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Mazda’s Subcompact CX-3: Baby Driver

3rd Installment - long-term review

Car Reviews

Mazda’s Subcompact CX-3: Baby Driver

You, of course, are reading this online. And if this was a website with new and used inventory, you might very well go from this article to shopping for that new or used car, truck or SUV you’ve been wanting. It’s just too d*mn easy to find what you want, negotiate the price via e-mail or text and – hell – have the car delivered without ever (EVER) setting a foot in the showroom. And that – frankly – is a shame. As long as cars, trucks and SUVs offer an individual identity and not some uniform, Muskian(?) interpretation of the future, to accurately know what you’re buying you have to drive what you’re considering. And while we’re not yet buying Mazda’s CX-3 crossover, after 90 days of driving we have a far better idea than we would have had after 90 minutes.

As background, know we came to Mazda; Mazda didn’t come calling on us. Having borrowed their ‘NC’ Miata a couple of summers ago for roughly three months, I knew it to be a viable way of getting to know a product that just a week behind the wheel – the length of most press loans – doesn’t allow. So, in mid-April a hard-loaded CX-3 (with front-wheel drive) shows up, and we get to know it.

EXTERIOR: As referenced in our initial notes, the CX-3’s sheetmetal had us at ‘hello’. Applying Mazda’s KODO design theme, the CX-3 has not one line out of place, or one proportion askew. And while the form may not yet qualify for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (think E-Type, Cisitalia), it’s at least within the same zip code, while small entries from Toyota and Lexus aren’t even in the same state. We still wish there was a tad more outward visibility from within its greenhouse, but in daily use that shortfall doesn’t seem to be a shortfall. And while the larger CX-5 and CX-9 share some key design elements, those elements come together best when applied to Mazda’s smallest platform.

INTERIOR: If you think of this subcompact CUV as a generous 2+2, you won’t be disappointed. In a market overrun by 3-row crossovers (Mazda’s own CX-9, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, to name three), think of the CX-3’s backseat as someone else’s 3rd row…and you’ll be fine. If you consider it, however, as a legitimate repository for fullsize adults you may be disappointed. Know that for a lunch hour four will fit fine, but a child seat will buck right up against the front passenger seat, at which point your kid’s shoes should come off. Please.

From a control and infotainment standpoint there were no disappointments, although we continue to prefer more buttons and less dials when selecting that infotainment. Hyundai and Kia seem to do this best, but what Mazda has applied won’t be a disqualifier. And when you add the rightness of the steering wheel size, seat shape and convenient access to everything, it’s easy to become at one with the CX-3. (You could be the hyphen.)

PLATFORM: We had mentioned earlier the tautness of the CX-3 platform, and almost three months later we remain delighted by the Mazda’s point-and-shoot persona. The overall impression is one of a GTI or Fiesta ST, only with a higher ride height. And as we also mentioned earlier, if the CX-3 falls flat it’s when you pop the hood…and can’t find any ‘pop’. The 2.0 liter four, with 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, seems enough when you read about it, but this thing so needs an additional 25 (or 50) more horsepower. Somewhere a Mazda engineer is screaming, at the top of his or her lungs, ‘MazdaSpeed’. And somewhere, someone should let that kid out of the closet. If more horsepower doesn’t happen, we’d look to the Miata tuners for some less restrictive intake and exhaust hardware, if only to sound faster.

VALUE: With a price of just $20K (plus destination) for the base Sport, this much content and quality makes the purchase – I think – a no-brainer. Of course, opt for Grand Touring with all-wheel drive and you’re nudging $30K, but we still find that acceptable in a world inhabited with $35,000 RAV4s and $50,000 Siennas. If you want the doo-dads but can’t get beyond rent and student loans, look into leasing and – at the end of three years buy it as your own used car. For a couple with young kids, or empty nesters with no kids, you’ll find few better solutions for the in-town drive or get-out-of-town adventure than the CX-3. Try and get a 3-month test drive. And then buy it.

Be sure to check out the second installment of the CX-3 long-term review Here and the first installment Here!

David Boldt

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, Chicago's Midwest Automotive Media Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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