2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD

Mazda reminds us that crossovers actually can be fun to drive


So…just another crossover, huh?

Yes, but this one isn’t like the others. Crossovers are known for versatility and practicality, and the CX-3 has a bit of both. What sets it apart from its competitors is that it is actually entertaining to drive. Mazda has been pushing its Skyactiv Technology for a few years now, and its success as a means of balancing efficiency with entertainment is as good as it’s ever been. The CX-3 is not only amongst the lightest in class, but also one of the stingiest with fuel. You end up with a sprightly, chuckable little thing that easily trumps its competitors in terms of driver involvement. It really feels like a Mazda3 with higher ground clearance and AWD, mostly due to the fact that the CX-3 gets a bunch of its mechanicals handed down from the bestselling compact.

Will the CX-3 work off-road? Just how much “utility” does it offer?

It’s the same story here that you’re familiar with for all trucklets of this genre, and the answer is “not much”. Yet despite components that are heavily biased towards highway use, the CX-3 will acquit itself surprisingly well on some gnarly logging access roads- some of our colleagues did just that during the summer at an event Mazda put on, and each one in the convoy returned with nary a scratch. If off-road for you is pulling onto a gravel shoulder alongside a rural road, consider the CX-3 more than capable to handle whatever you’ll throw at it. If you favor the high-in-the-saddle driving position characteristic of a crossover, you may be disappointed with the CX-3; the carlike ride height won’t provide a commanding review of the road. Similarly, if schlepping lots of stuff around is your thing, the CX-3 cargo hold isn’t as commodious as some of the other players in this red-hot segment.

What’s under the hood?

Mazda has chosen its corporate 2.0 litre four cylinder for the CX-3’s motivational duties. Unburdened by a lack of turbos, this engine feels happy to rev while delivering decent horsepower- just don’t push it to the upper reaches of the tach. It feels coarse and a bit thrashy as the tach needle approaches the redline. Even though it’s very closely related to what you’ll find in the engine bay of the MX-5 we tested recently, they differ quite a bit in their character. The engine isn’t about churning out power but rather to deliver admirable efficiency- we achieved 10L/100km over the course of our test which heavily favoured commuting-type scenarios. (Fun Fact: the 2.0 four features a stratospheric 13:1 compression ratio, higher than a Ferrari 458 Italia.) It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox that feels as lively as the rest of the powertrain, intuitively dropping a gear or two under heavy braking and providing snappy upshifts. It’s got a Sport mode, but it makes the engine and transmission conspire to make the CX-3 feel too frenetic around town. It’s a bit disheartening to hear that Mazda won’t offer a manual gearbox for the CX-3, but we can’t blame them- this is an increasingly rare option for the CUV class, and even the whole automotive landscape as a whole.

Which trim level should I get?

If your CX-3 will see winter duty, it wouldn’t hurt to get AWD. There is a negligible penalty in fuel economy and the price of admission is not too bad either. Having a look at the various trim offerings, it would appear that the GS AWD model represents the best value- it has a good amount of standard kit and you get a few things found in the GT trim as was our tester. When you step up to the GT, you’ll get a bunch of stuff that is impressive for this class-rear cross-traffic alerts, paddle shifters and full LED lighting. Another thing all GTs get is a Heads-Up Display, although it seems a bit like an afterthought- worse still is the fact that you can’t get rid of the little plastic screen that rises up every time you start the car, so we added turning the system off as part of our routine prior to setting off. The only other concern we have is related to price- the GT is fairly close to a nicely equipped example of Mazda’s own CX-5, and is more expensive than a similarly outfitted Mazda3.

Any other concerns?

There are a few, but nothing major. Excess wind and tire noise have dogged Mazda’s for years, and we’re afraid the CX-3 is no exception. The Skyactiv engine sounds particularly grumbly on cold start-ups but calms down once everything comes up to temperature. We also wish for a few more inches of rear seat legroom, as well as a little more space in the cargo area.

So what’s the verdict?

While we wish Mazda would offer a manual transmission option (or even more of a longshot, a Mazdaspeed version) to turn the CX-3 into a compelling hybrid of a hot hatch and crossover, it is still easily the most inspiring car to dive in its class. It also manages to avoid the bloated box-on-wheels look that afflict some of its competitors- actually, it wears its proportions rather well. If that along with impressive fuel economy and a nicely finished and well equipped cockpit sounds like a winning formula, you need to take one of these for a test drive.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD— Specifications

  • Price as tested: $31,090
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger CUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/All-wheel drive
  • Engine:  2.0 litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 146 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft.) 146 @ 2,800 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,339 kg (2,952 lbs)
  • Observed combined fuel economy: 10L/100 km (25 mpg)

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