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)

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

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

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

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.

 

News: Will Hyundai Bring its New EV To the US?

News: Will Hyundai Bring its New EV To the US?

New Kona Subcompact EV Announced

Following the success of its new Kia Niro crossover, Korean auto group Hyundai announced recently that it will bring its new Hyundai Kona crossover to North America in 2018. Also in the works, according to the Korean Herald, is an all-electric version of the Kona for the Korean market.

The big question is: will the Kona EV come to North America?

2018 Hyundai Kona

Hyundai’s new Kona will come to the US with a gas engine in 2018, but will we get the EV?

The new small SUV is not be based on the current Kia Niro or Hyundai Ioniq platform (Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai), but will feature an all new platform; one that Hyundai-Kia will likely use as a base for most of their future electric vehicles. Most important, however, is Kona’s promised all-electric range of about 240 miles (390 km).

Whether or not Kona comes to the U.S. market will likely depend on how well the new Ioniq EV and upcoming Niro plug-in hybrid sell here in North America. With a range of 125 miles, the Ioniq out performs most standard EVs in its category, but still half the level of upcoming Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet’s Bolt EV.

While Kona would likely not compete directly with the new Tesla, it would be a direct competitor for the Chevrolet Bolt EV. A report from Autobild estimates a €35,000 price tag on the Kona electric car, which is roughly $45,000 USD, putting Kona significantly above Bolt’s starting price of about $36,000.

Despite the price difference, Kona’s larger size and SUV profile might help it top the smaller Bolt EV if it comes to the U.S. market. If Hyundai brings the Kona to North America, look for Kia to do the same with its upcoming Stonic EV (which will be based on the same platform).

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Comparison Test: Hyundai Ioniq EV & Hybrid

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

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

First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Mitsu Best-Seller—Maybe the Best Buy

Mitsubishi’s subcompact Outlander Sport crossover SUV is the automaker’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Smaller than the Outlander that I reviewed a few days ago, the ES base trim starts at a very thrifty $19,795 (plus $895 destination charges), which is $3,700 less than the three-row Outlander ES.

For many shoppers, the best feature of the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport will be its price tag. And while other compact SUVs offer a sub-$20,000 model, they won’t come with standard auto climate control and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Even a nicely equipped top-of-the-line GT with all-wheel drive barely touches the $30,000 zone.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Not bargain basement, but a bargain

Following in its big brother’s footsteps, the Outlander Sport is offered in ES, SE, SEL and GT trim levels. Each trim is available with either front- or all-wheel drive.  Not typical, the base ES is offered with a five-speed manual transmission. All other models come standard with a continously-variable transmission (CVT). For motivation, the base ES is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the balance of the lineup is standard with a more powerful 2.4-liter four.

Fuel economy plays a part in the decision to buy most vehicles, and the Outlander Sport offers good, but not great numbers. The EPA estimates fuel economy for the 2.0-liter engine with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive at 23 miles per gallon city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. With the CVT, it’s 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/27 mpg combined. Adding optional all-wheel drive (which requires the CVT and is called all-wheel control by Mitsubishi) results in 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. It’s all a shade under Clean Fleet Report’s goal of 30 mpg for all-wheel drive vehicles, although as you’ll see later, it looks like an experienced drive could top 30 mpg on the highway.

Moving up to the larger powerplant is a small fuel economy penalty with front-drive models returning 23 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined, according to the EPA. All-wheel drive versions see 22 mpg city/27 highway/24 combined.

Underneath The Sheetmetal

For get-up-and-go, the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport relies on the same two engines it started with in 2011. The base is a forgettable aluminum block 2.0-liter four that puts out a whimpering 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque. It’s overwhelmed by the 3,200-pound weight of the crossover. Unless most of your driving is on flat city streets, I don’t recommend this engine.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Old school style–maybe in its last year

Instead, get the available 2.4-liter four-cylinder. At 168 horsepower, it’s no powerhouse, but it doesn’t have to work as hard to get the Outlander Sport moving, It’s quieter as well as offering more punch. The CVT mimics a standard transmission with “shift” points, and is fairly smooth. Opt for the SEL or GT trim and you’ll find paddle shifters that make up or downshifts convenient.

All-wheel drive traction is courtesy of Mitsubishi’s S-AWC system, an acronym for Super All Wheel Control. It automatically directs power rearward whenever the front wheels begin slipping, offering peace of mind on rain-slicked roads as well as snow-covered highways. While the S-WAC stystem doesn’t turn the Sport into a potent off-roader, it can lock all four wheels for added low-speed traction. The 8.5-inch ground clearance makes it an acceptable vehicle for Forest Service trails and roads.

The Outlander Sport uses the same suspension setup as the larger Outlander — a MacPherson strut layout in front with a trailing multi-link at the rear. This configuration delivers a smooth ride quality, but falls short when it comes to handling dynamics.

Stands Apart From the Crowd

One year removed from a styling refresh, the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport unabashedly stands out from the large group of cookie-cutter crossovers with a distinct SUV appearance that’s in tune with a new design direction called “Dynamic Shield”. There’s simple chrome detailing on the new grille and window line, and a rising character line that reaches from the front wheel arch to the back of the rear doors to break up the slab-sided look. The proportions are spot-on and, with standard 18-inch wheels, it’s an aggressive design that looks good.

The Outlander Sport’s interior won’t grab any design awards, but beautiful interior designs don’t always place the controls in intuitive places. My test SEL cabin may not have been high art, but the controls were all pretty much where you’d want them to be and easy to understand. The hooded speedometer and rev counter featured crisp white backlighting and numerals that were easily read at a glance. The interior was complemented by piano-black accents, bright trim around the center stack and a 6.1-inch display audio system.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

No design awards, but everything in its place

As for the materials themselves, everything I touched felt on the cheap side, but nothing felt flimsy. The quality of the plastics wasn’t bargain bin, and nothing felt liable to break, but at the same time, it was pretty clear that materials quality trailed the competition.

Comfortable front seats were supportive over a long drive, and the accommodating back seat is a pleasant surprise. Despite this crossover’s compact dimensions, adults should have no problem getting comfortable in the second row. As for those with little ones, there’s minimal effort to install two car seats.

The interior of the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport looks larger than it actually is. It’s practical, with a low loading cargo floor and split-folding rear seat backs. Open the rear hatch and you’ll find 21.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more room than many of its competitors offer. Fold the rear seats down, and this area expands to 49.5 cubic feet.

The base Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES offers some solid features for its roughly $20,000 price, including leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted cruise control and audio buttons, a four-speaker/140-watt AM/FM/CD system, LED taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Our SEL with all-wheel drive brought keyless entry, fog lights, power-folding mirrors, a rearview camera, heated front leather seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, steering-wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, a 6.1-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio. The out-the-door price totaled $26,590.

Safety systems included hill-start assist, stability control, anti-lock disc brakes and seven standard airbags, plus a driver’s-side knee airbag. However, it offers no advanced driver assists, which typically include things like blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.

On the Road

A tilt/telescoping steering column, along with the power height adjustment, made easy work of finding a comfortable driving position in our 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL. Exceptional outward visibility and sight lines made it an easy car to drive on the freeway, in urban environments and crowded shopping mall parking lots.

Several competitors offer higher horsepower and torque numbers, but I found the 2.4L engine to be more than adequate for the task of motivating the 3,200 pound cute-ute. I did find that, at 9.5 seconds, the 0 to 60 mph sprint wasn’t much of an adrenaline rush.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Pick the right engine and the road will not be a challenge

Overall, I was—and think most folks will be—pleased with the engine. It wasn’t a barn-burner, but the car accelerated quickly enough for anxiety-free freeway merging, However, passing on two-lane roads required cautionary thinking. When hard, quick acceleration was needed, the engine felt a little sluggish, and the raucous drone created by the CVT was loud and annoying.

Although the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn’t offer a sport-tuned suspension, it does have steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. The driver can activate manual shifting by touching one of the paddles (right for up-shifts, left for down-shifts). It will hold a down-shift when rounding a tight curve or when traffic ahead begins to slow.

The Sport’s suspension goes the middle road between firmness and comfort. It provided a controlled ride on the highway and smoothed out problems on the road, keeping its composure quite well on rough pavement while dealing with potholes in typical small car fashion—jarring at times.

Mitsubishi’s electric-assisted power steering is better than most. It’s light, yet accurate and responsive overall, and the car feels competent when changing direction.

You can erase the word “sport” from your mind. The Oulander Sport is not a carve-the-corners, athletic small crossover, and it doesn’t try to be one.

When Mitsubishi delivered the Outlander Sport, the fuel mileage readout was an even 24 mpg, the EPA’s estimated number. Our week of driving was fairly reflective of an average owner—a long freeway trip, in-town stop-and-go traffic and a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the country. After adding our 327 miles to the odometer, the pint-size crossover yielded 27.3 mpg, more than the EPA’s combined estimate.

In the Marketplace

For many shoppers, the best feature of the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport will be its price tag. Other compact SUVs offer a sub-$20,000 model, but they won’t come with standard auto climate control and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Even a nicely equipped top-of-the-line Outlander Sport GT with all-wheel drive barely touches the $30,000 zone.

Despite the Outlander Sport’s low price and great warranty, there are a number of all-star competitors that are much newer. Like the Mazda CX-3, which pleases with a zippy engine and superb handling. If fuel economy is a priority, Honda’s HR-V will hit the spot, plus its versatile rear seat can fit passengers just as well as it can fit a big-screen TV. For off-road enthusiasts, a little ruggedness is cool with Jeep’s Renegade. And then there’s the charming and affordable Fiat 500X. The list keeps growing, including the Nissan Juke, Chevrolet Trax and newcomers like the Ford EcoSport and Toyota CH-R.

In the end, value is an eye-of-the-beholder metric. Buyers on limited budgets seeking escape through the maze of small crossovers will find much to like about the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. And note, with a new Outlander Sport coming later this year, dealers will be willing to, well, deal on the already low price.

Test price (and drive) the Outlander Sport.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (John’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (Larry’s view)

First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

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.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (John)

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (Larry)

First Drive: 2016 Honda HR-V

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade

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.

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

Premium Interior with Head-turning Style

2016 Nissan Murano

The Murano leads with style

Nissan gives you a choice of four SUVs or crossovers, with the 2016 Murano—size-wise—slotting just above the compact Rogue and below the full-size Pathfinder. With so many sizes, has Nissan confused you or made your life easier being able to find one that fits your lifestyle perfectly?

Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive Nissan’s five-passenger midsize SUV, the 2016 Murano Platinum AWD, for a week and found it to be one of the best-looking and riding crossovers on the market and one we did not want to return to Nissan.

Drivetrain

All 2016 Nissan Muranos, either FWD or AWD, use the same 3.5L, 24-valve, V6 engine putting out 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. Running on unleaded regular, all power is delivered through Nissan’s Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which the EPA has rated at 21 city/28 highway/24 combined for both AWD and FWD models. In 389 miles of 70-percent highway/30-percent city driving we averaged 24.2 mpg.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The five-door Murano (four doors plus a power liftgate) weighed in at 4,021 lbs. that at first would seem to be a bit too much heft. However, the 59/41 front-to-rear weight distribution, with the

2016 Nissan Murano

Aero and technology makes the Murano a class leader

electric power-assisted and speed-sensitive steering provided good road feel, confident handling and little body roll through most cornering situations.

The handling and ride elements include 235/55R20 all-season tires on 20-inch machined aluminum-alloy wheels with a titanium finish (standard on the Platinum trim level), front independent struts, coil springs, twin tube struts and a stabilizer bar, and a rear independent multi-link set-up with twin tube shocks and a stabilizer bar. Towing is rated at 1,500 lbs.

The CVT-equipped Murano was, as I have found with other cars using CVT transmissions, to be a good overall driving experience. Nissan’s continued development of CVT technology has resulted in a transmission with no “natural” shift-points (because there are no gears to shift) that helps deliver increased fuel economy through a reduction in friction and changes to pulleys and other internal CVT workings. Because of customer feedback (is the customer always right?) Nissan added artificial “steps”, so, when accelerating hard, drivers get the feeling of going through the gears. I found this unnecessary and counterintuitive to the smoothness and technology achieved by the CVT.

The 3.5L 6-cylinder ran smoothly, is reasonably quick off the line and will meet most owner’s expectations. Once to a desired highway speed, the Murano cruised and kept up with traffic easily with plenty of passing power when needed.

Clean Fleet Report’s 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD had solid and consistent stops with a braking system consisting of vented front and rear discs, an anti-lock brake system (ABS), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which adjusts brake proportioning to compensate for added weight from passengers or cargo, and even adjusts as fuel is consumed. Also aiding in stopping and handling is traction and vehicle dynamic control.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Nissan has taken the lead in transforming the public’s perception of SUVs being squared-off and clunky to an extremely contemporary design. Termed as “Lightness of Form,” Nissan’s signature

2016 Nissan Murano, styling

Does this view make me look sleek?

design language triad is the V-Motion front end, boomerang front and rear lighting and a floating roofline. All three lend themselves to The Lightness of Form concept as, when looking at the 2016 Murano, you do get a sense of an aerodynamic form with flowing lines. Do you like LED lighting? Nissan sure does. The Murano has LEDs for its daytime running lights, headlights, taillights, and even LED turn signals incorporated into the heated and power exterior mirrors. Nissan has worked on the aerodynamics to achieve an impressive 0.31 drag coefficient with the outside mirror shapes, rear roof spoiler, silver roof rails and taillights that seem to be all one smooth piece with the fenders and rear hatch. I especially liked the rear view look of the dual, wide-set chrome exhaust tips. A concerted effort was made to have the Murano design be void of any unnecessary cladding or chrome, with just enough brightwork to play against the body color, which in our case was a spicy Cayenne Red.

Driving Experience: Interior

2016 Nissan Murano,interior, dash

Inside the Murano there’s a touch of luxury and creature comforts

First impressions are important. When reviewing as many cars as we do here at Clean Fleet Report, I am occasionally impressed with something that deserves calling out. In this case, the inviting, open and airy lounge feeling of the 2016 Murano Platinum AWD welcomed me into the heated and cooled leather driver seat (with memory) that was eight-way power adjustable, including power lumbar. The four-way power adjustable passenger seat also gets the same heating and cooling treatment with both front seats having Nissan’s Zero Gravity design, where their articulated shape provides continuous support, comfort and reduced driver fatigue. The power adjustable tilt and telescoping steering column made sliding into the driver’d seat just that much nicer.

The dash layout is simple and clean, starting with the analog tachometer and speedometer gauges, which were easy-to-read with white lettering on a black background, and the seven-inch vehicle information center display—all under a covered hood to reduce glare. Operating the infotainment system was easy and met Clean Fleet Report’s minimum requirement for a driver-friendly system as it had knobs for the radio channel and volume functions. Our 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum came with an eight-inch HD color touch-screen controlling the Bose Premium audio system (with 11 speakers and two subwoofers) for the SiriusXM (three-month trial subscription) and AM/FM/HD/CD/MP3/WMA radio. Other features include USB ports and 12-volt power outlets, iPod connectivity, aux-in jacks and Bluetooth streaming audio, with NissanConnect for text messaging assistant and voice recognition. Many of these are controlled by buttons on the multi-function, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel.

One of the coolest driver aids is Nissan’s wonderful Around View Monitor that gives a 360-degree virtual bird’s eye view as if looking down onto the Murano. Used primarily when parking, the

2016 Nissan Murano

In its third generation, the Murano has established itself in the midsize CUV market

Around View Monitor makes slipping into a tight space a breeze.

Clean Fleet Report’s 2016 Murano Platinum AWD came with the optional Technology Package that included a power panoramic sunroof. When fully opened, the sunroof allows the rear passengers, sitting in the heated leather 60/40 folding seat, to have a clear view of the stars and moon. The low center console has vents and USB ports for the rear passengers as well as a 12-volt power outlet for the three full-size adults riding out back.

Adding to the interior comfort and convenience was remote keyless entry and engine start, push button start, dual-zone automatic temperature control with second row A/C vents, power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks, power heated outside mirrors that automatically rotate down when in reverse, HomeLink transceiver, carpeted floor mats and cargo area protector (an option), auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, outside temperature display, map lights and multiple beverage holders.

Safety and Convenience

The 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD came with safety and convenience features including eight air bags, predictive forward collision warning, blind spot warning, moving object detection, tire pressure monitoring system, electronic stability control, traction control system, hill start assist, rear cross traffic alert, vehicle dynamic control and anti-theft vehicle immobilizer with a vehicle security system.

All 2016 Muranos have earned a US Government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-Star side crash and a 4-star rollover rating, where 5 Stars is the highest safety rating, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Murano its Top Safety Pick.

Clean Fleet Report’s 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD had a MRSP of $43,170 that included the optional floor mat, cargo protector and Technology Package, which made up $2,470 of the MSRP. All 2016 Murano pricing excludes the $900 destination charge:

S FWD                            $29,660

2016 Nissan Murano

A brand with an edge

SV FWD                          $32,720

SL FWD                           $37,050

Platinum FWD                 $39,100

S AWD                            $31,260

SV AWD                          $34,320

SL AWD                          $38,650

Platinum AWD                 $40,700

Warranties

The 2016 Murano comes with these warranties:

  • Basic – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Anti-Perforation – Five years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2016 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

2016 Nissan Murano

With cross-generational appeal

Clean Fleet Report does not have a star or point rating system for the cars we review. But if we did, the 2016 Murano would get a 10 on styling, 8 for fuel economy (get the highway average to 30 mpg and that bumps to a 10), 9 on interior comfort and, well, you see the trend here. The 2016 Nissan Murano is among the best in its class in a number of areas. Plus, the 2016 Murano having both a front wheel and all-wheel drive option is a selling point for Nissan as it means everyone looking for a midsize SUV or CUV (crossover utility vehicle) could be their customer.

The Murano will appeal to a family of four, but probably more-so to empty nesters with an eye for style and comfort. And if you are looking for a highly equipped all-wheel-drive SUV that will pretty much get you anywhere you need to go, then the Platinum model we drove should impress you like it did us.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

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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.