If we had to pick a subcompact SUV to live with every day that didn’t have a third pedal, it would definitely be the Mazda CX-3. It’s the most engaging automatic subcompact SUV to drive. It doesn’t hurt that it’s easy on the eyes, inside and out, and even easier on the wallet. With excellent reliability and safety ratings to augment its fun factor, there’s plenty of reasons to love the Mazda CX-3.
Like much of the competition, the CX-3 is in its second year of production. Subcompact SUVs are the fastest growing segment in the US market. Many Americans see the value in these versatile budget friendly package. What Mazda’s version adds is a driving experience will put a smile on your face. The top notch interior and exterior design are sure to stand out when cross shopping. Unlike many competitors, the base trim comes standard with plenty of useful features like Bluetooth streaming audio, rearview camera, and tilt and telescopic steering column. Its interior feels upscale when compared to its competitors and we think the outside looks as good as many luxury subcompact SUVs. When you consider all these factors, it’s hard not to consider the CX-3 a bargain!
Mazda emphasizes the driving experience over all other aspects of engineering. The CX-3 is no exception. It only takes a minute behind the wheel to fully appreciate the passion manifested by turning the wheel and pressing the pedals. In a category that largely delivers lackluster performance by design, the CX-3 is breath of fresh air. It’s not staggeringly quick, making the trip from 0 to sixty around 8 seconds.
That’s just a number on a spec sheet and doesn’t correlate with real world driving, where the CX-3 is an absolute pleasure. Speaking of numbers, the 2.0 Liter four cylinder provides 146 lb-ft of torque and the same number of horses. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. The most impressive performance characteristics are the Mazda’s deft handling and firm yet comfortable ride. If you prefer an engaging involvement behind the wheel and need an automatic transmission, the CX-3 is your best bet in the subcompact category.
Sit in most of the subcompact SUVs on the market and you’ll find unsupportive seats and spartan appointments. The CX-3 is an exception. The soft touch leatherette dash looks expensive and features actual hand stitching unlike the simulated stitching in some of the competitors. The quality dash is complimented by gloss black trim pieces and chrome accents to complete the upscale vibe. Tall drivers may be disappointed by the wide console that intrudes upon knee space, but it’s to be expected in a subcompact. Wide drivers may not like the narrow seats. Rear row space is tight due to the Mazda’s size but the seats are supportive with excellent back support.
There are more cubic feet of space in some competitors but the CX-3 is adequate for most driver’s needs. All CX-3s receive a 7in infotainment system that’s not the simplest on the market. It requires some time to adjust and loading time is a little longer than the competition. There’s an analog knob that can be used to navigate the multitude of menus much like BMW’s iDrive. We like this feature as it’s easier than reaching for the touchscreen. If you can afford it, get the head up display that makes it easy to keep your eyes on the road whilst collecting all the information you need. Automatic climate control is standard on all trims, rarer than you’d think. There’s two USB ports, two SD card slots, and an aux cable. If those connections aren’t sufficient, there’s also Bluetooth connectivity with standard streaming audio. This Mazda’s interior supersedes most of the class without breaking the budget, making it a most compelling subcompact crossover.
If you haven’t already, look at the CX-3 in person. Words fail to describe this little SUV’s eye catching design but we’ll try anyway! An oversized black or chrome grille is flanked by narrow, modern slanted headlamps. Beneath, diagonal fog lamps accentuate the sporty lower intake. The sloping roofline resembles coupe styling and augments the athletic appearance. The rear is tidy with conservative, clean tail lamps and a tasteful roof spoiler. The dual exhaust outlets provide symmetry and sound great.
The entire body is trimmed with a plastic molding that makes the SUV look rugged, ensuring you don’t confuse it with a hatchback. We think the CX-3’s design rivals many more expensive SUVs but you may think otherwise, let us know in the comments below.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the CX-3 a 5-star overall rating and 5-stars in all but the rollover category, which received 4. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety designated this subcompact SUV a “Top Safety Pick+,” the organization’s highest rating. It earned top marks in all crash testing and the available front crash prevention technology acquired a “Superior” rating. This system may be overeager as there have been complaints of unintended braking though no accidents have been reported as a result.
The halogen lights on the lower trims collected a “Poor” rating, while the LED projector lights on the Grand Touring gathered a rating one notch higher of “Acceptable.” This may seem like a bad thing, but very few headlights are rated higher than “Poor,” so it’s actually par for the course. The brakes are probably the best in the class, which may be the most important safety feature of all. Preventing a crash before it happens is easier in this nimble subcompact SUV, we’d recommend it to the safety conscious consumer.
Since the CX-5 is only in its second year of production, there is very little information available to determine this SUV’s long term reliability. Therefore, most ratings and reports we’ve found are based on the Mazda Brand’s reliability. For example, Consumer Reports offers a 4 out of 5 predicted reliability rating without providing any specific data or reasoning why beyond Mazda’s reputation. So we decided to the digging for you and find out some more in depth information about this specific model.
The National Highway Safety Administration has issued 2 recalls for the 2016 model year. The first only affects 570 models that had some loose bolts on some suspension parts. This could cause a catastrophic loss of steering. Run the VIN through NHTSA.gov to ensure your 2016 CX-3 has had this resolved by a dealer, free of charge. The second affects all CX-3s. The liftgate support struts may corrode, causing the lift gate to unexpectedly close. Mazda dealers will replace the struts free of charge but you may have to be patient as there is a shortage of the proper parts. There have been 8 complaints filed with the NHTSA as well, a lower than average figure.
There are three disconcerting reports of unintended acceleration that are impossible to verify, though worth noting nonetheless. Technical Service Bulletins are more trustworthy, as multiple complaints must be verified before the NHTSA issues one. One we’d be particularly wary of, is an issue with the Smart City Brake Support system. It may unintentionally brake because of regular oncoming traffic or a harmless object in the road. It may be better to hold off on the advanced safety features until Mazda fixes this potentially hazardous problem, it also saves you money!
Very few of the TSBs were mechanically related, indicating the Mazda’s important parts are solid. Most were infotainment system related. Various error messages and phone connectivity issues can mostly be resolved by a) taking the vehicle to the dealership for a software update or b) disconnecting the battery terminal for 30 seconds and reattaching it. B is basically the car equivalent to the old “unplug-replug” that solves ninety-nine percent of electronics issues. That’s advice from the Technical Service Bulletin intended for certified mechanics, but it’s easy enough for anyone to do. Besides the growing pains of advanced electronics, it’s reasonable to expect exceptional reliability out of all the important stuff. This Mazda won’t let you down for years to come.
The CX-3 is most often compared to the HR-V, but we’d prefer to offer an intriguing alternative: the Fiat 500x. The little Fiat SUV offers even better performance in the POP trim that’s only available with a six-speed manual. The handling isn’t quite as refined as the Mazda but the third pedal makes up for it. No amount of engineering in an automatic can make up for the feeling of shifting your own gears, something of which we’re sure the makers of the Miata are aware. We know the automatic is a wise business decision, but they left the door wide open for Fiat to earn the enthusiast’s dollar. Higher trimmed 500xs receive a larger 2.4L engine and ZF 9 speed automatic that’s more refined than the Mazda’s six speed.
The automatic 500x is a little slower than the CX-3 from a dead stop but more gears make it more responsive when navigating traffic in real world driving. We think the interior of the 500x is the only other interior in the class that rivals the CX-3. It’s unique and stylish in a nontraditional way with body matching interior panels and the most comfortable steering wheel on the market. The Fiat’s Italian character does come with a caveat, reliability for the brand has been a trouble spot. However, there isn’t much evidence to suggest the 500x is all that bad. It probably isn’t much worse than the Mazda, but we have to give the edge to the CX-3 in that category until more information is available. The Fiat also has more second-row space and cargo capacity than the CX-3, not that either is all that spacious nor is that the purpose of a subcompact SUV. Both provide incredibly fun driving experiences while standing out from the budget competition and we have a tough time choosing between the two, so you’ll have to drive them both and let us know what you think!
The Sport trim starts at $19,960 generously equipped with automatic headlights, HD radio, variable intermittent wipers, Pandora integration, SMS text function, rearview camera, push button start, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB port, Aux input, tilt and telescopic steering column, 6 speaker audio system, and 7in Mazda Connect infotainment system. There are no packages available on this trim but Mazda would be honored to sell you mobile start for $550, rear parking sensors for $495, and roof rails for $300. All Wheel Drive can be equipped for an extra $1,160. The $21,960 Touring trim adds body colored power side mirrors with integrated turn signals, leatherette-trimmed seats with cloth insert, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, driver’s armrest, Mazda advanced keyless entry system, blind spot monitoring system, rear cross traffic alert, and 18in aluminum alloy wheels.
All Wheel Drive can be had for $1,160 extra. The sole Premium Package provides a SiriusXM radio with a subscription, a Tonneau, Bose 7 speaker audio sound system, and power sliding-glass moonroof with interior sunshade and one-touch open. Mazda would be delighted to sell you mobile start for $550, rear parking sensors for $495, an auto-dimming rearview mirror for $300, and roof rails for $300. The top Grand Touring trim furnishes LED headlights with auto leveling, LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, LED combination taillights, adaptive front-lighting system, power sliding-glass moonroof with tilt feature, leather-trimmed seats with Lux Suede insert, steering wheel paddle shifters, Bose surround sound system with 7 speakers, Mazda navigation system, active driving display, and Tonneau cover for $24,990. The I-Activsense package adds Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Close Proximity Warning, Smart City Brake Support System, Smart Brake Support System with Collision Warning, lane departure warning, high beam control, and Distance Recognition Support System for $1,170. All Wheel Drive may be purchased for an additional $1,160. Mazda wouldn’t mind selling you mobile start for $550, rear parking sensors for $495, an auto-dimming rearview mirror for $300, and roof rails for $300.