By Cars.com EditorsDecember 8, 2015
About the video
The subcompact SUV class is exploding, with new entries from Honda, Chevrolet, Jeep, Fiat and Mazda. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 looks like one of the smallest and sportiest in the segment – but is it? Watch the video for more.
(car starts up and revs) If I were to list all of the subcompact SUV's on the market right now, we could eat up half of this video. There are a lot, and most of those models are brand new. That's the case for the 2016 Mazda CX-3.
It looks to be one of the smallest and sportiest, but is it? To find out let's start in the back and work our way forward. To begin with, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the CX-3 is that it has less cargo room than essentially all of the competitors. Some of them have, you know, several cubic feet more behind the backseat. Now with the backseat folded, it's a little different. The Mini Countryman has a little bit less maximum, though still more in this area back here alone. But bear in mind, even with the limited cargo area here in comparison, it's not a trunk and that gives it some utility and versatility that you might not otherwise get. Now here's a story that'll sound a little familiar. The backseat in the CX-3 has leg room that's, uh, pretty much the least you can get in this class. Some of the competitors are just a few tenths-of-an-inch more. All the same, here I am with the driver's seat all the way back and all the way up where I had it, and I'm six feet tall and I'm in here. Here in the front seat, it's a similar story, in one regard, because the numbers show very little headroom. Yet, here I am at my height with the seat all the way up and a moonroof, which comes in this top trim level, the Grand Touring, and my head's not hitting the ceiling. The interior quality in the CX-3 is on the high side among its competitors, absolutely. Now it's pretty common for the seals here to be hard materials and that is the case here, but Mazda tends to put the money where it matters most. The seats, to begin, with for the Sport trim level, which is entry-level, are cloth. You go to the Touring and they are imitation leather and cloth. And then here in our Grand Touring, we have leather and faux suede inserts, which are quite nice. Good distinguishing differences between the various trim levels, you get the red accent stitching and panels and the suede inserts on the doors. As you move your way up, you'll also notice the screen here, which is a touchscreen when you're sitting still, but not when you're moving. At that point, you come to the multi-function controller down here. This is called Mazda Connect, and it is standard even in the entry Sport trim level, but you don't get navigation until you are in the top Grand Touring, that we're sitting in here. The Mazda CX-3's absolute high point is it's Powertrain. The four cylinder has really good torque, broad curve, partly because of very high compression ratio. Enough so that even with just a six speed, as opposed to a nine speed or a CVT, it taps into the power and it does its job. Possibly more important than that though, it doesn't hunt, it doesn't hesitate. This is something that's widespread around all vehicles these days and especially CVTs and nine speeds. So generally speaking, whether you're in drive mode or in sport mode, very responsive, very good. You never even think about it and even with that, just having six speeds, this car matches or beats all the other competitors for mileage, including the CVTs and the nine speeds. Sportiness is an area where the CX-3 definitely shines in this class. Again, not a class known for sportiness, but even aside from that the handling is very good on this car. I liked the Touring trim level with 16 inch wheels. That one happened to have front wheel drive, but I actually prefer the all-wheel drive with 18 inch wheels, which is what we have on the Grand Touring behind me. Now, overall, the all-wheel drive is good. Mazda says it is an intelligent system. It doesn't give you rear-wheel drive feel. It's not rear biased. And in the end you still have about 60% of the weight in the front. So there is understeer but generally the dynamics are very good, especially for a car with an inexpensive torsion beam rear suspension. The steering does the job. It's good. Some of my colleagues think that the feedback is good. I actually dissent. I find it a little bit artificial feeling, but there's no question when it comes to handling in a small SUV like this, this one really has it down. There's something amusing to those of us who like hatchback cars and even, God forbid, station wagons about this whole movement towards subcompact SUV's or crossovers, if you must. And that is, there's not a whole lot that distinguishes them. And the CX-3 is a great example. Yes, it offers all-wheel drive, but Mazda also happens to have a hatchback version of the front-wheel drive Mazda 3 Compact. Compared to that, this one has less passenger room, less cargo room, the driver sits just two tenths of an inch higher. The ground clearance is the same and the Mazda 3 Hatchback starts at a lower starting price. (car boot slams shut)