Small, Stylish and Safe…and More

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Mazda CX-3

Remember when the subcompact SUV was just a pipe dream?

We always had them. The Suzuki Samurai was one. The Daihatsu Rocky was another. We also had the Suzuki Sidekick, Geo Tracker, the original Kia Sportage…now we’re stretching this a bit here.

Yet, they were jumped into the word "small." Though "small" SUVs eventually grew into the popular and market-driving compact versions – most of them considered softroaders – there was still an undercurrent of much smaller high-riding machinery out there.

Now, the subcompact SUV has become the up-and-coming thing. The Jeep Renegade has lead the charge, alongside the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Juke, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Fiat 500X. Toyota and Ford will soon jump into this emerging new segment with their products designed to dazzle us with how small and mighty they can be.

I intentionally left out one entrant – the Mazda CX-3.

The Mazda was excluded because it was supposed to be the enthusiast's choice in this segment. It would be the one that MX-5 Miata and Mazda3 owners would choose as a compliment to their rides. Its familiar "KODO – Soul of Motion" looks and 2.0 liter Skyactiv power was to lead the charge among softroaders, while the Jeep showed us how to take its Trailhawk off-road.

The CX-3 impressed a lot of the automotive media. It still does. Maybe because Mazda is seen as the enthusiast’s brand – a summation I have carried for years before I got into this business. They are certainly hitting their stride with the new CX-9 and MX-5 Miata, the updated Mazda3 and the upcoming second-generation CX-5.

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However, Mazda has higher aspirations. They want to become a premium product. There is nothing wrong with that. Mainstream customers might not applaud loudly once prices and vehicle content head towards upmarket levels. Yet, their overall quality and execution keep the few and proud Mazda customers engaged with their latest products.

This could mean that anyone looking to buy a 2017 CX-3 might as well do it now. But, before you do…I have to tell you all about it and how it fared in the early stages of the Polar Vortex’s return to the Upper Midwest.

The CX-3 starts with its interpretation of the "KODO — Soul of Motion" design language. This interpretation resulted in a long nose and a long overhang from the front wheels. Certainly there is enough front end between you and potential obstacles, and there is an assurance of safety by doing so. Crash test have proven this idea; true, with the Insurance Institute of Traffic Safety awarding the CX-3 its "Top Safety Pick +" designation.

The roof line is sporty, with a sweep slope in the rear end. It looks good, but there is a drawback to having a roof line of that degree of slant. However, the hatch opens wide for better loading, despite the high loading height above the bumper.

Our Grand Touring tester had large 18-inch wheels, which truly fills out the profile of the small SUV. The front doors are large and open wide, though the smallish rear doors are amenable for rear seat access. In all, the CX-3 is quite the handsome vehicle with all of its Mazda-ness in place.

2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

One thing I like about the latest Mazda vehicles have been interior design and execution. The instrumentation focuses on a center speedometer dial with two smaller digital screens. The left screen offers a tachometer and gear position, while the right shows fuel level and trip information. It is all pretty straightforward and understandable. The rest of the dashboard falls along similar Mazda design tenets, with a combination of circular and in-line vent ports, lower climate controls, and a small tablet-like screen for the infotainment system. This falls down into a center console that has the knob controllers for the tablet-like screen above and a short transmission lever.

As for the CX-3's infotainment system, it is driven by Mazda Connect – a proven and solid system integrating audio, navigation and phone operation. The larger knob controls everything from radio tuning to point of interest searches for the navigation system. This system offers SiriusXM, full Pandora integration, a solid navigation system, and Bluetooth connectivity for the phone and music file playback. Bose provides seven speakers for clean sound throughout the cabin.

This Grand Touring model came with an interesting leather/suede upholstery mix. The leather part is in Mazda's signature Parchment hue, while the suede part is in black with red trim in various spots. Did I mention that the exterior color is blue? Still, it is a very interesting color combination all around.

Colors aside, the seats are fine with a balance of comfort and support. It is not a tall vehicle, so headroom for taller people may need some adjustment when equipped with the moonroof. Rear seats are comfortable for two to three people, but there is not enough leg room for tall people. Four average sized adults would have a fun time inside the CX-3 at best.

The cargo hold is at best adequate to use. With the rear seats up, it only has 12.4 cubic feet to spare. Fold down the rear seats, and there is 44.5 cubic feet available.

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The CX-3 is powered by a Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, putting out 146 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available on the CX-3, and it is a good choice for this engine. This tester had all-wheel drive, which did quite well on the frozen roads around the region. The CX-3 did return a fuel consumption average of 25.7 MPG.

The ride was simply fine. The suspension absorbed what it could from most surfaces, yet provided some feedback on less-than-ideal surfaces. Handling was pretty much under control, thanks to the larger 18-inch wheels in the Grand Touring model. Roll was present in the deeper, banked turns, but not enough to cause alarm for occupants. Steering was OK, though a sharper action and a tighter turning radius would make it perfect. On-center feel was good and turning action was solid. Brakes were fantastic with good stops in both normal and panic situations.

By choosing the Grand Touring, there is the availability of the i-ACTIVSENSE package including plenty of active safety features. The package includes Radar Cruise Control, Distance Recognition Support, Smart City Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, Auto On/Off Headlights and Rain Sensing Windshield Wipers. Name a vehicle in this class that offers all of this – standard or optional? This is quite comprehensive of a package to offer in a subcompact SUV/CUV.

There is one point to consider. This CX-3 tester was exposed to a combination of a snow storm – that yielded less on the ground than predicted – and a very deep cold – the weather folks got this one right as it did drop to -23 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. In sub-zero temperatures, it started up just fine. The heater took some time to warm up the cabin, while the heated seats did their thing a bit quicker. I wished it had a heated steering wheel, but maybe I'm pushing it. Even on Yokohama AVID all-season tires, the AWD system delivered on keeping the shiny side of the CX-3 upright and moving.

As for pricing, you start off with a 2017 CX-3 Sport with front-wheel drive. The base price of that model is $19,960. This Grand Touring tester with all-wheel drive and the i-ACTIVSENSE Package came with a sticker price of $28,810. This is a price range you’d expect in this class.

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It is safe to say that the Mazda CX-3 is at least a competent little CUV/SUV. It works quite well with its safety features, crashworthiness and its traction system. It is not the most spacious vehicle in its class, but it works well with four average-sized people or a starter family.

While some people will argue that in order to live well through four seasons, a Jeep Renegade is a great solution among all comers in this class. To get a Renegade that will do exceptional in a four-season climate, such as Minnesota, you have to spend more money to get one. As a counterpoint, the Mazda CX-3 delivers on the promise of style, safety and fun. Just add snow tires for the winter and you may have a vehicle that will show the rest of the class how it’s done – in style.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations

All photos by Randy Stern

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