Every manufacturer is rushing towards the subcompact SUV market and vehicles like the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, and this 2017 Mazda CX-3 are some of the first out of the gate. The American consumer loves the utility that a sport utility vehicle provides and appreciate driving a bigger and (presumed) safer vehicle. But when you take the SUVs we love and shrink them down to the size of a compact hatchback, will the consumer catch on?
The notion of a micro version of an SUV has always bothered me. If you needed the space, then you would simply buy a larger car or an actual SUV. If you needed the fuel economy, then it would make sense to simply go with a compact car. But as I walk up to this new CX-3 in its Dynamic Blue Mica paint, things begin to come into focus. Whether you consider this an SUV or a hatchback, it combines the modern front end design of the CX-9 with the curvaceous rear of the Mazda3 hatch in a quite pleasing way. The CX-3 has the same intense stare and adorable demeanor of a crouching house cat waiting to pounce. Despite its size, the CX-3 exterior will have you believing that this little guy is eager to be a “big bad SUV.”
As part of the fantastic Mazda Drive For Good® program, Mazda includes a $25 giving card with each test vehicles to allow us to donate to our favorite charity. Mazda has donated over $15 million and over 262,000 hours of service so far and check out their website to find out more about the program and how you can contribute by test driving a vehicle.
However, stepping inside the interior of the Mazda CX-3 will remove any misconceptions you may have of its size. The Honda Fit, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Golf, and Chevrolet Cruze are just several compact vehicles with more space for rear passengers than the 2017 Mazda CX-3. Therefore, the whole family may not be completely comfortable hoping in your new SUV to drive across the country. The rear storage area under the hatch is shockingly small at 10 cu ft of storage and only good for one large suitcase or two small bags. Folding the rear seats down flat gives a more usable 42 cu ft of storage and would be perfect for runs to Ikea.
Moving up front, the car is a pleasant place to be and attractive materials surround the driver.The center armrest is hollow to allow you to slide a phone inside for storage but felt rather cheap and wasn’t particularly useful. Our model was equipped with the Parchment color interior that balanced a nice white Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery with dark maroon accents. The majority of the interior is nearly identical to other newer models like the updated MX-5 or CX-9. However, the CX-3 has a plastic screen for the heads up display, similar to the Mazda3, that will fold down when parked and rise when the car is turned on. The heads up display was more than a nice party trick and displayed various information like speed, navigation, and Lane Departure warnings.
Tucked behind the menacing LED headlights and underneath the hood is a 2.0L SKYACTIV® 4-cylinder motor. The motor is naturally aspirated but uses 16 valves and variable valve tech to produce a respectable 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Our CX-3 Grand Touring was FWD and moved about in a sprightly fashion, with the handling you expect from Mazda. The CX-3 is in no way fast with a 0-60mph time around 8 seconds, but in sport mode it moved freely along the highway and never felt wanting for speed.
Modern automatic transmissions continue to improve and this 6-speed system in the CX-3 is wonderful. Running around in Sport, the Mazda knows when to hold em’ and makes proper use of what power the engine does have to offer. The steering feel is surprisingly connected for a subcompact SUV and the weight feels low and centered. Therefore, the CX-3 feels much more “subcompact” than “SUV” and drives like a traditional hatchback. It even returns hatchback fuel economy numbers with a nice 30MPG average in our time of use.
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 starts just only $20k for the base trim and our model was equipped all the way to $27,260 at the Grand Touring trim level with the i-ACTIVSENSE Package. This package added various safety features normally included on much more expensive cars like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, rain sensing wipers, and smart braking to avoid a collision. So it is priced with most of the other subcompact SUVs hitting the market and will have increasingly stiff competition in the coming year from the likes of the Toyota C-HR.
We feel that Mazda may find buyers in this new market if they come in with the right expectations. The CX-3 may not be entirely practical, particularly comfortable, or as capable as a “true” SUV. However, the CX-3 will be used by those that understands its appeal like “play shoes” that children put on to go to the park. It is a great budget car that likes to run around, take a few scuffs in stride, and create fun and carefree memories.