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2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD Review

Mazda’s newest addition to the zoom zoom family offers an in interesting alternative to the Mazda3.

Compact crossovers are the new family cars for most Americans. Vehicles like the Mazda CX-5 fit the needs of small families perfectly. The benefits of a taller ride height and, of course, all-wheel drive, make crossovers much more user-friendly in winter climates. Compact crossovers are also easier to get in and out of and have much more usable cargo area than do mid-size sedans. Now Automakers are introducing smaller than compact crossovers we call small crossovers. We had a chance to try out Mazda’s new 2016 CX-3 all decked out in its Grand Touring AWD trim. We have a lot to say about this new vehicle, and if you are a Mazda fan, you are going to be quite happy.

Mazda CX-3 Styling and Layout
Regardless of the smaller platform it uses, the Mazda CX-3 is roughly the size of a Mazda3 hatchback. If you like the Mazda3’s general layout, you are going like the CX-3 even more. The CX-3 rides a bit higher and has a slightly taller look, but to our eye, it is a Mazda3 AWD. The same long, low hood and Kodo design elements are here. In images, the CX-3 seems to look a lot like the CX-5. However, in person, its smallness brings to mind the Mazda3.

Inside, the CX-3 is, thankfully, a lot like the Mazda3, Mazda6, and CX-5. The premium materials and excellent design that made us compare the Mazda3 to the Audi A3 are all here. So too is the same infotainment package and remote rotary controller with separate audio volume control knob. The CX-3 is a small vehicle. There is no way to hide that fact inside. The center armrest covers the cup holders and also the rotary controller. Space for things is tight, but one does not feel cramped.

Our heated front seats were a trimmed in a combination of leather trim and Lux Suede. They were very comfortable but had only manual adjustment, something we think does not belong on any vehicle selling for $30K. How much more cost can power seat controls add to a vehicle?

In back, space is also tight. I did have to move my seat forward to allow passengers enough knee room in back. One nice touch is that the rear headrests slide down out of sight when not in use. Cargo area is compact but useful. Drop the rear seats and like all hatchbacks, the CX-3’s cargo area is huge. Who still buys sedans, and why?

Mazda CX-3 – The Drivetrain
Mazda opted to go small on power in the CX-3. Instead of the 2.0-liter, 155 hp engine it uses in the Miata and Mazda3, Mazda opted to go with a less powerful 146 hp engine of the same, 2.0-liters of displacement. It is a shame because the vehicle feels just a bit underpowered. The only transmission is the six-speed automatic. No manual is offered. That is OK with us. The automatic was a great match to the vibe of the CX-3. Still, the approximately 5% of buyers that still want a stick shift will write letters. To which we would reply “Mazda3 Grand Touring.”

The drivetrain also does not have the premium sound and feel we have come to expect from Mazda. We looked back at our notes on the Mazda3 with the 155 hp engine we tested and saw we had made positive comments about the vibrations and sounds of the Mazda engine in that car. We did not have a chance to put the AWD through its paces, but those that live where the snow falls will appreciate it.

Mazda CX-3 – The Drive
Two thumbs up for the Mazda CX-3’s handling and ride. The CX-3 is sharp, does not lean in corners and feels great around town. It is a very tossable little hatchback. Even better, the great handling does not come at any cost in ride comfort. Mazda nailed this car’s suspension. Normal bumps and road imperfections are handled with ease by the CX-3. The German luxury brands cannot top Mazda’s suspension tuning. In fact, most cannot match it.

Normally, we have nothing else to say about handling of street cars, but with the CX-3 we do. We took the CX-3 to Monticello Motor Club and ran it on the track. Our intent was to see how the CX-3 would handle emergency maneuvers and how it would react in situations that push a car past its limits. As we explained in detail in our story, the CX-3 was exceptional on the track and does much more than should ever be expected of a vehicle of its type.

Mazda CX-3 – Details
We loved the keyless entry, moonroof, and premium feel of the CX-3. We have driven the Honda HR-V, and it is a vehicle that its crowd will like. Our opinion is that the CX-3 is the better driver’s car. In fact, it is not just opinion, Car and Driver instrument-tested the CX-3 and found that it out-performed the HR-V in every category. Our test car also had fantastic adaptive (moving) headlights. Even the high beams sweep from side to side as you turn at night. Last, Mazda offers a head-up display. You will not find this combination of premium features at this price point in any other car or crossover – except in other Mazdas.

Mazda CX-3 Safety
IIHS has not yet crash tested the CX-3. However, the similar Mazda3 scored good on all of its tests, and we expect nothing less from the CX-3. Mazda does offer advanced forward collision prevention in the CX-3 (something Honda does not offer in the HR-V), and our test vehicle had this important technology. The CX-3 is, therefore, eligible for the Top Safety Pick Plus designation pending its crash test results.

Mazda CX-3 – Conclusion
Our opinion is that Mazda no longer competes with mainstream brands, but rather with Lexus, Acura, BMW, and Audi. The CX-3 is just the latest slam dunk by Mazda that proves it can offer more for less. In some ways, the Mazda CX-3 is even better than the premium brands since it offers excellent fuel efficiency and uses regular unleaded fuel. Those shopping for a small, all-wheel-drive crossover or compact hatchback car would be crazy not to start with the CX-3.

Price As Tested: $29,790
EPA Fuel Economy 29 MPG Combined, 27 City, 32 Highway
Our Fuel Economy - 30 MPG In Mixed Driving