Bursting the bubble: Youthful Mazda CX-3 making a good impression

All 2017 Mazda CX-3 models come standard with a 146-horsepower SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, featuring Sport mode. Mazda photo
All 2017 Mazda CX-3 models come standard with a 146-horsepower SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, featuring Sport mode. Mazda photo

Very often, when you’re in our position, where you see a lot of different vehicles, it’s only the new ones, or the ones with major overhauls that you remember. But this week’s tester sees very few changes from the previous model year, and yet was oh so memorable.

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is a subcompact SUV that sets itself apart within the growing subcompact SUV segment. SUVs are getting smaller and smaller, thus some are in danger of losing their spunk, attitude and general good lucks. They’re quickly becoming less and less an SUV and more and more a bubble on wheels.

But the CX-3 defies this trend and generalization. Now in its second year, the ’17 model continues the excellence that was introduced last year. Generally speaking, the second year of a new model is the one to pursue and consider, so that’s where this little SUV will thrive. Former Wheels editors Jimmy Dinsmore and Dave Mikesell take a look at this cute little ute.

JIMMY: On looks, the CX-3 bucks the "bubble" trend and offers an attractive, well-crafted SUV that actually looks like an SUV. A novel concept, for sure. The longer front end really makes the CX-3 something special. With chiseled grooves on the hood that slide up and over the side panels, it helps to give it an elongated look. The angle of the back end gives a stout posture to this SUV. The rear spoiler adds to the overall sporty appearance of the CX-3. But Dave, did you think the performance matches the exterior looks?

DAVE: Mazda takes a simpler, more traditional approach to the powerplant. There is a 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Response time to an accelerator punch is prompt and the absence of a robust horsepower number is barely noticed in town or on the highway because of a scale tip of 2,809 pounds (all-wheel drive adds 143 pounds). For quicker transitions, the top-level Grand Touring we both drove has paddle shifters. At just over 14 feet in length, the CX-3 delivers as expected with snappy handling. This is a driver's car, which fits the company's image.

JIMMY: Inside, the CX-3 once again raises the bar. The Grand Touring has leather seats, leather steering wheel and a luxurious feel to the interior. The baser trimmed CX-3 is a little more on the economical side when it comes to touchpoints, but overall the CX-3's interior is better than most of its competition, especially for the money.

Rear passengers will find legroom as well as head room to be ample. Two adults and one child could fit back there with ease and comfort. Behind the second-row seat there is 12.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the lower trims and only 10.1 cubic feet in the Grand Touring due to a subwoofer as part of an upgraded sound system. The rear seats do fold flat, which increases the cargo area to 44.5 cubic feet. This cargo area is below average within the segment.

DAVE: The Grand Touring model comes with invigorating dash components such as a large tachometer with digital speedometer and a heads-up display directly in front of the steering wheel. Throw in navigation, steering wheel audio and cruise control, and a sunroof and there is no shortage of amenities.

JIMMY: Fuel economy for the FWD version is 29 mpg/city and 34 mpg/highway. My AWD version had a slightly less rating of 27/32. In a week's worth of mostly suburban driving and one long highway trip, I averaged 30.4 mpg.

DAVE: Coming in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, CX-3s are available with an attractive entry price point of $19,960 for the RWD Sport and extensive features such as navigation, sunroof, leather and synthetic suede upholstery and steering wheel audio and cruise control ($24,990 for the RWD Grand Touring). All-wheel drive adds $1,250 to each trim. There is value to be had here.

JIMMY: Every carmaker is investing and engaging in the subcompact SUV segment. It's where the American consumer's interest seems to be. As such, the competition is tight. With this reasonable entry, Mazda has one of the most attractive offerings with a quality, comfortable interior. If it had a turbo engine, and was a little more engaging, it'd be one of the best little SUVs available.


  • Price/As-tested price………………………………………… $26,420/$28,810
  • Mileage…………………………………… 27 mpg/city; 32 mpg/hwy
  • Engine……………………………………… 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower…………………………… 146 hp/146 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission…………………………… 6-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels……………. All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point……………. Hiroshima, Japan