2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand TouringPosted on December 4th, 2015
Right-size crossover perfect for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
Mazda doesn’t know how to make a mistake: every new model is walk-off home run. Such is the case for the newest family member: the compact CX-3 crossover with available all-wheel drive. Small on the outside but big on the inside, the CX-3 has enough ground clearance for covering unimproved roads, without impacting low lift-over height for easy access to the cargo area.
A two-liter Skyactiv engine averages 32 mpg on the highway but is by no means short on power. A six-speed automatic transmission likes to downshift and launch hard. Base MSRP is below $20,000.
The Grand Touring model that starts at $26,240 comes standard with a bunch of luxury car features including keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, heated front seats, navigation, power moonroof and satellite radio. Standard safety features include adaptive front headlamps with daytime running lamps, rearview camera, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring.
The test car comes with a safety option package that adds adaptive cruise control, rain sensing wipers, lane departure warning and automatic on/off headlamps with high beam control, bringing the final MSRP to $29,590 including destination.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week the peppy CX-3 ferried me to some pre-dawn runs, through rush-hour traffic, along on a high-speed section of the I-10 freeway, two-lane roads within the Gila River Indian Community and surface roads in the East Valley.
Although I’ve learned to place a lot of faith in Mazda engineering, I had some concerns about the CX-3, mainly how its torsion beam rear end would affect ride comfort. The simple answer is: it does not. Nobody who rides in the CX-3, be it the front or rear seats, will be uncomfortable.
Skyactiv is Mazda’s designation for its fuel-economizing measures that exist throughout the vehicle. It’s not a magic bullet, rather seemingly small adjustments throughout the chassis that add up to some serious savings at the gas pump.
For example, engineers have figured out how to give the engine a very high compression ratio without the danger of detonation, resulting in more complete burning of gasoline. Other features include active grille shutters, regenerative braking, aerodynamic improvements of the body and below the chassis and use of lightweight construction materials.
Twenty-nine mile-per-gallon fuel economy is impressive for an all-wheel drive car, since the mechanism that sends traction to the rear axle tends to negatively impact gas mileage.
What’s even more impressive is the performance, engineers squeezed out of the two-liter engine. One might even describe the CX-3 as a bit of a hot rod. No, it’s not going to beat your Mustang Cobra off the line, but drivers will have no problem racing to the front of the line on highway entrance ramps.
Those who want more aggressive performance from the six-speed transmission can select gears manually, but in the stop-and-go rush-hour traffic world, it does just fine in fully automatic mode.
The electric power steering system has, dare I say, very good on-center response at highway speeds. It’s downright refreshing. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels on the test car give it a nice fat footprint for hammering through decreasing radius turns.
If Mazda has ever had an Achilles heel it’s been the OEM’s interiors that tended to look a bit Spartan. The CX-3 Grand Touring is a nice departure, with attractive upholstery, a large, easy-to-read center stack screen, well-configured gauge cluster and well designed steering wheel controls.
Images from the rearview camera are crisp after dark: something competitors can’t lay claim to. Manual driver’s and front passenger seat adjustments are easy to use. The driver’s seat has plenty of lower lumbar support for trips lasting over an hour. I found the three-stage seat heaters to be a nice perc while driving to the trailhead for early morning runs.
A Plexiglas panel above the steering wheel displays vehicle speed and other basic functions reducing driver distraction.
Despite the crossover’s small size, there’s enough room with second-row seats folded flat to stash a bicycle. A tonneau cover hides smaller items stashed in the cargo area from prying eyes.
Active safety technology
Not only is the CX-3 impressive for the types of active safety features included in a sub- $30,000 car, but their execution as well. While other manufacturers use annoying chimes or overwhelming haptic feedback to alert drivers about lane departure, Mazda’s version simply dims the audio speaker on the side of the vehicle veering out of the lane. There is also a low hum that’s most noticeable at lower speeds.
Blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. Some of these systems can give false alarms by chiming if the driver signals to change lanes when a vehicle several lanes away passes by. The CX-3 doesn’t have that problem.
Optional adaptive cruise control maintains a preset distance between the crossover and the car in front. Not only does it reduce stress in congested traffic but improves overall fuel economy as well.
Adaptive headlamps react to steering inputs to light dark corners of the road when the driver turns the steering wheel. It can make the difference between seeing a pedestrian waiting to cross at a dark intersection and not.
Rolling into a dealership near you
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a small, affordable crossover that can make tracks on dirt roads and clamber through some snow, consider the Mazda CX-3: an attractive, well-engineered crossover that works hard for the money.
Like: Attractive styling, good fuel economy, high level of standard safety features.
Model: CX-3 Grand Touring
Base price: $26,240
As tested: $29,590
Horsepower: 146 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 146 lbs.-ft. @ 2800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 27/32 mpg city/highway2016, Best Value 2016, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Mazda, performance, pricing, standard safety