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Why we took the 2016 Mazda CX-3 to the racetrack

What we found out is worth knowing.

As a long-time fan of automotive magazines, one of my pet peeves is reading a story about a commuter car written by a car-nut who then pans it for being “boring” when pushed around like a race-car. This is not that type of story. We took the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3 on the track at an International Motor Press Association event to see how it would do in an emergency situation. What we found out is that the CX-3 is predictable, safe, and a crossover that exemplifies the zoom-zoom spirit of the Mazda brand.

At a recent track day at the fantastic Monticello Motor Club, we sampled the 2016 Corvette Stingray, Chrysler Hellcat (both the Charger and Challenger) and many other cars that are built primarily for some form of racing. However, as the day went on, and participants thinned out, we took the CX-3 out and pushed it to, and beyond, its limits (safely). Here’s how it did.

Mazda CX-3 Braking
The Mazda CX-3 brakes as well as many sports cars. By that we mean if you need them, they are there for you. Firm pedal, great linear feel, and the CX-3 stops straight. Who cares about fade? In our one “hot” lap, we hammered the brakes to full ABS about six times, and they never changed at all. No driver on normal roads will ever need more braking than the CX-3 provides.

Mazda CX-3 Handling
Around town, the Mazda CX-3 is zippy. It came out on top in a recent comparison test, taking every performance category. The CX-3 is easy to drive, and it has no bad habits. But what if you had to make a high-speed emergency turn, followed by a turn in the opposite direction? One of Monticello’s sections mimics that exactly. The result? The CX-3 turns in sharply at first, and then it understeers predictably, but it does not “plow.” The rear will also rotate, but less. Exactly what every street-car should do. When you then reverse the steering to make the next turn in the opposite direction, the body roll is well controlled, and the CX-3 again does understeer a bit, but it remains very predictable and easy to toss back and forth on the track. Again, Mazda’s chassis-tuning team scores a 10 out of 10 here.

Mazda CX-3 – Beyond the Limit
This is hard to articulate, but there are places on a track where you can push a street car past its adhesion limit safely. You don’t do it on one’s first lap of the day, and you need to know you own skill limit. So here we go. If you line up the CX-3 in a corner (with plenty of run-off room) and you brake late on purpose, adding braking as you proceed into the corner, and you then turn in firmly, but steadily, you can overcome the understeer, and the CX-3 will very predictably and neutrally slide a bit sideways. We are not talking Tokyo-drift here. Just a bit of tire scrub and a nice, neutral feel. It takes a corner or two to get the feel, otherwise the CX-3 understeers. Having driven dozens of cars, all of which were much more track worthy, we will give the CX-3 bonus points here. It handles way better than it needs to at just past the limit.

Mazda CX-3 – Top-acceleration
On the last uphill straight we pushed the 707 hp Dodge Hellcat to about 107 MPH. The CX-3 can hit about 65 in that same space. Commendable, and plenty of speed to get you to the next stop-light.

Our final word after track-testing the CX-3 is that it is a vehicle with capabilities that go well beyond its mission as an enjoyable and practical daily driver.

Related Story: 2016 Mazda CX-3 tops in Car and Driver Comparison Testing


Wilson May (not verified)    October 19, 2015 - 5:57PM

As someone who's taken a CX-5 to a PCA DE, I am not one bit surprised. All of those qualities are in the CX-3's bigger brother as well, just hidden behind a couple hundred pounds of extra weight...