secondary bag in the covered hatch area with plenty of space for more.
Overall, the Mazda CX-3 is a great little crossover and feels way more expensive than it actually is. it’s easy to drive in a normal situation and is exceptionally happy when pushed in sport mode. In fact the biggest competition this vehicle has, in front-wheel-drive trim, is within the Mazda family, as the Mazda3 hatch has more space and slightly better fuel mileage. Still, in a culture where SUVs and CUVs rule our roads, I’m willing to bet that the 2017 Mazda CX-3 gets more attention from buyers than its somewhat more practical sibling.
In either case Mazda provides a great ride because, as they say #DrivingMatters.
By Anne Proffit