By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 8.7
The Mazda CX-3 immediately established itself as the most fun-to-drive vehicle in the subcompact-SUV market when it was introduced last year, and that's going to remain the same story for the 2017 CX-3 as well. That's fine with us. While it's true that the CX-3 comes up short in cargo and rear-seat space compared to vehicles like the Kia Soul, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade, it blows them all away when it comes to driving satisfaction. About the only other subcompact SUV that comes close is the Fiat 500X, but with the Mazda, you get all the driving pleasure, even better styling, and in a package with a much more comfortable around-town ride.
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 emphasizes good handling, sharp looks and a sporty demeanor. If that's what you want in your subcompact SUV -- the word "sport" is right there after all -- then this is where you'll want to start shopping.
If you want a more all-around vehicle, one that can carry rear-seat passengers in comfort and have some cargo space as well, then other options, like the Honda HR-V and the Kia Soul, may be more what you're looking for.
KBB Expert Ratings
Mazda is wisely leaving well enough alone for the most part with its 2017 CX-3. The 18-inch wheels from the Grand Touring model are now standard on the Touring, and Mazda has reduced the price of the i-Activsense safety package by $750.
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 proves you don't need big power for big fun. The little CX-3 is easily out-powered by any number of competitors, so it's not quick; if you...
... want that, check out the Nissan Juke. But what it lacks in outright speed it more than makes up for with agility, which makes it a far more entertaining driving partner than the Juke. Whether you're exploring your favorite mountain road or just zipping your way through traffic, the agile CX-3 puts its tidy dimensions, stiff structure, precise steering and a real multi-gear automatic transmission to good use. You can select your own gears with paddle shifters if you opt for the top-line GT model, making the most of the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and its 146 horsepower.
UPSCALE FEATURES GALORE
For 2017 Mazda’s CX-3 benefits from features once considered the exclusive purview of luxury brands. It comes standard with things like a push-button starter and Mazda Connect infotainment that includes Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and USB ports for enhanced connectivity -- all controlled by a knob on the console.
STYLE BEYOND ITS PRICE
The Mazda CX-3 looks more expensive than its roughly $20,000 base price suggests. It draws on a design philosophy Mazda calls “Kodo,” and its long hood, short overhangs, LED accent lights and high-end details look pricey, while its interior could grace a luxury-brand vehicle.
Even in its Sport model, the monotone black cloth upholstery looks good, and upping the ante to the Touring model's Leatherette or the Grand Touring model's leather/Lux Suede seats with second-color piping sweetens the deal into luxury territory. With the GT you also get soft-stitched material over the gauge hood. The cockpit is geared toward the driver in what Mazda calls its "Head-up Cockpit" concept. The gauges themselves are housed in a well-defined nacelle, and the iPad-like infotainment system includes text-message audio delivery, voice command, and apps like Aha and Stitcher, with the screen fashionably mounted atop the dash.
Mazda designer Ken Saward says the goal of the CX-3’s exterior is a car that is “genuinely beautiful while practical.” No question that Mazda nailed the "beautiful" part. The coupe-like cabin and long hood evoke classically sporty proportions, and the flowing lines and distinctive grille all look good here. It looks all the world like a slightly raised Mazda3 5-door hatchback. However, with only 168.3 in. of overall length and 60.7 in. of height, the little CX-3 misses the mark when it comes to the "practical" part, as it offers less interior and cargo space than many of its competitors.
Every 2017 Mazda CX-3 comes equipped with a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift Sport mode. The Mazda Connect infotainment system is also standard, and includes a dash-mounted 7-inch monitor with a rearview camera, voice command, and multi-function dial control that looks like it's straight out of a European luxury car. Also on the list is 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.
All-wheel drive is available across the board on the 2017 CX-3, but most features are added through trim levels. The mid-level CX-3 Touring adds a 6-speaker audio system, heated exterior mirrors, moonroof, mirror-mounted turn-signal lights and center armrest, plus Leatherette seats. Grand Touring models get leather seats, a moonroof, LED headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights, plus paddles on the steering wheel to shift the automatic transmission. Also available are Sirius XM/HD radio, automatic climate control and heated front seats. The Grand Touring model offers the i-Activsense safety package that includes Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support and much more.
There's only one engine and transmission combination available for the front- or all-wheel-drive (FWD, AWD) 2017 Mazda CX-3: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder putting out 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. But there's a lot of technology built into that engine, such as the lofty 13.0:1 compression ratio. Once, numbers like that were for hot rods looking for the most horsepower. But in the CX-3, it's all about fuel economy, and part of the Skyactiv system that has become as indelible a part of Mazda's marketing as red cars. Good news: It works, with the CX-3 returning very good fuel economy. Just note that even when you manually shift the 6-speed automatic, the CX-3 is far from quick, although it makes the most of its power.
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)
Suffice it to say, the $20,800 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the Mazda CX-3 is very competitive, and lands pretty much right on top of a comparably equipped version of its primary competitor, the Honda HR-V. On the other end of the spectrum, the Grand Touring starts just below $26,000, which is a little more than the top-line HR-V, but the Mazda offers more equipment. All-wheel drive adds about $1,200 to the price of any CX-3. 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. Before purchasing, be sure to check the KBB Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their 2017 Mazda CX-3.