Driving matters to Mazda. So much so, in fact, that the long-loved Miata has been one of the best selling—if not the best selling roadster on the market for over 15 years. But we’re not here to talk about the Miata, we’re here to talk about something even more important.
“More important than the Miata?!” you ask worryingly. Yes, the Mazda CX-3 is the car that has been slated to be the next big thing for the Japanese marque. Considering the CUV segment has been the fastest growing corner of the market and shows now signs of letting up, we can’t fault that logic. Truthfully, we can’t find much to fault in the CX-3 either.
SUV Body, Miata Soul
If it looks like an SUV, and smells like an SUV, it must drive like an SUV, right? Actually, no. One of the key differences between the Mazda CX-3 and the competition is in the way it drives. To use an automotive PR keyword, it’s very dynamic.
Truth be told, that shouldn’t really shock anyone familiar with this new vehicle. Its base is a Mazda 3, a car that’s pretty dynamic in its own right. The only immediate difference from the CX-3 and the Mazda 3 hatchback is the ride height, and the easily distinguishable Kodo design cues.
With the front-wheel-drive version (as tested), it never felt overly unruly. Surprisingly, the CX-3 is one of the few vehicles in the segment that doesn’t put to use torque vectoring on its front-wheel-drive version—but you’d never be able to tell.
The body is composed, and lacks any sort of roll you’d find in something comparable. The wheels do tend to feel like they’re caving at extreme cornering speeds, but easily corrects without much fuss. The overall feeling behind the wheel of the CX-3 is extreme confidence, and Mazda’s “Driving Matters” way of doing things is immediately apparent in this new car.
The Mazda CX-3 is the most fun, best driving car in the segment. Without any question.
Agression is something typically reserved for a high-end sports car, or an American muscle car. You probably wouldn’t be expecting to see the term paired with a sub-$30,000 Japanese CUV. Yet here we are, doing exactly that.
Mazda’s Kodo design language translates beautifully onto the small SUV. It’s aggressive, it’s got a good stance, and in the particular Dynamic Blue Mica finish we were driving, it actually has the ability to turn some heads, if even just for a second.
Unlike its competitors, the CX-3 isn’t overly styled. It’s a signature Mazda design, paired with typical CUV lines in a very sophisticated, grown up way. In a crowded parking lot, 90% of the time it’s one the most appealing cars around.
The interior waters down the aggressive approach into a more subdued styling. Fixtures are sleek, and the large touchscreen (which sometimes blocks out touch functions) takes up most of your view. Per typical Mazda fashion, the interior remains one of the best in the business. Definitely the best in the segment.
Some soft leather seats top things off, and a black-and-red finish add more character to the mix—even though it does clash with the blue exterior finish. Overall, the design should be winning some awards by year’s end, inside and out.
The Mazda CX-3 is a small car, don’t be mistaken. With only 87 cubic feet of passenger volume, and 12 cubic feet of cargo volume, it actually makes for one of the least spacious CUVs currently on the market.
For comparison, the super spacious Honda HR-V boasts interior volume of 96 cubic feet, and cargo volume of 23 cubic feet. Taking into account the driving style and aggressive design of the CX-3, though, that small loss in cargo volume shouldn’t do much to dissuade buyers. Think of it less like a small SUV and more like a spacious compact.
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Mazda knows how to do technology. The simplicity and ease in which the Mazda system operates makes you question why you need to pay twice the price for a less appealing, more complicated Mercedes-Benz interface.
There’s a volume knob (novel idea), a central control dial, and just for good measure, a touchscreen system for those of you that like to make life more difficult. It’s easy, it works—other automakers should take note.
The only minor niggle we can convene is the lack of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. In a world where smartphones are becoming the new norm in vehicles, young buyers are aching for the systems.
Even though we’re typically behind the wheel of something abundantly faster and more expensive, the Mazda CX-3 might be one of the most fun, all-around best vehicles we’ve driven all year.
It combines the driving feel of a hatchback with the added space of a CUV. Paired with a seamless interface and superb driving dynamics, it’s hard to image you’d want to buy anything else in the segment.
For the front-wheel drive, fully loaded CX-3 we tested, MSRP topped out at $28,440. By our account, you can snag an all-wheel-drive version, fully loaded for just a bit more. And snag them while you can, this car is going to be an absolute hit for Mazda.
Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder Skyactiv
Price (as tested): $28,440
Superb driving feel
Best infotainment system around
Lane departure system isn’t perfect
Lacking Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Photo Credit: Jeff Perez for BoldRide