Production Models

Mazda CX-3 2017 Review

There are two ways you can make a successful small crossover: you can simply do what the others are doing or you can take an entirely different approach and chart your own path. There’s no question which path this week’s Auto Feature takes. The Mazda CX-3 focuses on the brand’s key strengths: great to drive and looking good doing so.

The CX-3 is undeniably Mazda—incredibly taut and appealing to the eye. Instead of going cutesy of oddball, the CX-3 relies on the KODO design language. The trademark design cues: the long hood, cab-rearward design, small overhangs, and tight rear proportions are all here. Yet, the intricate creases and surfaces make it even more handsome.

Stepping inside the CX-3 opens up to a cabin that doesn’t digress from Mazda’s tried and tested formula. The dashboard is low and flat with just the 7-inch infotainment screen in the middle breaking the expanse of the soft-touch upper panel. The other ingredients in the CX-3’s ergonomics formula are spot on as well. The steering wheel offers great adjustment, the pedals are aligned perfectly to the driver’s feet, the seats are well supportive, and the controls are all clearly marked and easy to use. Even the exterior visibility is great—a surprise given the small looking greenhouse.

Imagining that the CX-3 and Mazda2 have the same interior space given the same platform and wheelbase is partly right. Thanks to higher hip points, the CX-3 gains more legroom compared to its hatchback twin. These numbers don’t sound much—and they aren’t, but it does make sitting in the rear seat considerably more comfortable.

So while functionality isn’t the CX-3’s strong suit, it does present a more premium feeling interior. The materials used are well above for the segment with nicely grained plastics and textured metallic accents. The Alcantara/leather combination seats, and red soft-touch kneepads and door trims do a lot to impart a sporty vibe while breaking the monotony of the all-black interior.

Mazda doesn’t shy away from saying that the CX-3 is based off the Mazda2, and yet there’s more here than meets the eye. Understanding that raising the chassis would alter the center of gravity and consequently the driving dynamics, engineers have gifted the CX-3 with firmer bushings and re-tuned springs and dampers. Plus, to suit the crossover’s innate ability to travel long distances effortlessly, the steering ratio’s been slowed by 7 percent. These changes go hand-in-hand with a platform with the same torsional rigidity as the larger Mazda3.

Further digressing from the Mazda2 formula, the CX-3 doesn’t use the hatchback’s 1.5-liter unit, but instead opts for the tried-and-tested 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G 4-cylinder engine. Also found in the Mazda3 and CX-5, it curiously loses 9 PS (horsepower) and 8 Nm (Newton Meters) in this particular application. On the road though, this difference is negligible. Like its other Skyactiv-equipped siblings, the CX-3’s drivetrain works in unison to deliver a truly engaging driving experience. The 6-speed automatic is responsive in both urban or highway settings.

There’s a lot more to love in the CX-3 apart from the drivetrain. Like the rest of its Skyactiv kin, this is one fun car to toss around. Into the corner, it responds with progression, transferring weight from side to side, fore and aft beautifully. There’s also minimal body roll. The ride is decisively on the firm side, but it’s still pretty good considering it’s riding on low profile tires. All this comes as a big surprise given the CX-3 rides on a “cruder” torsion beam axle at its rear end.

The time is right for someone to come up with a small crossover that’s cleverly packaged, good looking, and fun-to-drive. As usual, Mazda has heeded that call with the CX-3. It sacrifices a bit in terms of functionality, but more than makes up for it with driver engagement. This is how Mazda makes its cars nowadays and it’s a formula that the driver in anyone and everyone will love.

See video below:

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