A Practical Performer

Mazda’s CX-3 Stands Out in a Crowded Room


September 23, 2015 Cars By Photo by Bryan Campbell
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As the compact crossover pool becomes one of the most crowded segments in the industry — with the Honda HR-V, Mercedes GLA, Nissan Juke, Buick Encore, Chevy Trax, Mini Cooper Paceman, Fiat 500x and Jeep Renegade — Mazda is now trying to squeeze in with the all-new CX-3 ($21,210). And with some analysts predicting CUV sales to flirt with 17.5 million units in 2015 alone, it’s easy to see why they want in on the action. But joining the party is the easy part (Mazda used the basic underpinnings from a Mazda2 and drivetrain from the CX-5); standing out among the handfuls of competition? That’s tough.

The CX-3 is carving a very Mazda-style niche in the CUV scene. The Nissan Juke swings far to the performance side of the spectrum, the Honda HR-V exists purely for practicality, and the Mazda’s CX-3 — a practical performer — sits squarely between its two main competitors.

Under the Hood

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Engine: 2.0-Liter SKYACTIV Four-Cylinder
Transmission: Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower: 146
Torque: 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Drive System: AWD
MPG (city/hwy): 27/32
MSRP: $21,210 (base) / $26,240 (as tested)

On paper, a compact CUV appears a “jack of all trades, master of none,” and the CX-3 runs the risk of being just that. It has about the same amount of room as the Mazda3 five-door, gives buyers a road presence closer to the CX-5 and, with FWD, handles in a vague place between them both. In FWD flavor, it’s equipped with the same bland formula that’s par for course in the segment; with it, you might as well throw a dart at the above list of CUVs and buy arbitrarily. Yet, when optioned with Mazda’s Audi Quattro-rivaling AWD system, the the CX-3 is worth giving a damn about. The AWD system claws the CUV through turns without hesitation, even if the system is, at its core, more of a safety option than a sporting one. The intuitiveness of the system reacts to the minutest of surface changes and works with the traction control, which never lets the car feel out of the driver’s control. In driving through the hills of California, it performed beyond expectations (which were set, notably, rather low — but still).

The compact crossover is already a crowded niche within a niche, but Mazda has carved out its own spot with its signature style. In a segment with so many options, the AWD Mazda CX-3 makes a difficult decision that much easier.