Road Test

2016 Mazda CX-3 the right size car at the right price

Exciting driving dynamics back up contemporary attractiveness

Mazda CX-3

A vehicle lifestyle comparison with Annette McLeod. Annette is a single mom with a primary school son; Joe is a fiscally conscious empty-nester on the downward slope from middle age.

Joe: Let me just get this out of the way right away — I really liked this car a lot. It’s small enough to make it very efficient in terms of fuel usage and general getting around — parking is easy, zipping around town is easy (and fun!), and long distance driving is effortless, cheap and comfortable. Even the price is bang on, coming in at $24,195 before taxes and delivery fees. Monthly payment wise, it means financing comes in at about $348 per month but over seven years. You can also lease at $343 over five years, though I believe that’s a bit long for a lease. Now, the one thing you would have to do without is all-wheel drive, though that is available for an extra $2,000. Did I miss having that? Not really. I’m sure if we had a mega snow dump I might have wished I had it but we didn’t so I wouldn’t.

So all things considered, it’s affordable on a budget, it works really well and it looks pretty darn good!

Factor in fun

Annette: On the whole, I agree, and I think the price is fair for the value. I think fun factor and good looks go a long way in the segment, and this vehicle excels in both categories.

Its predominant hood crease and that swoopy side crease that starts near the side mirrors and goes right back to the rear fender gives it a look that’s aggressive and utterly contemporary. I was excited to drive it — already a fan of the brand and I love a good crossover. The only things I found disappointing — a couple of interior styling cues, family-friendliness and space — wouldn’t be an issue for a different buyer. It isn’t for me, but I’m a little sad that it isn’t.

The backseat in particular isn’t suitable; my 6-year-old, who rides in a booster seat, couldn’t do the seatbelt by himself and he hasn’t had a problem in any other car. The mechanism is too deeply imbedded in the seat, and there isn’t a way to bring it out. A taller passenger who needed front seat legroom would likely get a few unwitting kicks in the back. It lacked a rear seat centre armrest or cupholders. There wasn’t a lot of cargo space, either, which makes it less than ideal for sporting folk. For many singletons and couples, it would be a great chance, up until their kids are about four.

From the front seat, though, there’s little to complain about, except that awful display screen that looks like it fell from the sky and got stuck on the dashboard.

Efficient design

Joe: I agree with the comfort deficiency of the rear seat. It’s a little cramped back there for adults, especially with bigger adults in the front, but the cargo space is adequate for this size of car and how it’s likely going to be used. There are roof rails available as an accessory for those people who want to carry skis or snowboards. The cargo space was good enough for a week’s grocery take for two, including supplies for a party, and the seats go down in a 40/60 split for those longer items when you don’t have as many passengers along.

The front seating is very comfortable and all the controls are easy to reach and work. I’m not a fan of the little display on top of the dash either. It works well enough (like a tablet or smartphone), but it looks like an afterthought, perched up there on the instrument panel. I would much rather have an integrated display in the middle of the IP. Also, they can’t seem to make their minds if they want circular vents (around the steering wheel) or longitudinal ones (in the middle of the dash).

None of which detracts from the driving position, which seems the perfect office for a driver who enjoys just getting in and driving.

Award winner

Annette: That’s the big surprise here — someone who really enjoys driving is going to love it. Most of us, at least at times, look at cars as tools, and the primary considerations aren’t always dynamics. Vehicles in this price range that are sporty performers aren’t that common. This one handles well, accelerates well, is stable in a straight line but still maneuverable, and it’s light and has a tight turning circle. As a bonus, it’s also quiet.

I have to confess to not even noticing the disparity in the vents. I liked the cabin layout and instrumentation (aside from that screen), and found the manual controls satisfyingly substantial. I preferred it over the HR-V we drove last time.

I can see why it did so well at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC’s) Canadian Car of the Year awards. It won for both 2016 Green Utility Vehicle of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year. Auto journalists are loving it. The public should too. It won’t ever see the ubiquity of the Mazda3, but it deserves to.

Nit-picking

Joe: That’s the thing though. I wonder if it won’t get the attention it probably deserves because it’s not a Mazda3, even though it sort of is. I know that the Mazda convention is for the CX prefixes for its crossovers but I wonder if for marketing purposes it wouldn’t have done better as a Mazda3 Cross, for example, or just making it a new and improved Mazda2 (from which it’s derived), now with all-wheel drive ... Maybe that’s why companies don’t come to me for advice on their marketing.

The one thing I didn’t care for was the red trim inside. You know how Mazdas used to have all the red lighting inside for their displays? I wonder if this means they just can’t let go of the red in the interior. I know it matches with the leatherette seat piping but it struck me as odd that you have a bright blue car with red armrests on the doors.

But it goes to show you how impressed I was with it when I feel the need to gripe about mismatched colour selection. As I said at the beginning, I love this car. It looks good, acts good and for me, it’s the right size, and I enjoyed driving it — acceleration was peppy with nice throttle response, handling was terrific with a nice feel to the steering, and the ride was smooth over just about anything thrown across its path.

Annette: I hated all that red lighting, but I like the stitching and door inserts in red here. Perhaps it’s just a sign of your descent into curmudgeonhood.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2016Mazda CX-3 GS

MSRP range: $20,695-$30,495

Price:  $24,195 as tested

Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC 4-cylinder, 146 horsepower, 146 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Fuel consumption (city/highway): 8.2/6.7 L/100 km

Length: 4,274 mm

Width: 1,767 mm

Wheelbase: 2,570 mm

Mass: 1,275 kg

Primary competitors: Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Subaru Impreza.

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