If it seems that everything is getting smaller, that’s because it is. Oh sure, people claim that the world is getting smaller, but other things are shrinking as well. You could say that there are fewer intelligent politicians, but really, there weren’t many to begin with. Certainly paychecks have gotten smaller, but that goes without saying.
Now, you can add the sport-utility vehicle to the list.
Maybe you didn’t notice, but there are a number of subcompact SUVs vying for your attention, including the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Kia Soul, Nissan Juke and today’s subject, the new 2016 Mazda CX-3.
This peep of a vehicle adeptly channels the looks of its sportier Mazda siblings, including the Mazda3 hatchback. But the CX-3 is 7.3 inches shorter, thanks to its platform, which is derived from the Mazda2, a car no longer sold by Mazda in the United States. Instead, it is sold by Scion as the iA sedan, which is 2.9 inches narrower and 2.2 inches shorter than the Mazda, yet shares its 101.2-inch wheelbase.
This gives the Mazda CX-3 an impressive, planted stance, one that enhances its sporty, athletic appeal. The silver trim that frames the CX-3’s grille horizontally melds seamlessly into the headlamps that anchor the corners of the car, enhancing its wide stance. A sharp beltline undulates along the side windows, arching over the rear wheels and flowing under the rear window, tautly tying the vehicle together. Given that some crossovers in this class look like ungainly lumps — the Encore and Trax come to mind — the CX-3’s assertive allure is quite a feat for such a small car.
Of course, the Mazda’s aggressive appearance is more than mere window dressing. Unlike some of its competitors, the CX-3 boasts a fairly large engine: a 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional.
The CX-3’s specs don’t suggest that it should be anything special with its MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear axle. But this is a Mazda, and its goodness belies its numbers. This fun-to-drive trucklet lends the driver the confidence to take on the world, be it tackling a twisting road or a snow-covered cul-de-sac. The steering is nicely weighted, and firm suspension keeps everything snubbed down and under control. The CX-3 remains composed under any of the conditions that you throw at it, so this is a true Mazda.
While certain people may not find the CX-3’s 146 horsepower fleet enough for their taste — although you might wonder if any car would be — most drivers will find it sufficient, although you will have to rev the engine to get the most out of it. On the flip side, fuel economy is commendable.
Climb into the front seats and you’ll find a sophisticatedly sporty instrument panel that lacks the visual clutter common to modern interiors. There’s pleasing simplicity that looks as it comes from a pricier car. All controls are easy to figure out at a glance.
Interior space is adequate up front, but cramped in the rear, especially when it comes to legroom. Best to fold down the rear seat and expand the 12.4 cubic-foot cargo hold.
The CX-3 is offered in three flavors: entry-level Sport, mid-level Touring, and all-in Grand Touring.
Even the base Sport model is blessed with a lot of niceties, including backup camera, remote keyless entry, push-button starter power windows, power door locks and a seven-inch, full-color touchscreen with an infotainment suite with Bluetooth for phone and audio streaming. All-wheel drive is a $1,250 option.
Stepping up to the Touring nets you leatherette trimmed heated seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated side mirrors, a center armrest and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. An optional $1,410 Touring Technology Package adds a power moonroof, SiriusXM and HD radio and a rear cargo cover.
As you’d expect, the top-of-the-line Grand Touring includes the Touring Technology Package equipment as standard equipment along with navigation, adaptive front lighting, head-up display, leather and suede seats, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and LED lighting. An optional $1.920 i-ACTIVSENSE package includes radar cruise control, smart brake support, high beam control system, lane departure warning system, rain-sensing wipers and automatic on/off headlights.
No matter which trim level you choose, you’ll find the CX-3 to be a smartly styled, fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive, affordable all-weather friend.
Its bigness of spirit belies its small size. So even though the world is getting smaller, there are good things to be found in small packages.
Base price: $19,960
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 146 pound-feet
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 168.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,809 pounds (front-wheel drive), 2,952 pounds (all-wheel drive)
Cargo capacity: 12.4 cubic feet
Fuel economy (city, highway): 27, 32
NHTSA safety rating: Not rated