So, let’s pretend it’s the here and now. You’re in the market for a new or pre-owned car, have done the necessary degree of online research, consulted with friends that own (or know of) your preference, and are ready to comparison shop. Obviously, the car or truck’s footprint is important; you’ll have to navigate it in your neighborhood, as well as to and from your workplace. But how you feel behind the wheel, regardless of your vehicle’s physical size or drivetrain, will ultimately dictate your satisfaction with its purchase, both in the first few months and – hopefully – the next several years.
We’ve enjoyed driving Mazda’s CX-3 crossover over the last several weeks, and while we have some reservations regarding its responsiveness (those same reservations apply to virtually everything in its subcompact segment), we’re delighted by the compactness of its footprint, composure of the platform and – not incidentally – the design discipline applied to its interior.
The two most important aspects in your automotive interaction are the touch points, i.e., where your hands grip the wheel and where your seat hits the seat. And in both instances the CX-3 provides an almost perfect experience. As you slide into the front seat you’ll find a sculpted bucket that, in Grand Touring spec, is covered in perforated leather. The bolstering is aggressive (better to hold you in place), but not so aggressive as to be restrictive. And while lacking power seat adjustments, the manual height, backrest and fore-and-aft adjustments position you perfectly – regardless of height – behind the wheel.
That wheel offers the perfect size, shape and tactile quality we want in a wheel. Were it mine I’d opt for nothing but a rim and three spokes, but within the context of 2017 Mazda’s design team has done a wonderful job of fitting a wheel fully appropriate to the smallest of Mazda’s three crossovers. Its shape is ergonomic, while its leather cover provides enough grip to be, well, ‘grippy’. We like it a lot, and since we can’t opt for a wood Nardi (or a ‘wood’ anything) we’ll take it.
The instrumentation is a credible treatment of what most auto companies are doing in this century. Like Porsche, the tach is front and center. And that’s perfectly logical if you’re sitting in front of Porsche’s biggest horses and revs. But we’re sitting behind roughly 150 of Mazda’s most prosaic horses, connected to the CX-3’s 6-speed auto. With that, there’s a visual and psychological disconnect between the big gauge monitoring your engine speed and – to be frank – not much engine or road speed. Your miles-per-hour is provided in the lower right corner, as well as in the available heads-up display. But given the cost of today’s speeding tickets (don’t ask me how I know – I just know) I’d prefer the speedo large and the revs small…but perhaps that’s just me.
Again referencing the Grand Touring trim, you’ll find leather gracing the lower portion of the dash, interesting design elements in the doors, and an attractive, contrasting color on the front armrests. The center armrest, located between the driver and passenger seats, works well enough, but we wish it felt a tad more substantial. And when lowered in place it conceals your cupholders; obviously, this design team spends very little money with their local Starbucks.
Once seated and fully cognizant of how things work, you’ll want to do a look around. While the CX-3 comes with a rearview camera, it’s still advisable – and preferable – to be able to see what’s around you, whether backing out of a parking space or into a street. In this regard you’re helped by the CX-3’s high hip point and decent amount of glass area. It could, of course, be more generous between the ‘C’ and ‘D’ pillars (those bordering the rear door and rear hatch), but it could also be worse – much worse. Overall, the Mazda’s outbound visibility works well with its light, athletic footprint.
In sum, much of your research can be done online. But nothing – NOTHING – in your shopping can match the information provided in a demo drive of reasonable length. It’s a great way to know the car you’re about to buy, or – perhaps more importantly – the car you’re about to avoid.