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The Good-Looking 2017 Mazda CX-3 Has Its Downside

2017 Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3 Buying Advice

This is the best subcompact crossover for you if styling and sportiness mean more to you than utility. Introduced for model-year 2016, the CX-3 belongs to a booming new segment of SUVs smaller and less expensive than compact-class crossovers such as the Honda CR-V or Mazda’s own CX-5. The CX-3 is the most stylish entry in the class, and arguably the most fun to drive. For its sophomore season there are a couple new paint colors, new standard features for the most popular trim level, and a price reduction for an option package that delivers some desirable safety gear.

Should you buy a 2017 model or wait for the ’18?

Buy the ’17. Anything more than minor updates won’t happen before model-year 2019, so the ’18 will be a virtual repeat of the ’17 – though it’ll likely cost more. It’ll also mirror the 2017 lineup, which consists of the base Sport model, the volume Touring trim level, and top-end Grand Touring grade. All have standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive (AWD).

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Changes

Styling:

CX-3 follows the design language first introduced by the larger CX-5 crossover. Dubbed KODO, Japanese for “Soul of Motion,” CX-3 is certainly a pretty vehicle. From grille to tail, its lines flow gracefully. A high beltline helps impart a more genuine SUV look, as opposed to the vehicle merely being a subcompact car on stilts.

Moving inside, said beltline makes you feel a bit like you’re sitting in a bathtub. That somewhat claustrophobic sensation is exacerbated by passenger volume that is near the back of the competitive set. Front-seat room is just adequate, while the rear bench will only be comfortable for those less than 5-foot 8-inches tall. CX-3 also has the smallest cargo volume of any subcompact crossover.

Mechanical:

CX-3 shares its basic platform with the company’s Demio subcompact hatchback. This vehicle was sold in the US as the Mazda 2 from 2011-2014, and the current-generation model is available in Mexico but not the US or Canada. Company officials decided it would be more profitable to turn the Demio/2 into crossover. Thus, we have the CX-3.

On the mechanical front, your only choice is between standard front-wheel drive or spending $1,250 for AWD. Otherwise, all CX-3 models use a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Grand Touring models include steering-wheel paddle shifters. Horsepower is no better than average for the class, and you’ll need to rev the engine pretty hard in order to extract the most power. This is especially true on AWD models, as they weigh about 150 pounds more than their front-drive counterparts. A switch to toggle a throttle-quickening Sport mode is standard across the board, and it’s something we recommend engaging for highway merging and passing. Mazda says 90 percent of CX-3 buyers choose AWD, and it’s something we would recommend to anyone. It adds a degree of security in wet and snowy climates, and it also aids in dry-road handling.

Save for possibly the oddly styled Nissan Juke and expensive Mini Cooper Countryman and Paceman, CX-3 has the best on-road handling of any vehicle in the class. The steering is direct and responsive, and the vehicle carves corners with minimal body lean. It has no trouble tackling the urban grind or twisting mountain roads.

Features:

The base CX-3 Sport comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and Mazda’s CONNECT infotainment system with support for SMS text messaging and streaming audio through the Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher Internet radio services.

Touring versions are the most popular. Their upholstery is a leatherette/cloth blend. They also come standard with heated front seats, blind-spot alert, and rear cross-traffic detection. For 2017, Mazda is upgrading the Touring’s 16-inch wheels that it shared with the Sport to the 18s that were previously exclusive to the Grand Touring. They make this CX-3 look better, but ride quality does suffer a bit.

At the top of the pecking order is the Grand Touring. It gains leather upholstery, steering-linked LED headlights, LED fog lights, navigation system, automatic climate control, and a head-up instrument display.

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Prices

Mazda is holding the line on CX-3 pricing for 2017, and kudos to them for doing so, especially since the Touring is getting some previously unavailable content. The Sport model starts at $20,860; the Touring at $22,860; and the Grand Touring at $25,890. Note that all prices include a destination fee of $900; Alaska residents will need to add another $45.

Crystal White and Soul Red paint are $200 and $300, respectively. The $1,410 Premium Package for the Touring adds a Bose-brand audio system, power sunroof, satellite radio, HD Radio receiver, and a rear cargo cover. Exclusive to the Grand Touring is the i-ACTIVSENSE Package, which includes radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and rain-sensing wipers. This package cost $1,920 on 2016 models, but has been reduced to a much more reasonable $1,170 for 2017.

Notable standalone extras include $550 for remote engine start, $495 for rear-obstacle detection, $300 for roof rack side rails, and $400 for an SD card to activate the navigation system on Sport and Touring models.

Fuel Ecomomy

The payback for modest acceleration are some of the highest mileage ratings in this notably fuel-frugal class. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 29/34/31 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 27/32/29 with AWD. All models use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Release Date

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is scheduled to arrive at dealers in July 2016.

What’s next for the CX-3?

Our crystal ball is fuzzy on this one. In recent years, Mazda has been very quick to bring significant updates to newer products. Unfortunately, the CX-3’s flaws are probably a bit too deep to be addressed by a simple makeover. If engineers can eek out some more power and passenger/cargo room without impacting the vehicle’s tidy size, sexy styling, and engaging driving dynamics, that would be outstanding.

Competition

Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Kia Soul, Mini Cooper Countryman and Paceman, Nissan Juke

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]