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2016 Mazda CX-3 GX AWD: Plainly pleasing

By David Miller

Jun. 13, 2016

For most first drive press launches, the automaker will present to you the top-trimmed model and showcase the greatest attributes of its car, some available as options or only in that trim.

It’s a much different story during the consumer’s buying process. Advertisers and dealerships tend to flip the script and focus on the starting price of the vehicle, a sales system that’s been used since the advent of big business. And to be honest, why not? You have to get the consumer’s attention and price is usually the determining factor if you’re serious about purchasing a new model.

As an automotive journalist, part of my job is to sift through the bells and whistles that are presented to us and ask questions, filling in the blanks that are casually left out of the presentation. This is not to say that the car companies are deceiving us. They’re just excited about the latest gadgets they’ve been working on that they feel differentiate them from their competition.

When presented with an opportunity to test out the 2016 AJAC Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, the Mazda CX-3, in its base GX form, I was excited to see how this compact crossover holds up compared to the top-of-the-line version I drove in sunny Scottsdale last April.

At that time, the CX-3 performed admirably for a compact crossover in the fastest growing segment in the industry. Will I have the same giddy feelings as I did that warm April day in 2015? Well, let’s take a look…

Pros & Cons

  • + Good fuel efficiency
  • + Styling
  • + Sharp handling
  • - Acceleration
  • - Rear seat space
  • - No manual transmission
Read the full review
  • Walkaround

    The CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest crossover offering, slotting in below the CX-5 and closer in size to the Mazda3 hatch. If you didn’t think it was a utility vehicle, you wouldn’t be far off, as it looks like an elevated hatch and uses the platform of the subcompact Mazda2, now discontinued in Canada.

    Mazda’s ‘Kodo style of motion design’ seems tailor-made for the CX-3. It has a flowing silhouette that provides a sporty, youthful look to it that Mazda hopes will resonate with the singles, couples and young families it hopes to attract. Adding to its sportiness are creases in its sheetmetal, but that coolness is tempered by 16-inch steel wheels as opposed to aluminum alloys found on other trims.

    The GX trim doesn’t get LED headlights, fog lights or taillights, so that also takes a little away from its appearance. However, it has to be understood that consumers can’t get everything at such a low price; there has to be some give and take.

  • Interior

    The inside is where you start to see some of the changes from the top GT trim. The base GX is a more bland state of affairs, with grey on both the outside and inside and without another colour in sight. It’s amazing to see what a few of the subtle touches found in the GT, like clean stitched lines and a sharp red complementing colour on the door, centre console and air vents, do to a car. Mazda could do more to liven up its base model – it wouldn’t take much.

    Similar to the Mazda3, seating is comfortable in the front, and you are surrounded by plenty of the hard plastics that make up the simplistic cockpit. As a whole, the CX-3’s insides are nothing spectacular.

    There are plenty of strong points, including a quiet ride with minimal road noise and a cozy space for long driving stretches. The same cannot be said for rear occupants as there’s little room for adult legs; these seats are geared towards children, (short) teens and dogs.

  • Tech

    The Mazda CX-3 comes standard with a seven-inch touchscreen that displays Mazda Connect functions, a rear view camera, air conditioning and cruise control. Once again, not bad to start with, and many don’t really care for safety technology like blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert as long as they have that backup camera.

    The Mazda Connect controls are situated behind the gear shift and make it easy to toggle between the radio, phone or vehicle statistics without getting distracted. I would prefer the volume knob to be on the centre console as opposed to near the gear shift, but that’s where the steering wheel buttons come in handy. You just need to remember they are there.

  • Driving

    The CX-3 comes with one engine and transmission option: a 146-hp, 2.0-litre ‘SkyActiv’ four-cylinder that’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and boasts 146 lb.-ft. of torque. There is no choice in that department, but for the base and mid-leve trims, consumers are offered a choice of standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000.

    My tester came with the all-wheel drive setup, which is geared for fun cornering action. This compact crossover may not have a lot of juice in its engine for sprints, but its cornering abilities are a good fit with the fun reputation Mazda has built into its brand. Handling was balanced in turns without much body roll. Stick this little car into a corner or make a U-turn and you will enjoy its tight turning circle.

    The CX-3 has a ‘sport’ driving model, but I would suggest staying clear of it. All it seemed to do was make more, unnecessary engine noise without the benefit of much of a power boost. If you’re looking for something with initial speed off the line, you will be sadly disappointed in this product. The CX-3 is more composed in its ‘normal’ mode while cruising via gentle acceleration in city or highway driving.

    One of this Mazda’s strong suits its fuel economy, a big part of what makes the Skyactiv engine and weight-saving effort so great. The CX-3 AWD achieved an average of 7.7 L/100 km over 180 kms of combined driving in a 60/40 city-to-highway split. It can do better than this, too, as evidenced by its 6.4 L/100 km showing during the 2016 AJAC EcoRun event, held in early June.

  • Value

    The value to be had with the CX-3 is in its base model, which rings in at $22,695 with all-wheel drive. You won’t get the fancy leather steering wheel or seats found in higher trims, but you will still get the same touchscreen as in all other trims, plus a rear view camera.

    Its base model is at par with the cost of the new Honda HR-V, so choosing between the two will come down to personal preference. From a styling and handling perspective the CX-3 wins out, but the Mazda is trumped when versatility and cargo space become priorities.

    8.3Very good
  • Conclusion

    The 2016 Mazda CX-3 came along just when compact crossovers were becoming the talk of the auto industry. There are few competitors that can match the exterior design and handling skills of the CX-3 in the compact crossover segment; overall it is simply a fun ride. For an added bonus, you can achieve some impressive fuel economy numbers.

    The base version wasn’t as exciting as the GT trim, but that was never going to be the case. Yes, the interior cool-factor of is stripped out here, but at least it has the same cornering prowess and powertrain options.

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