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It’s no secret that small crossovers are no longer a small segment in the market. Each manufacturer has its own take on what a compact ute should be, how it should look, drive and function for consumers who find themselves in between a four-door sedan and a full-on SUV.
Mazda first addresses this market segment with its Kodo design language, creating a visually interesting CUV in the CX-3. An expressive nose and large grille indicate its Mazda heritage, while the floating roofline and more angular tail-end separate this pseudo-hatch from the competition.
The driving experience is bona-fide Mazda, with a penchant for taking corners and feeding response directly back to the driver.
Inside, the car makes good use of its limited space. Layout of the head unit is simple and straightforward. The standard Mazda navigation and infotainment screen is mounted atop the dash with controls for its system nuzzled between driver and front passenger. Above it lies an armrest wide enough for two people to rub elbows.
Mazda even sneaks in a smartphone holder in the adjustable armrest—a feature that not only keeps your phone out of the cup holders but also helps to keep you from driving distracted.
An almost disguised CD player still exists and climate control buttons are within reach and easy to navigate for both driver and passenger. At the bottom Mazda gives us a 120V cigarette lighter plug, USB and SD card ports. Rear passengers don’t receive any charging capabilities of their own, but the car is potentially compact enough that a cord could theoretically stretch from the front and reach them. (We didn’t test this, but you’re welcome to try it.)
With the armrest in the down position and our right arm lying across, we found it difficult to reach the knobs for the menu and radio. Basically, the height and length of the armrest did not allow us to control the knobs at the bend of a wrist. Now, to be fair, it could be that we have freakishly short arms, or it may be the combination of the length of the armrest plus the extra inch or so of our smartphone that was sticking out. Whatever the case, we thought it worth noting.
Where the line may be drawn for shoppers considering the CX-3 against its bigger brother the CX-5 is in the functionality of the interior space. The CX-3 lives up to its compact nature, making it a tight squeeze for tall passengers and large cargo.
On the practicality scale, when compared to other similarly sized CUVs—such as the Honda HR-V, Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1 and Buick Encore—this Mazda surprisingly falls low on the list. In our tests of the other vehicles, we found that despite their small stature, they functioned very easily for our everyday life, storing more cargo than we expected.
That’s why we’d say the 2016 Mazda CX-3 functions best as a single’s vehicle, with enough seats and hauling capacity for when it’s needed. Rear seats fold down flat with a 60/40 split, and the trunk has a removable floor to give you a couple extra inches of height. Additionally, one could remove the privacy flap that is mounted on the inside of the tailgate.
Does this come in a manual? We’re not sure, but if it did, we ‘d venture to say it’d be a hoot to drive. The CX-3, as it stands with the 2.0L engine (borrowed from the Mazda2 hatchback), felt underpowered when getting up to highway speeds. Sport mode seemed to help—and the paddle shifters are actually fun in this car—but we think the weight-to-engine ratio on this particular vehicle is not in Mazda’s favor.
Overall, the CX-3 is a great-looking car—perhaps one of the best looking compact utility vehicle on the market. The design is easily recognizable as a Mazda while also being different from its segment competitors. Driving position and seats are comfortable, providing the support and structure we’ve come to expect from Mazda. We were thankful for the heated seats several days during our test period; they get very hot (a good thing) and do so quickly. As far as functionality and driving dynamics go, we found this particular Mazda didn’t fully meet our expectations. The CX-3 certainly isn’t a “miss” for the brand—it will make a great vehicle for singles not carrying a lot of people or stuff—but our personal preference would be to size up to the more practical, yet still very affordable, CX-5.
The CX-3 we tested was the Grand Touring AWD model in ceramic metallic, our personal favorite paint choice on this and the new MX-5 Miata. Pricing on Mazda’s most compact ute starts at $19,600; ours rang in at $29,690 due to the addition of Mazda’s mobile start technology and their ACTIVSENSE package that includes radar cruise control, smart city brake support, lane departure warning among other features.
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