First Drive Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3

Written by Paul Strauss | July 23, 2015
First Drive Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3

    2016 Mazda CX-3

  • Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder Skyactiv
  • Horsepower: 146
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 146
  • Transmission: 6-speed Skyactiv automatic
  • Top Speed (mph): FWD: 119 / AWD: 118
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: FWD: 29/35/31 / AWD: 27/32/29
  • Curb Weight (lb): FWD 2,809 / AWD: 2,952
  • Wheelbase (in): 101.2
  • Total Length (in): 168.3
  • Width (in): 69.6
  • Base Price (USD): $19,960
  • Price as Tested (USD): FWD: $24,990 / AWD: $26,240

A few years back, the compact crossover market was limited to a couple of vehicles, including the Nissan Juke and Buick Enclave. However, the segment is growing logarithmically, with several new entries on the way in the coming months alone. Of these, the one that appeals to me most is the Mazda CX-3. Not only is it the best looking of the bunch, in my opinion, but it’s packed with styling and capabilities not usually found at its price point.

Launching as a 2016 model, the new CX-3 is substantially smaller than the Mazda CX-5 and taller than a Mazda 3, inheriting the bold and dynamic “Kodo” styling that has been the directive for all of Mazda’s cars. This gives the car a great sense of movement, with sweeping curves across its body, and an aggressive and sporty stance. Of particular note are the wide overfenders, large 18″ tires (on the Grand Touring model) and short front and rear overhangs. The front fascia looks great, seamlessly blending from its sculpted headlamps into its bold grille.

I had the opportunity to take both the front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive Grand Touring model for an extensive drive through the twisty and turny canyons around Malibu, California, and had a great time behind the wheel. The CX-3 is surprisingly agile and well balanced for a car of its size and class, and accelerates impressively, given its small 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine, which puts out 146 hp at 6,000 RPM and 146 lb-ft. of torque at 2,800 RPM. Unlike some of its competitors, Mazda has stuck with a proper 6-speed automatic transmission instead of a CVT, and this pays off in spades. Shifting is crisp and fast, rewarding those who enjoy driving. In Sport mode, the CX-3 is more aggressive than many other so-called Sport modes, sometimes revving all the way to the redline if your driving pattern warrants it. The gearbox also gets a manual mode with rev-match downshifting, and the GT model has paddle shifters for added driver engagement.

Since I was driving on dry and smooth roads, I had little need for the car’s all-wheel drive capabilities, so I couldn’t tell a major difference between the two setups. That said, the AWD system is quite advanced in the CX-3, capable of proactively sending power to the rear wheels based on a variety of inputs, including temperature, wheel angle, throttle, braking, and even whether the wipers are on or off. All of these factors help the system take on difficult conditions before they happen, rather than reactively.  Mazda showed us an impressive video of their testing against two key competitors (who shall remain nameless) – both parked on a snowy hill with the wheels turned. While the competition struggled and spun their wheels getting out of the snow, the CX-3 handled the situation without a hitch.


Inside, the CX-3 is visually pleasing – offering a cockpit which feels assured and nicely finished. The premium finishes in the Grand Touring model are quite nice for the price, with real leather seats and Lux Suede inserts, leather trim on the dashboard, and contrast stitching and piping on the seats. The less expensive Sport model has cloth seats, and the Touring has leatherette surfaces. But they all look very put together. If I’ve got any complaint, it’s the uninspiring material they chose for the headliner and the lack of soft-touch surfaces on the top of the dash. But these are minor trade-offs in an otherwise very good vehicle.

Front legroom and headroom is good, and the seats are quite comfortable and supportive. The back seat, on the other hand, is quite cramped if you have reasonably tall adults in the front seats, and headroom is tight, so don’t expect to comfortably carry rear seat passengers unless they’re children or small adults.

All models come with a 7″ touchscreen infotainment system, which can also be controlled by a wheel-style remote in the center console. The GT model gets a BOSE 7-speaker audio system, Sirius XM/HD, heated seats, and a few other bells and whistles.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the CX-3. It’s a fun and functional car, ideal for youthful city dwellers who like to head out of town on the weekends and take in the great outdoors. It’s nimble, handles well, and has a great aesthetic that stands out from the crowd.

Prices for the 2016 Mazda CX-3 start at $19,960(USD) for the Sport trim with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models start at $21,210, while the most complete package – a Grand Touring car with AWD and the i-ACTIVESENSE safety package tops out the line at $28,160.

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