By Jack R. Nerad, Executive Editorial Director, KBB.com
KBB Expert Rating: 8.8
Designed to tap into the trend to small crossover SUVs that is building into a tidal wave, the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3 is a stylish 5-door based on a platform shared with the upcoming next-generation Mazda2. Available in three trim levels each offering front-drive or all-wheel drive (FWD, AWD), the CX-3 utilizes the suite of Skyactiv technologies for across-the-line fuel efficiency that can rival that of expensive hybrids. Its competitiveness in a crowded segment is fortified by premium-level controls and Mazda's sophisticated i-Activsense driver assist and safety features. Those features plus its attractive "Kodo - Soul of Motion" design are its secret weapons in its battle against rivals like the Kia Soul, Nissan Juke, Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Chevrolet Trax.
If you want to emphasize sport in your small sport-utility, the uncommonly attractive Mazda CX-3 will deliver it in ways that its competitors don’t.
Should your idea of utility revolve around cargo-carrying space for your active-lifestyle toys, the Mazda CX-3 comes up short versus some of the more commodious vehicles in the segment like the Honda HR-V and the Kia Soul.
KBB Expert Ratings
The Mazda CX-3 is all-new for 2016, utilizing all of Mazda’s latest Skyactiv technology.
While far from the most powerful vehicle in the subcompact SUV segment, the Mazda CX-3 vies with the Nissan Juke as the most fun-to-drive. That said, the CX-3’s...
... fun-to-drive comes in a completely different way. While the fast-and-frenetic Juke is as subtle as a ballpeen hammer, the CX-3 seems very adept at carving through corners and slicing through traffic. With a stiff body structure, precise steering and a real multi-gear automatic transmission versus a CVT, the CX-3 delivers sophisticated performance reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz GLA. The 146-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine doesn’t sound especially impressive, but its fat torque curve aptly paired with its 6-speed automatic transmission enables drivers to get more twist-carving enjoyment than you might expect. In this continuously variable (transmission) era, we applaud the CX-3’s automatic for its Sport mode with rev matching on downshifts and its available (GT model) paddle shifters that actually (!) change gears.
UPSCALE FEATURES GALORE
While many vehicles in the segment offer low-line models that are not especially well-equipped, every CX-3 features a push-button starter and Mazda Connect infotainment offering Bluetooth phone pairing, audio streaming, USB ports for phone charging and entertainment connectivity – all controlled by a knob on the console.
STYLE BEYOND ITS PRICE
Drawing on Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy, the CX-3 exterior is the most visually appealing and sophisticated in its segment with a long hood, short overhangs and available LED accents, while the interior could easily grace a luxury-brand vehicle.
The base Sport trim offers a monotone black cloth interior that is good-looking; the Touring ups the ante to available Leatherette, and the top-of-the-line Grand Touring offers leather/Lux Suede seats with second-color piping. The GT also uses a soft material on the hood over the top of the gauges complete with a stitch-like finish. The gauges are housed in a well-defined nacelle, and information displays (including a standard 7-inch screen) and control systems are positioned in toward the driver in what Mazda calls its “Head-up Cockpit” concept. Mazda Connect features SMS text message audio delivery and reply, voice command and Aha/Stitcher/Pandora/HD Radio connectivity.
According to Mazda designer Ken Saward, the goal of the CX-3’s exterior is to be a car that is “genuinely beautiful while practical.” This led to a small coupe-like cabin and a long hood. The CX-3 is tall for its overall length, but it is definitely not a miniature CX-5. With its compact 168.3-in. overall length and 60.7-in. height, the CX-3 could pass for a Mazda3 5-door hatchback, though it is three inches taller. While many SUVs are slab-sided, the CX-3 offers highly sculpted fenders and doors that convey movement. The price is less interior and cargo space.
The CX-3 Sport (base model) is nicely equipped with 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine, 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift Sport mode, attractive cloth seats and a 60/40-split-folding rear bench seat. Also on the list is Mazda Connect infotainment complete with a 7-inch monitor, rearview camera, voice command and multi-function commander control that is reminiscent of controls in upscale European cars. Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing and audio streaming, push-button start, AM/FM/CD player, USB input, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows and door locks and keyless entry round out an inclusive standards list.
The CX-3 Touring adds a 6-speaker audio system, heated exterior mirrors, moonroof, mirror-mounted turn-signal lights and center armrest. Leatherette seats are available, as are 7-speaker premium BOSE audio, power glass moonroof, SiriusXM/HD Radio, heated seats and cargo cover. The top-o-line Grand Touring features 18-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, leather/Lux Suede seats, and LED headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights. Plus navigation, BOSE premium audio, automatic climate control, Active Driving Display, paddle shifters, driver- and front-passenger seat heaters and rear cargo cover. The GT i-Activsense package includes Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support and much more.
The headline for the standard (and lone) engine in the CX-3 is its heady 13.0:1 compression ratio. Unlike the hot-rod days of yore when big compression ratios were used to produce more horsepower, these days the Skyactiv Mazda 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine uses it to wring out excellent fuel economy. That’s good news, and the fact that the engine is backed by a real, live gear-changing automatic transmission is the even better news. The 6-speed auto, which in the GT is affixed with paddle shifters, does a nice job of channeling the power to the ground and contributes to the CX-3’s praiseworthy mileage figures.
146 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
146 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/35 mpg (FWD), 27/32 mpg (AWD)
We don’t believe that it is coincidental that the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the Mazda CX-3 starts at about $20,800 or right on top of the Honda HR-V. That's slightly higher starting price than the lowest-level HR-V, but the Mazda is better equipped including a 6-speed automatic transmission while the Honda starts with a 6-speed manual. Starting just under $26,000, the built-in-Japan CX-3 Grand Touring – top of the line – also bears a base price a few hundred dollars more than the HR-V but again the Mazda offers a richer level of equipment. While figures are not in on a 5-year cost-to-own calculation, we would not be surprised if the CX-3 and HR-V were closely bunched at the very top of the class. For a glimpse at real-world transaction prices, we suggest you look at the KBB Fair Purchase Price for each vehicle and other competitors.