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2017 Mazda CX-3: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader November 2016

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 takes a decidedly different approach to the subcompact SUV, one that clearly reflects Mazda's Zoom-Zoom image. Where competitors such as the Jeep Renegade and FIAT 500X offer additional ground clearance and real off-road ability, the CX-3 keeps low to ground, offering an all-wheel-drive (AWD) setup tailored more for snow in the winter and performance driving in the summer. Not as powerful as the Nissan Juke, the CX-3 nevertheless offers a spirited performance, and its handling and fuel economy rate among the best in class. Inside, the Mazda CX-3 delivers one of the most tasteful, well-appointed interiors of any small SUV, although the fixed infotainment screen atop the dash has drawn some criticism for its design and function. Rear-seat legroom may be in short supply when compared to the HR-V, but it's 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, the CX-3 will fit you like a glove. If, on the other hand, you're more than 6 feet tall, need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis or are looking for a soft ride, the CX-3 will probably rub you the wrong way.

What's New for 2017?

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 carries over largely unchanged. The Touring trim gains 18-inch wheels, while the i-ACTIVSENSE package gets a big $750 price drop.

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-$30,000

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 34 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-in 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-telescopic 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 18-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 monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.

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 system, steering-wheel paddle shifters and adaptive front headlights.

Options for the Touring trim include a Premium package that adds Bose audio and a power moonroof. The Grand Touring offers the i-ACTIVSENSE package, which 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.

The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2017 Mazda CX-3 top marks in every crash test category and awarded the 2016 model a Top Safety Pick rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also gives the CX-3 five stars overall, but issued a cryptic "safety concern" warning in the side-impact test without elaborating on the issue.

Behind the Wheel

If the Mazda CX-3 has one clear advantage over its competition, it's the way it drives. If you throw a Honda HR-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 a precise steering response worthy of the Mazda brand. Handling is best in the Touring and 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

2017 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.

2017 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's.

2017 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, more powerful engine options and a superior warranty.

2017 FIAT 500X -- The FIAT 500X offers better off-road abilities, more horsepower 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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2017 Mazda CX-3: New Car Review - Autotrader