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2016 Mazda CX-3: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader April 2016

There's a new niche in the automotive market: the subcompact SUV. Mazda's entrant, the 2016 Mazda CX-3, wades into a pool that's already populated by such heavyweights as the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Chevy Trax and Fiat 500X. Right off the bat, the CX-3 stands out from its competition with an aggressively styled design that has the vehicle sitting low to the ground. Inside, the Mazda CX-3 offers one of the most tasteful, well-appointed interiors of any small SUV, although the fixed infotainment screen atop the dash drew some criticism for its design and function. Rear seat legroom may be in short supply when compared to the HR-V, but it is on par with the Nissan Juke.

If you're looking for a sporty, Mazda3-like driving experience, but with the added benefit of available all-wheel drive, then the CX-3 will fit you like a glove. If, on the other hand, you're more than 6 feet tall, have a need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis or are looking for a soft ride, then the CX-3 will probably rub you the wrong way. Unlike the Nissan Juke and Fiat 500X, the CX-3 doesn't offer a turbocharged engine option, which means that the little Mazda isn't big on power. On the flip side, the CX-3 returns impressive fuel economy and is a blast to drive on winding roads.

What's New for 2016?

The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is a new model, slotting below the CX-5 and competing with a host of makes in the hot new subcompact crossover SUV market. Big on style, driving dynamics and fuel economy, the CX-3 also has some obvious shortcomings. However, for the money, the CX-3 offers an impressive array of comfort and safety features.

What We Like

Racy exterior styling; handsome interior, excellent build quality; available all-wheel drive; sports-car-like handling; good fuel economy; available collision avoidance system

What We Don't

Tiny rear seat; limited cargo space; Grand Touring's stiff ride; weak engine; narrow side glass makes a guessing game out of parallel parking; annoying center controller for audio and navigation

How Much?

$20,860-$31,000

Fuel Economy

The CX-3 is powered by a 2.0-liter SKYACTIV 4-cylinder engine that's good for 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Fuel economy for the front-wheel drive model is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. All-wheel drive models see fuel economy figures drop to 27 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The CX-3 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.

The CX-3 Sport ($20,860, front-wheel drive), ($22,110, all-wheel drive) includes 16-inch steel wheels with covers, power operation for the mirrors, windows and door locks, auto-off headlights, a rear wiper/washer, air conditioning, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with a 7-in touchscreen display and MAZDA CONNECT infotainment, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input jacks, keyless entry, push button start, cruise control, a tilt-telescoping steering column, exterior temperature display and a rear backup camera.

The CX-3 Touring ($22,860, front-wheel drive), ($24,110, all-wheel drive) adds 16-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, leatherette and cloth seating, Advanced Key keyless entry, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic detection.

The CX-3 Grand Touring ($25,890, front-wheel drive), ($27,140, all-wheel drive) adds 18-in alloy wheels, a power moonroof, auto-leveling LED headlights, LED fog lights, leather seating with Lux suede inserts, automatic climate control, voice-activated navigation, a head-up display, a 7-speaker Bose Surround Sound audio, steering wheel paddle shifters and adaptive front headlights.

Options for the Touring trim include the Premium package that adds Bose audio and a power moonroof. The Grand Touring offers the i-ACTIVSENSE package that brings adaptive cruise control, Smart City Brake Support with collision warning and prevention, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Dealer installed options include rear sonar parking sensors, remote start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, all-weather floor mats and a center armrest. The standard audio can also be upgraded to include navigation by simply purchasing a $400 SD navigation card.

Safety

Standard safety features for the CX-3 include Hill Launch Assist, front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, electronic traction and stability control and a tire-pressure monitor.

At the time of this review, neither the government nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had crash-tested the CX-3.

Behind the Wheel

If the Mazda CX-3 has one clear advantage over its competition, its the way it drives. If you throw a Honda CR-V or Chevy Trax into a curve, you'll get a little bit of lean and lot of tire squeal. If you do the same in a CX-3, you'll discover an SUV that hugs the pavement and delivers precise steering response worthy of the Mazda brand. Handling is best in the Grand Touring, but the 18-in wheel and tire package also brings a noticeably jarring ride, especially on broken or uneven pavement. The CX-3's low ride height helps with handling, but may hinder plans to do any light off-road adventuring. Though not big on power, the CX-3's 2.0-liter engine can motivate it to reach 60 miles per hour in about 8 seconds, which is about 1 second faster than the HR-V and Chevy Trax.

We found the CX-3's cabin to be extremely appealing, with excellent layout and high-end materials throughout. The front seats are snug, but they hold the driver firmly in place during spirited drives. Unfortunately, the CX-3's rear seat is barely fit for two adults, with little in the way of generous head or legroom. Similarly, cargo space with the rear seat up is pretty minuscule. Even with the rear seat folded, the CX-3 can't swallow a mountain bike or larger items, a feat easily pulled off by its main rival, the Honda HR-V.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Honda HR-V -- The HR-V delivers a softer ride. It also has more ground clearance and a larger, more functional interior. This model offers the option of a manual transmission, but its interior is not as handsome and its acceleration is not as quick.

2016 Nissan Juke -- The Juke offers a more powerful engine with equally impressive ride and handling abilities. Like the CX-3, there is sparse rear seat and cargo space. And some may find the Juke's styling a bit too polarizing compared to the Mazda.

2016 Kia Soul -- The Kia Soul doesn't offer the option of all-wheel drive, but it does offer a lot of vehicle for the money with a lower entry price and superior warranty.

2016 Fiat 500X -- The Fiat 500X offers better off-road abilities, more hp and equally attractive styling both inside and out. But the Fiat brand has yet to establish itself in the U.S. market, with fewer dealerships and a yet-to-be-established reliability and resale record.

Used Mazda CX-5 -- A used 2013-2015 Mazda CX-5 will give you the same sporty Mazda ride and look, but in a vehicle that is better suited to light off-road use. The CX-5 also delivers more interior and cargo space and, on models with the 2.5-liter engine, considerably more power.

Autotrader's Advice

For the money, the Touring trim with the Premium package hits the sweet spot. However, if you want the latest safety technology, you'll need to move up to the more expensive Grand Touring. In our eyes, unless you need the sure-footed ability of the CX-3's all-wheel drive system, you'd be better off buying a front-drive Mazda3 Touring or Grand Touring hatchback, which will give you better handling, more power, more interior room and an available manual transmission, all for about the same price as the CX-3.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mazda CX-3: New Car Review - Autotrader