Driving doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t have to be a dull drudgery suffered between home and work, a soul crushing tin can exercise of sameness. Point in fact, it can, and should, be fun and interesting to get out and drive. That’s the premise behind Mazda, anyway, the idea that the power of mobility should actually thrill the senses and spark the imagination. From its former “Zoom-Zoom” advertising tagline to its SkyActiv engineering philosophy, that’s the goal behind every Mazda, and one that’s plenty apparent in the 2018 CX-3. After all, exceptions cannot be made for crossover SUVs.
The CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest crossover, and my drive in the 2018 version was a short one, featuring moderate cornering opportunities, ample time for sampling acceleration, and plenty of suburban-type traffic. As equipped, my CX-3 featured Mazda’s 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. The company’s G-Vectoring Control – which controls torque output to improve cornering – is standard. Feature-wise, pretty much everything in the car closet was bolted onto the test vehicle, starting with Grand Touring standard equipment such as 18-inch wheels, an adaptive front lighting system, and LED lights galore. Inside, the cabin included a power moonroof, steering wheel paddle shifters, an active driving display, navigation, and a 7-speaker Bose sound system. Sport seats were furnished in leather upholstery.
All in, the test vehicle’s sticker price was $29,615. That included Mazda’s Premium Package for $1,435, a pretty smart investment given the features tucked inside, from a 6-way power driver’s seat to adaptive cruise control with a close proximity warning system, a full-speed-range automatic braking system, a lane departure warning system, and more. If you strip the Mazda CX-3 down to the base Sport trim with front-wheel drive, you’d save almost $10,000. That would mean life with 16-inch wheels and less equipment, but you’d enjoy the same great powertrain. Interestingly, you can’t add option packages to the Sport model, and the popular Touring model (sticker price $23,445) is available only with a Preferred Package containing an upgraded stereo and a power sunroof.
Among tiny crossover SUVs, this is a driver’s car, focused on blending crossover comfort and a higher ride height with Mazda’s performance pedigree. This comes as no surprise, given that Mazda has invested heavily to position itself as a fun-to-drive brand.
That investment is easy to spot when you open the door to the CX-3 Grand Touring. Comfortably firm front seats and a nifty color head-up display that communicates your speed in a simple and effective way greet drivers, along with transmission paddle shifters and secondary controls on the steering wheel. From the driver’s seat, there’s only one source of complaint, and that’s visibility. A bigger greenhouse would help with the blind spots directly behind the car and to the rear passenger side, but that would likely ruin the appealing exterior design.
Overall, the interior predicts a positive driving experience. Indeed, driving the CX-3 for hours, or through commuter gridlock, would be a relative pleasure – relative because you’d have to endure the whining of backseat occupants stuck in afterthought land. Not saying we don’t love you, sad carpool friends. Still, though, the CX-3 loses significant points for its cramped rear quarters, and cargo room is also tight.
Then again, this is a sub-compact crossover, about the same size as the Mazda 3 and built on the global Mazda 2 platform (see: Toyota Yaris iA). If you want more room, move up the food chain to the Mazda CX-5.
This is a driver’s car. Did I already write that? Perhaps, then, it bears repeating, because the main reason to buy the Mazda CX-3, aside from its styling, is if you want a car that’s fun to drive. Getting to that smiley place is about finding the right balance across all facets of the CX-3 driving experience, though. While it’s not the fastest thing off the line, you do enjoy a spirited sprint. Body roll is controlled, and the suspension nicely absorbs bumps, potholes and rough roads. The seating position is meant for driving – not comfort. And while there are quieter crossovers, the CX-3 is plenty quiet enough.
Simply summarized, there is an unmistakable feeling of composure to the way the 2018 Mazda CX-3 drives that speaks to masterful tuning between power, ride and handling.
So go forth. Carve canyons. Just keep the invite list to one.