Road tested: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

We spend a week with Mazda's 2016 CX-3 and walked away rather impressed.


SEATTLE, March 7, 2016 —I admit it, I have a soft-spot for Mazda. Will that skew my report here? Perhaps a tad but it should be just fine. Why the soft spot for them? Well, they’re the only Japanese automaker that still cares about the driving experience and that is exemplified by their continued stance against going to CVT (Constant Variable Transmissions) in its vehicles.

The CX-3 is essentially an all-wheel-drive version of the 3 – similar size, look and engine. However, in the CX-3, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder develops only 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque (the 3 has 155hp and 150 ft-lb of torque). So why the difference? Well, it is powering an all-wheel drive i-ACTIV system which soaks up some of the power. It’s also interesting to note that the torque develops rather quick at only 2800 rpms – this is not only great for off-the-line performance but for off-road as well where torque is your friend.

The EPA rates this SKYACTIV model at 32 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 around town.

There is no manual transmission available, however, the six-speed automatic does a nice job of keeping things feeling sporty with its shift paddles and while having the car engaged in “sport mode”. Sport mode makes the gears hold much longer and give it a more aggressive downshift as well.

Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system is quite a bit more advanced than just your run-of-the-mill all-wheel-drive. It’s an on-demand system that constantly monitors conditions and will adjust power to wherever it needs to in order to maintain traction. In fact, it samples road conditions to the tune of 200 times per second. Additionally, it also takes into account ambient temperature, wiper operation and the amount of torque required to turn the front wheels. The end result is a system that can accurately predict when slippage will occur and leaves the driver with a seamless driving experience.

There’s not much to dislike about the exterior of this small cross-over – it has a great combination of assertive looks and stance. The body lines really do a great job of helping to wrap it all together, visually.

Internally, Mazda continues many of the design cues from last year and that’s a good thing. The combination of leather seating surfaces, soft-to-the-touch surfaces on the dash and other areas have a very modern and upscale look to them. In fact, the interior of the CX-3 looks better than some of its competitors that cost a great deal more. You’ll love the two-tone combinations that are used very tastefully thought out the cabin area.

While I realize this is a lower-priced crossover – really Mazda, manual front seats? Not sure who decided that at Mazda but they should fire themselves, immediately and pick their replacement. No car over $15k should ever have to subject use to manual seats – this is 2016 for crying out loud.

All of the seating feels great, is rather cozy and will help you get to your destination feeling rested with a well-cushioned back-side. Fewer things more frustrating than to end up feeling a bit “saddle-sore” after a road trip.

Our test model’s audio quality was sub-par – think of the Olive Garden of audio systems. Yes, the unwashed masses will find it to be “real Italian” but anyone with a discerning ear will yearn for more. We’d love to see Mazda put its higher-end Bose systems you can find in some of its other vehicles.

Mazda’s decision to implement a static infotainment screen in such a way that it looks as if it should be able to hide but doesn’t, can be a bit polarizing. Personally, I don’t mind it but it can take a bit of getting used to. Screen quality is above average in regards to color and contrast. The control knob, located on the shift column, is easy to use and augments the touch screen actions rather well.

You’d think the overall space inside would be the same as the Mazda 3 but it’s not – there isn’t as much leg room in the back, for example. So unless the front passengers are circus midgets and can ram their seats to the forward-most position, passengers over 5’8” may feel a bit cramped.

The 2016 CX-3 is actually a rather kick-ass compact SUV that should be at the top of every potential customer’s must-test-drive list. Sure there are other quality competitors out there but few offer the styling, superb all-wheel-drive system and great-looking interior of the CX-3.


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