First Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-3

Mazda has introduced the CX-3 as an all-new nameplate to take advantage of the growing subcompact crossover segment and I had the chance to drive it on some demanding roads through the canyons north of Los Angeles. With Mazda you know the company will try to make every vehicle in its lineup fun to drive, and with the routes selected I suspected they were particularly proud of how the CX-3 would perform. The vehicle exceeded even those lofty expectations.


The CX-3 is shorter and lower than Mazda’s best-selling CX-5 with a long front hood and large wheels. It’s a beautiful vehicle as you can see from the photos and is the fifth vehicle in the U.S. with Mazda’s KODO—Soul of Motion design language. The designers tried to create the look of pent up energy so the vehicle always looks like it’s moving forward. I also love the front end as the Mazda grille continues to evolve and the headlights make the vehicle look alive. It’s a much more aggressive and interesting look than the smiley face impression of some Mazda models of the past. The CX-3 comes with 16-inch wheels and the option for 18-inch wheels that contribute to the distinctive look. Overall the design of this vehicle gives Mazda an obvious hit even before you sit inside and then start driving.


What I remember most about the CX-3 interior is that the seats were very comfortable and would hug your body, which was particularly helpful as I powered through the curves on our drive route and made up for the lack of power seats. The overall design of the interior is quite bold and should appeal to most consumers, with a prominent 7-inch touch screen and standard rear camera. The various color combinations in the interiors we also very impressive.

Standard features also include a push-button starter, Mazda Connect infotainment offering Bluetooth phone pairing, audio streaming, and USB ports for phone charging and entertainment connectivity. Optional features include blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, which frankly would be hard to live without these days for this spoiled driver.


As expected, the CX-3 isn’t one to just rely on its good looks. The vehicle handled beautifully on the route through the winding curves as we enjoyed the canyons north of LA. The CX-3 showed nice responsiveness and acceleration, particularly in Sport mode, and it hugged every turn daring you to push it harder.

All trim levels (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) come with a SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission producing 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. While CVTs are getting better I’ll take a six-speed transmission any day and you can feel it in the linear acceleration.

The CX-3 also incorporates Maxda’s SKYACTIV Technology, so while front-wheel drive comes standard, Mazda’s predictive i-ACTIV AWD system is also available on all trim levels. This system improves handling in bad weather by using sensors to route power to the most surefooted wheels as you’re driving.


The subcompact crossover segment is growing quickly, and Mazda characterizes the CX-3 as their attempt to “defy the category.” The Mazda team acknowledges there may be some overlap with the Mazda3 hatchback for consumers but that didn’t deter them. There are many impressive options in this category but frankly the new CX-3 is the must-drive vehicle in this class if you’re out test-driving options. It’s one of the best vehicles we’ve tested in 2015 and we’re confident you’ll be impressed.


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