The all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3 distinguishes itself as the driver’s choice within the subcompact SUV segment. While it may sacrifice a little bit of utility, the CX-3 also sets itself apart with strong safety ratings, dynamic exterior styling and a rich set of standard features.
The Mazda CX-3 is a completely new crossover and the smallest model in Mazda’s SUV lineup. A four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard on all models, and the choice of front- or all-wheel drive is available across the model line. Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims are offered, with pricing starting at just under $20,000.
There’s little doubt that Mazda has introduced the best-looking subcompact crossover in the segment with the 2016 CX-3. With proportions that look more like a tall hatchback, the CX-3’s profile includes a long hood and short front and rear overhangs that suggest a hint of sportiness. At the back, the CX-3 features a roof spoiler, dual exhaust and wide wraparound taillights.
The base CX-3 Sport comes with 16-inch steel wheels, which are upgraded to 16- and 18-inch alloy wheels on Touring and Grand Touring models, respectively. Features like LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights and a moonroof also come standard with the top Grand Touring trim.
Entering the subcompact SUV segment opens up the opportunity for a few compromises, and with the Mazda CX-3 these include a little less cargo and back-seat passenger space, particularly in comparison with competitors like the Honda HR-V. As a result, the CX-3 probably won’t make a lot of sense for small families. There’s 12.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, which can be expanded to 44.5 cubic feet by folding the CX-3’s 60/40 split-folding rear seats to provide a little more utility. Passenger space is quite good up front, however, and Mazda’s styling includes horizontal accents across the dash that impart a sense of spaciousness.
The overall design is driver-focused and functional, with materials that seem appropriate for the price. Cloth upholstery is standard on the base CX-3 Sport, while heated front seats, leatherette upholstery and automatic climate control are available. Meanwhile, the top CX-3 Grand Touring gets an interior that’s a bit more upscale, with seats that feature leather and faux-suede trim.
The Mazda CX-3 comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, while all-wheel drive is optional.
Front-wheel drive models get an EPA-estimated 29/35 mpg city/highway, which is comparable to the Honda HR-V’s fuel economy and better than the Chevrolet Trax’s estimates. The all-wheel drive CX-3 gets slightly lower estimates of 27/32 mpg.
Like many players in the subcompact class, the 2016 CX-3 does not have an excess of power. Still, the four-cylinder felt alert and responsive, and was strong enough for just about every driving situation that we encountered. The six-speed automatic shifts promptly, and a Sport driving mode provides quicker throttle response and downshift rev-matching, which is a relatively rare feature for an affordable SUV.
Handling is where the CX-3 really stands out, however. This subcompact SUV is exceptionally nimble on a twisty road, with agility that some compact cars can’t seem to match. The ride is controlled and relatively comfortable, even with the CX-3 Grand Touring’s 18-inch wheels, and quick steering further bolsters an enjoyable driving experience.
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 comes standard with a USB port, Bluetooth, push-button start and the voice-activated Mazda Connect infotainment system, which includes a rearview camera, smartphone app integration, hands-free text messaging and a 7-inch display.
Available features include a Bose audio system, proximity key, satellite radio, HD Radio, navigation and Mazda’s Active Driving Display, which keeps vehicle information within the driver’s line of sight on a transparent, pop-up panel that’s located above the gauge cluster.
Mazda Connect continues to impress in the CX-3, just as it did in vehicles like the Mazda CX-5 and Mazda3. This system features a rotary knob on the center console that proves to provide trouble-free access to most vehicle functions.
Navigation, which was once a costly option on many vehicles, is particularly accessible on the Mazda CX-3. Regardless of trim level, those of us who are directionally challenged can get it as a dealer-installed option for $400.
The 2016 CX-3 comes with a suite of air bags, stability and traction control and a rearview camera. Blind spot monitoring is available, as is Mazda’s i-Activsense driver assistance package. This suite of active safety features is available on Grand Touring models, and includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic high beams.
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 earned a top five-star rating for its overall performance in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The CX-3 also received a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with top scores of Good in all crashworthiness categories. When equipped with a i-Activesense, the CX-3 earns a top Superior rating from the IIHS for front crash prevention.
The CX-3 isn’t the most inexpensive subcompact crossover on the market, but it’s not the priciest either. Competitors like the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Honda HR-V all have slightly lower starting prices, while models like the Chevrolet Trax, Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke will end up costing a bit more if you’re comparing base models.
Some of these competitors also offer compromises that include an aging design or a less impressive list of standard equipment. While the CX-3 strikes the middle ground in terms of price, it is fully competitive in terms of interior quality, technology and driving fun.
Mazda seems poised to shake up the competition with the 2016 CX-3. Great handling should make the CX-3 the choice in the subcompact SUV segment for buyers who want a little fun during the daily grind. However, the CX-3’s appeal may fall short for some, since its small back seat and limited cargo space may not meet the needs of small families. If you aren’t swayed by these limitations, the CX-3 is well worth your consideration.