As crossover utilities shrink ever smaller, they’re looking less like a blend of family car and a SUV, and more like pumped five-door hatchbacks with available all-wheel drive. Case in point, this Mazda CX-3. It’s a good looking subcompact ute. But, in its quest for popular style, is utility no longer its strongest point?
To their credit, Mazda calls the 2016 CX-3 their ultimate “urban escape vehicle”. A combination of small car attributes necessary for city-dwellers; like a Mazda3 hatchback; with enough crossover elements for weekend adventures and all-weather security.
Going up against the likes of Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, and Chevrolet Trax; four subcompact utes that weren’t even available here a year ago, gives you an idea of how rapidly this segment is expanding.
Built on a new SKYACTIV chassis to be shared with the next Mazda2, the CX-3 is tidy indeed. Every interior dimension is less than the Mazda3. And while outside it is certainly taller, ground clearance is the same at 6.1-inches.
Of course you can’t get all-wheel-drive in the Mazda3.
Now whether all-4 or just the front-2 wheels are in play, power comes from the MX-5’s SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter I4. Here putting out 146-horsepower and 146 lb-ft. of torque, with a 6-speed automatic transmission your only option.
One thing is clear, and that is that the CX-3 is easily the most stylish of the new breed of cute utes. It looks long, low, lean, and much more muscular than bigger brother CX-5.
In the front, the face is familiar Mazda territory, but they seem to be pushing the boundaries of the grille ever farther. And the slanted rear roof, with tight hind quarters, doesn’t help much with convincing us that this is a crossover and not a hatchback.
At our test track, there was a snappy throttle and eagerness at launch, but the CX-3 runs out of steam fairly quickly; taking us 8.6-seconds to hit 60. To be fair, that’s on par with the Jeep Renegade we tested. And, the CX-3 gives you all it’s got down the strip sounding good while doing it.
Shifts are prompt and positive, and there was even a touch of torque steer as we worked our way to a 16.7-second ¼-mile at 83 miles-per-hour.
Throughout handling exercises, there was certainly a fun, sporty Mazda-style character. But, while still far from a sports car, there’s a nice balance and steering response is quick, putting most other tiny trucksters to shame.
We were expecting a little more from the brakes however, than a 133-foot stopping average from 60 and an overall soft feel.
Fittingly, the interior is driver-oriented, with an almost premium feel to materials and surfaces that again put it above most rivals. The control layout looks simple enough, yet still managed to befuddle some of our staffers.
Ergonomics are also not great for full-size adults; plus we found console space minimal and cup holders difficult to access easily. Moreover, it can be at times a very noisy environment.
Continuing our list of gripes, cargo space is minimal, just 10.1 cubic-ft. behind the rear seats if there’s a Bose subwoofer in place; that’s ½ the space of a Mazda3 hatchback. Folding the seats expands the space, getting the numbers closer to the Mazda3’s at 44.5 cubic-ft.
The load floor is also very high. It might not have been as noticeable had we not had an HR-V in at the same time which has a much lower load floor and double the amount of rear cargo space.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for an all-wheel-drive CX-3 are 27-City, 32-Highway, and 29-Combined, which we almost reached at 28.8 miles-per-gallon of Regular. So the Energy Impact Score is much better than average, with oil consumption at 11.4-barrels yearly and CO2 emissions of 5.0-tons.
Pricing starts at $20,840; and since we’re doing so much comparing here, a Mazda3 starts about a grand lower, though top Grand Touring trims are priced very similar.
In the end, we know why Mazda commissioned the CX-3. Everything crossover is selling like mad while traditional car sales continue to sag. Still, when it comes to actual utility, a well done compact five-door hatchback, like a Mazda3, Ford Focus, or the new Honda Civic, beats the CX-3, and all other tiny utes, in everything except traction.
But, if you gotta hang with the crowd, then the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is one fun, city size utility, that’s rarin’ to go.
Engine: 2.0 liter
Torque: 146 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 8.6 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.7 seconds @ 83 mph
EPA: 27 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 11.4 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.0 tons/yr