2016 Mazda CX-3, Malibu, California, July 2015
America is finally getting into smaller cars—especially smaller crossover SUVs. The niche is exploding, with new entries that range from the very carlike Honda HR-V, to more rugged ones like the Jeep Renegade.
Now it’s Mazda‘s turn. And, no need for a spoiler alert here, it takes a turn toward the sporty end of the spectrum.
The 2016 CX-3 scores before it even starts. Mazda’s come up with a shape that’s one of the most attractive in the class, all sinewy curves and taut lines. The little runabout has an eager, urbane attitude and wears it on its sleeve–there’s not even a little bit of SUV in the shape.
Inside, it’s more of the same. There are plenty of hard plastics in the cabin, but the CX-3‘s cleanly styled dash can be wrapped in contrasting colors and stitching. The look comes off much better than its low-$20,000s starting price implies.
Drive it for just a few miles and it’s clear. The CX-3 is of the best-driving vehicles in this new segment. The electric power steering has good, clean feel. The ride is firm but not frazzled.
It’s probably at its best–and most like Mazda’s sweet little 3 hatchback–in base front-wheel-drive trim with 16-inch wheels. Step up to 18-inch wheels and all-wheel drive, the CX-3’s crisp steering gets duller and its 155-horsepower four a little more taxed.
There’s just enough power to get the job done. But If we were in charge we’d put the paddle shifters on all versions–we’ve been shifting a lot to squeeze all the juice from the CX-3’s frugal little four-cylinder.
The upside? Mazda puts the CX-3’s highway mileage at up to 35 miles per gallon–and we’ve seen that in hard driving.
The CX-3 doesn’t sacrifice much for its fun road manners. The cabin’s very comfortable, though long-legged drivers might want a little more seat travel. Headroom is great, even in the back seat, and knee room is cozy but not cramped.
The CX-3 doesn’t quite have its cargo game down like the Honda HR-V. The rear seats are tougher to fold down from inside the cargo hold, and they don’t fold down quite flat–or tilt up like Honda’s Magic Seat.
There’s no crash-test data for the 2016 CX-3 yet but Mazda’s made lots of advanced safety features available, like a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors.
One we’d skip: the lane departure warning system. It can be set to put out an eerie warning tone when you cross the double yellow line–it sounds like a Moog synthesizer gone bad.
Other features include a Mazda Connect infotainment system, inexpensive navigation, Bose audio, and satellite radio.
What’s the bottom line with the 2016 Mazda CX-3? It’s a zippy, stylish hatchback that has all-wheel drive–and it’s about as far from SUV as a crossover can be.
For more information be sure to read our full review of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 here.