Maybe Mazdas just grow on you. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for the fact we liked the 2017 CX-3, a subcompact sport-utility vehicle, better than we liked the nearly identical 2016 model we test-drove just a year ago.
The CX-3 is one of a small but feisty coterie of subcompact 5-door crossover vehicles that can be equipped with all-wheel drive. Unlike traditional SUVs, they handle crisply, are fuel-efficient and can slip into tight parking spaces. With the exception of the Jeep Renegade they’re not meant for off-road adventures, but they are undeterred by foul weather.
The CX-3 is the smallest of three Mazda SUVs. Equipped with a 146-horsepower inline Four and 6-speed automatic transmission, our Dynamic Blue Mica test car had a sticker price of $28,510. That’s about $1,000 more than the Honda HR-V subcompact SUV we test-drove recently, but before options, their prices were identical at $26,240. Setting the Mazda apart was a $1,170 option package that included desirable safety features, such as Smart City Brake Support, which minimizes or prevents collisions with stationary items in the car’s path; lane-departure warning; and adaptive cruise control. At the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels, CX-3s also have blind-spot warning systems. All CX-3s have rear-view cameras.
The CX-3’s major handicap, compared with competitors like the Renegade, HR-V and Buick Encore, is its modest rear-seat accommodations and cargo capacity. The HR-V can swallow 23.2 cubic feet of luggage or 55.9 cubic feet of cargo, compared with 10.1 and 42.3 in the CX-3.
Blame it on the styling. The CX-3’s visual appeal is undeniable; its long hood and front fenders give it a powerful, almost feral, stance. Functionally, however, the hood doesn’t have to be that long, and the passenger and cargo compartments certainly would benefit from a little extra space.
Mazda also misses with its center armrest, which blocks the cup holders. If you want to have a cup of coffee at your right hand, you have to move the armrest to a position where you can’t rest your arm on it. Fortunately, neither the armrest nor the cup holders hinder access to the convenient “Commander” multi-function dial in the center console; it controls the navigation and infotainment systems displayed on a 7-inch color touchscreen. It’s mounted high so the driver’s eyes are still on the road while he manipulates the electronic systems with the Commander dial.
While legroom in the HR-V came up seriously short for our 6-foot driver, the CX-3 was just about right. But only a small child would fit behind a CX-3 driver who insisted on sliding the seat all the way back.
Fuel economy in our all-wheel-drive CX-3 was about 29 mpg in mostly highway driving. The car is rated at 27 mpg city, 32 highway.
The CX-3 has won high marks for crash protection, earning five stars overall in government crash tests at receiving the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick Plus designation.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 146 horsepower, 146 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Ground clearance: 6.2 in.
Weight: 2,952 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Wheels: 18×7-in. alloy
Tires: P215/50R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 10.1 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 42.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline