So, here’s the premise: You – Mazda – are a manufacturer of cars and crossovers with both visual appeal and dynamic handling. And you want your product team to devise a subcompact crossover with – you guessed it – visual appeal and dynamic handling, via your KODO design theme and well-established SkyActiv menu. Obviously, you’re not Mercedes, you’re Mazda; the cost/value equation needs to remain firmly in the ‘value’ bucket, and not – at least for now – go tiptoeing into the near-luxury category. You know the category (subcompact crossover), you have the name (CX-3, which follows CX-5 and CX-9), and you know the timeline. Now, channeling the Nike tagline…just do it. And they’ve done it.
For the huddled masses, having returned to the heady rhythms of the city, Mazda has created a crossover eminently easy to park, comfortably appointed and – with sheetmetal employing Mazda’s KODO design idiom – way easy to look at. And for its target audience, with student loans unpaid and rental rates rising, they’ve made it affordable, with a well-equipped base price of roughly $20K! Crazy, that.
EXTERIOR: Mazda is – at least figuratively – on a design tear, and those of us appreciating carefully formed sheetmetal are the winners. The CX-3, whether viewing the design objectively or subjectively, is beautifully formed, and stands in stark contrast to some of the work emanating from Toyota (new CH-R, Lexus NX 200t), Nissan (Juke) and Honda studios. There isn’t a line out of place, or one proportion askew. And while we might wish for a more generous greenhouse for outbound visibility, once seated on the CX-3’s comfortably high perch you’ll find visibility less restrictive than you might have thought.
The CX-3 sits on a tiny footprint, with an overall length of just 14 feet, on a wheelbase of but 101 inches. For tight, urban parking spots it is great, although if fitting a child seat on the rear bench…not so much. You – and your kid – will be better served by going one step up the Mazda food chain, to the CX-5.
INTERIOR: If you like the outside, you’ll love the inside, especially if finished in Grand Touring spec. From the driver’s seat the ergonomics feel spot-on, with a clear view of the dials and reasonably intuitive use of the entertainment. Again, in Grand Touring spec you won’t want for anything, except – perhaps – your onboard butler and masseuse. Automatic climate control, power windows and moonroof might be assumed, but they still do a competent job of moving you – and the brand – upmarket. And ride along to enjoy the 7-inch, full-color touchscreen, Bluetooth and Bose 7-speaker audio. There’s also Mazda Connect infotainment and – of course – navigation.
The seats, spec’d in a not-quite-white leather, were beautiful to look at, as well as supportive to sit in. Getting in and out was comfortable, and didn’t require contortions, while once seated you were in place and, as a driver, feeling in control. Which brings us to the drive…
THE PLATFORM: Did we mention it’s small? Feeling like an all-wheel drive, all-season variant of the Miata, there is an intuitive feel of a Mazda CX-3. The ride is composed, but you won’t confuse ‘composed’ with pillow-like. Rather, the CX-3’s ride/handling balance is taut, athletic, giving you a confidence you’ll rarely find – this side of Porsche’s Macan – behind the wheel of a crossover. And we loved the steering, which is absolutely at one with the powertrain and platform. Navigating a sea of social drama, this is the feels-that-good respite from all that – between 8:00 and 6:00 – ails you.
We’re less excited about the CX-3’s engine. With 2.0 liters of displacement, 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque, this should be OK – and it is ‘OK’. But like many of its immediate competitors (Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek and Honda HR-V) it could use a better powertrain. There just isn’t enough ‘snap’ to make the driving experience as much fun as you’d hope it would be. While Mazda moves away from its zoom-zoom marketing tag, we had hoped they’d leave the CX-3 with at least one ‘zoom’; instead, it has none.
At an as-tested price of just under $30K we’re appropriately impressed, while wishing someone would address our performance quandary. Perhaps we’ll grow use to it – there are more important things in life than getting there quickly. You’ll excuse me while I try to remember what those things are.