Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

A Mighty Mite Full of Tech

Timing is everything in the auto industry. As gas prices have remained at a relatively low level for the last year or so, consumers shifted from economy sedans to larger vehicles—specifically crossovers or car-based SUVs. Car buyers know gas prices may spike sometime in the future, so one tactic is to hedge your bets with a small crossover. The result—compact and subcompact crossover sales have spiked and automakers can’t scramble fast-enough to fill the demand. Mazda’s a great example; the most recent “day’s supply” of cars showed a dramatic split between its car and truck (including crossover) models. Car companies aim for a 60-day supply. Mazda had a 105-day supply of its sedans and only a 71-day supply of crossovers like the 2017 Mazda CX-3 we drove.

2017 Mazda CX-3

Mazda’s smallest crossover brings style and tech to the category

Mazda’s CX-3 hit at an opportune time (as has its refresh of the larger CX-5, which we also drove recently). Subcompact crossovers have exploded on the market and provide auto makers much nicer returns than their related subcompact sedans. It’s easy to see why—small crossovers appear to offer the best of both worlds—the good fuel economy and maneuverability of a small car with the functional space of a downsized SUV. Add to that the added bonus of optional all-wheel drive (AWD), and it’s a hard-to-beat package.

The CX-3 is right in the groove with the slightly higher seating position of a crossover, giving you better visibility than in a small sedan, extra storage or hauling space through the rear hatch, great fuel economy, loads of the latest technology and a powerful enough engine for this little wagon to hold its own on the highway. The downside is that small engine means you have to plan some maneuvers ahead of time, such as passing uphill at freeway speeds, and the noise levels are not what you would experience in a larger, more insulated sedan or SUV. 

Powertrain

I have to admit, I was captivated with the CX-3 during my time in it, running around the Pacific Northwest. I was able to match the EPA fuel economy numbers and even best them (EPA is 27 city/32 highway/29 combined for AWD models like I drove; 29/35/31 for front-wheel drive). The 2.0-liter engine seemed well matched to the size and weight of the car and the six-speed automatic transmission. 

The engine puts out 146 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque, a good example of Mazda Skyactiv engine approach, wringing out some good numbers with a higher compression ratio than typical of engines this size.

2017 Mazda CX-3

The CX-3 is a smart size for the city and beyond

Another portion of the Skyactiv system is the suspension, where Mazda’s goal is to deliver a driver-oriented package with good road feel and stability at freeway speeds. That’s a challenge for many small cars, but the CX-3 seemed unfazed when jostling with big rigs on the freeway. What you get as driver of Mazda’s smallest crossover is a car with responsive steering, good braking (aided by technology—more on that later) and road manners that mimic a larger vehicle. I loaded it up with three adults and it didn’t flinch. If I had to pass on a country road, it was able to find reserve power. At freeway speeds, the little four-banger took more coaxing to work its way up to passing vehicles that were moving slower. 

Space/Utility

2017 Mazda CX-3

The CX-3’s hatch gives easy access for storage

So it’s got some of the “sport”—how about the “utility” of an SUV? The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is a subcompact, so there are compromises with this size. With the rear seat up, it’s only got room for a small suitcase or a few grocery bags. But the back seats do flip down easily and greatly increase the storage area in the back. The hatchback setup makes for easy access.  Seating comfort in the rear is surprisingly good. Headroom is good and the seats, while not at all luxurious, are more than adequate for moderate jaunts. My rear seat passengers had no complaints.

Safety

This is a big issue with small vehicles, but it’s a big red herring in many discussions. While generally small vehicles fare less well in crashes against larger and heavier ones, the level of safety in most contemporary small cars and crossovers is quite high. Crash testing by NHTSA bears this out with the 2017 Mazda CX-3 getting a top 5-star rating across the board.  

The tougher Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests gave the CX-3 a “good” rating and noted it had “superior” front crash protection with its optional “Smart Brake Support” system. We found the safety equipment acquitted itself well on our city and highway travels.

Price/Technology

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 starts with the Sport at $19,960 for the front-wheel-drive model with 16-inch wheels and a solid lineup of standard equipment, including a rearview camera, air conditioning and a full contingent of apps in the Mazda Connect infotainment system. Next step up is the Touring model at $21,960 with 18-inch wheels. It adds leatherette-trimmed, heated seats among other goodies.

The top-line model is the Grand Touring (which was our tester), which starts at $24,990 and includes LED headlights, daytime running lights, taillights and fog lights, among other upgrades. It moves up to full leather seats and adds a navigation system along with a variety of safety technology.

Throughout the lineup adding all-wheel drive boosts the price by $1,250 and knocks two mpg off of the highway fuel economy. I found the EPA combined estimate of 29 mpg was pretty easy to beat as I hit a high of 33.3 mpg and a low of 30.9 in various runs.

2017 Mazda CX-3

The cockpit is very driver oriented

The level of technology standard or available in this little car was the biggest surprise. The Sport model starts with the Mazda Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen augmented by a very intuitive rotary knob (shades of the old BMW iDrive, but better) and voice command as well as a rearview camera. The mid-level Touring adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

At the Grand Touring level the audio system moves up to a Bose seven-speaker setup, a navigation system is added along with the Active Driving Display, Mazda’s name for a clever head-up display. Beyond all of this technology an optional package (at $1,170) can add radar (adaptive) cruise control, automatic braking (two systems actually, one for low speeds and one for higher speeds), rain-sensing wipers and a very sensitive lane departure warning system. I highly recommend this optional package—rain-sensing wipers in the Pacific Northwest with its intermittent precipitation are a must, the radar cruise control was a delight on the shifting speeds of rush hour traffic and the brake assist systems were very reassuring and helpful.  

Summary

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 enters an automotive territory that has grown increasingly crowded. By the end of the year, we suspect everyone will have a player in this hot category. Here’s the list (not counting several luxury entrants and some slightly larger models that may play in this space), by current 2017 sales:

2017 Mazda CX-3

The CX-3 display sits atop the dash

We’ve been in most of these and can see why Mazda is moving up the list. It doesn’t have the style or off-road cred of the Jeep Renegade or the performance of the Nissan Juke Nismo, but it’s a healthy competitor for the Honda and Chevrolet. It’s got a genuine style of its own so, even if Mazda doesn’t have the distribution network of those two giant competitors, it’s not a surprise if it holds its own. The technology available at this entry-level model is impressive and its cost is reasonable (some of it is even standard equipment at different trim levels). We enjoyed the 2017 Mazda CX-3 and expect to see more of them out on the road.

SRO-Second Road Test Opinion

In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 (Larry’s view)

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Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro (John’s view)

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke (or the Nismo version)

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

 

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Crossover SUV

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Crossover SUV

Head-turning 30 MPG AWD

Mazda added a third crossover SUV to its lineup last year called the CX-3. Smaller than the compact CX-5 and the three-row CX-9, the name suggests it’s a high-riding version of the Mazda 3 compact car. But that’s not the case; the head-turning CX-3 is more closely related to the subcompact Mazda 2 hatchback, a car no longer sold in America. It carries Mazda’s trademark sporty handling and a stylish, well-equipped cabin with a standard touchscreen interface that make it a standout in the now-crowded subcompact crossover segment.

2017 Mazda CX-3, interior

Welcome to more than you’d expect at this level

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 continues as a subcompact crossover available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring that are available with either front- or all-wheel (AWD) drive models.

Pricewise, the 2017 Mazda CX-3 is right in the thick of things with a starting MSRP of $20,900, including $940 destination charges, for the well-equipped Sport; $24,150 for Touring edition; and $25,950 for the range-topping Grand Touring. All-wheel drive adds a further $1,250 regardless of trim.

Another welcome CX-3 trait is its thrifty fuel economy. Front-wheel drive models check in with an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 35-mpg highway/29 city/31 combined. AWD models are rated at 32-mpg highway/27 city/29 combined. That’s about as good as it gets in this segment and earns it an entry to Clean Fleet Report’s 30-MPG AWD Club.

For its second model year, the 2017 CX-3 benefits from just a few minor trim and equipment changes.

First-Class, Outside And In

Design-wise, outside and in, the 2017 Mazda CX-3 looks much more expensive than it is.

The exterior is a superb execution of what Mazda calls Kodo design direction. And one thing is clear, the CX-3 is easily the most stylish of the new breed of subcompact crossovers. It looks long, low, lean, and much more muscular than bigger brother CX-5.  In the front, the face is familiar Mazda territory. Signature arches in the bodywork add surface detail in different lighting, while bold character lines combined with short overhangs, give a taut appearance.

2017 Mazda CX-3 , center console

A flawed and flummoxing design

The highlight of the CX-3, however, is its interior. It’s beautifully executed, classily appointed and feels significantly more expensive than the price tag would indicate. Simple features like the rotary dial control for the standard infotainment system add a tangible touch of class. Look elsewhere, and you find quality plastics, soft-touch materials, perfect fit lines and elegant brushed metal. Front seats, which are firm yet comfortable, offer legitimate all-day support in the buyer’s choice of cloth, leatherette or leather, depending on trim. Combined with the tilt/telescoping wheel, nearly everyone should find a comfortable driving position.

That said, the CX-3’s front cabin is marred by a clumsy center console design. With the shift lever positioned far forward, cupholders are placed rearward and the armrest must be raised out of the way for access. If you want the armrest down, you can’t use the cup holders plus, access to the infotainment’s controller knob becomes awkward.

As you’d probably expect, the second row is tight, especially if you have long-legged occupants up front. Headroom is also at a premium in the second row, and taller adults won’t like being stuck back there on longer drives. The second row split folds forward to liberate extra luggage space, which will be needed for a weekend or longer trip. With just 12.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, two carry-on bags nearly fill the space. Add the Bose sound system and that space shrinks to a tiny 10.1 cubic feet.

Tech Rich

2017 Mazda CX-3,, display

Tech pops up everywhere

For an affordable small crossover, the 2017 Mazda CX-3 is surprisingly tech rich. For starters, all models receive a backup camera, keyless entry, power windows and locks, air conditioning and push-button start. Mazda Connect, the automaker’s infotainment system featuring a seven-inch display screen, is also standard across the lineup along with Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player and a pair of USB ports. A deal breaker for some is neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is available.

Minor shortfalls aside, Mazda’s tech focus extends to other areas of the CX-3 as well. It can be had with cornering LED headlamps with auto high-beam control, radar-based cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and lane-departure warning, most of which are unusual features at this price point.

Behind The Mazda CX-3 Steering Wheel

I pushed the engine start button, and a head-up display popped up on the windshield that shows speed and navigation, another unexpected feature for this class of vehicle. Mazda calls it Active Driving Display; while it looks like something cheap mounted on the dash, it does its intended task.

With an elevated driving position, our Grand Touring CX-3 AWD test vehicle gave a good view out over traffic. While over-the-shoulder visibility was restricted, the same can be said of the Mazda’s rivals.

2017 Mazda CX-3,,storage

Not much space to start, but the seats drop easily to add more

Go power was supplied by Mazda’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, standard on all trim levels. Tuned for this application, it is rated at 146 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 146 pounds-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm. Like others of its ilk, except for Nissan’s turbocharged Juke, it didn’t take very long to yearn for more horsepower, especially when merging onto freeways with fast-moving traffic.

The six-speed automatic transmission, and the way in which it worked with the engine, was excellent. It was smooth regardless of how hard I worked the accelerator, and it shifted back down through the gears with equal aplomb. There was plenty of engine noise entering the cabin as I accelerated though, and the smoothness of the gearbox couldn’t iron that out.

However, there was a go-kart-like feel to the way the CX-3 behaved around town. The steering was sharp and direct. There was plenty of lateral grip, and I could easily hustle the little ute through tight, inner city streets effortlessly.

It’s worth noting that on twisty roads, I could stretch the CX-3 a little and it didn’t kick back violently. In fact, it felt like it enjoyed the challenge, which again, is a little counter-intuitive to its crossover DNA. It showed a little duality of character, even though most owners will never coax it out of its comfort zone.

These handling characteristics were a little surprising given that the suspension—Macpherson strut up front, rear torsion beam in the rear—is quite ordinary. But Mazda has long enjoyed a hard-earned reputation for producing some of the most entertaining-to-drive cars in the business. Despite its basic design, the CX-3 delivered.

During our week with the CX-3, we drove 273 miles, mixing city and highway driving with some sporting back country roads, and ended up with a combined fuel economy average of 30 mpg, besting the EPA’s 29 mpg combined rating.

In The Marketplace

Our CX-3 Grand Touring had a sticker price of $28,810. That included three optional trim items and a $1,170 high-tech package with radar cruise control, lane departure warning and two brake support systems. Approaching $30,000 for a subcompact crossover is not out of phase within the segment for a fully loaded model.

2017 Mazda CX-3,seats

Upscale touches in an entry-level crossover

Crossover crazy Americans will find the subcompact segment is not lacking for variety, so the 2017 Mazda CX-3 faces stiff competition. First up would be Honda’s HR-V, which doesn’t provide the fun factor driving experience, but does have comparable fuel economy and a larger cargo space. Then there’s the Jeep Renegade that brings true off-road capabilities. Chevrolet’s Trax is a feature-filled, easy-to-drive small crossover with good fuel economy, but with a higher price. Then there’s the Nissan Juke, a funky design that’s a playful driving machine with performance that ranks among the best in the class. Others to consider are the Fiat 500X and Mini Cooper’s Countryman and Paceman.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3’s clumsy center console arrangement was a turn off for me, but the strength of its looks, driving dynamics, interior polish, fuel economy and technology won me over, except when I couldn’t use the arm rest because there was bottle of water in the cupholder.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.