By: Mike Ginsca
The Mazda CX-3 is part of a fast growing small crossover market that is quickly becoming crowded with the likes of the Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, Chevy Trax, and many more. It’s aimed at young consumers that maybe just graduated from a post secondary school and are looking for something practical, economical, but also a bit fun. So how does the CX-3 stack up?
Engine – Turbocharging is the new hip thing to do but I don’t think that Mazda got the memo because they’re still sticking with naturally aspirated engines. Under the hood of the 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a 2.0L Skyactiv inline 4 producing 146hp and the exact same amount of torque. The big benefit to not having a turbocharger is excellent throttle response. The engine responds to your every input and although the 146hp figure won’t boggle the mind with fast acceleration, the peak torque figure is reached at just 2800 rpms which is almost unheard of for a naturally aspirated engine. The high torque figure at low rpms gives the CX-3 a peppy attitude when accelerating from a stop. Fuel economy with this engine is decent as I managed 8.1L/100km combined city & highway driving in my week long test.
Transmission – Manual transmissions are (as I’m sure you know) becoming a dying breed these days. The art of changing gears by moving a stick coming out of the floor and stepping on a clutch pedal is something that, unfortunately, not many millennials will know how to do. Thankfully this class of vehicle still offers the manual transmission as standard with an automatic as an option. The 6-speed manual in this Mazda CX-3 is not as sporty feeling as in the Honda Civic Si but it is smoother. The clutch is light as one would expect and it does provide enough feed back as to where the engagement point is.
Handling – This is what sets Mazda apart from all the other mainstream manufacturers. The Mazda CX-3 manages to be both sporty and still maintain a level of comfort. Body roll is minimal through corners and steering feel is closer to that of the Mazda3 rather than a conventional crossover which is usually vague. New for this year is standard G-Vectoring control. It’s a system that temporarily limits the engine’s torque output when entering a corner to shift the body weight to the front wheels for better traction. Then throughout the rest of the corner, the computer recovers engine drive torque to shift the weight to the back wheels thereby improving stability. Long story short, you don’t really feel it when driving but the Mazda CX-3 is one of the better handling small crossovers out on the market today.
Ride Comfort – Driving over bumps in the CX-3 feels like you’re in a normal SUV with only really large potholes making the ride a bit jarring. Driving on a highway, the CX-3 is quiet and due to its small size, it feels very stable at speeds well into triple digit numbers. Adding to the comfort are the excellent front seats. Not only do they provide good bolstering when you’re pretending to be a racing driver, but they also provide good support when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the back seats. Leg and head room in the back is tight to say the least. An adult will struggle to even get in the back seats and while there is a recess in the roof for more headroom, it is still not enough. The back seats are there for small children or to be folded to allow for more cargo room.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Among the mainstream auto manufacturers, Mazda is among the best when it comes to interior quality. Over rough roads, nothing squeaks or makes an annoying sound that makes you want to pull your eyes out. The cabin is relatively quiet but quite a bit of engine noise does intrude into the cabin when revving hard.
Interior Design – The interior of the Mazda CX-3 is almost identical to that of the Mazda MX-5, although, it’s the MX-5 that copied the CX-3 as the CX-3 was introduced before the MX-5. A touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard is the predominant feature of the cabin. Like other Mazda models, the touchscreen does not fold away into the dashboard for a cleaner look when not in use. The rest of the dashboard is fairly simple in its design with round air vents on either side and a discrete air vent in the middle that follows the shape of the dashboard. The only annoying feature of the CX-3 interior is the lack of a center armrest.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – In addition to standard features such as a backup camera and a push button start, the 2018 CX-3 also receives Smart City Brake Support which automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle thinks you’re about to have a crash. Navigation is not standard but it can be added as a stand alone option like on this test vehicle. Going up in the trims and packages, the Mazda CX-3 can be equipped with just about every option conceivable short of autonomous driving.
Exterior Design – Overall the CX-3 looks like high riding Mazda 3 Sport. Yes, the steel wheels and plastic wheel covers do let it down a bit but the rest of the car still looks fresh even after its introduction in 2016. Plus with its redesigned bigger brother, the Mazda CX-5, it won’t be long before Mazda applies the latest Kodo design language to the CX-3.
Overall the 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a fun little small crossover but it’s small size may turn away taller drivers towards the Buick Encore.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mazda.ca
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.