Expert Reviews

Long-Term Test: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT - Wrap-up

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Odometer at Pickup: 25 km
Odometer at Return: 12,157 km
Cost: $99.57 (first service)

The 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT made an impression from the very beginning, and that lustre never really faded.

This is a Goldilocks car, and I just happen to be Goldilocks.

Not only did the initial impressions of the high-quality interior and stunning exterior design carry on throughout the six-month test, but we also had the joy of seeing one of our predictions for this segment come true. In our long-term test arrival story back in May we mentioned that sales for the segment were down 9.5 percent year to date, and postulated that perhaps people were waiting for the HR-V and CX-3 to make the jump. We were right. With the HR-V and CX-3 picking up 7,000 and 5,000 sales respectively, plus the Subaru Crosstrek picking up an extra 1,100 sales, the segment is now up a whopping 48.7 percent.

I waited a couple of weeks to pen this wrap up, as I wanted to see if I would miss the little Mazda in that time, or if I’d be happy as soon as I was in the next thing, a thing with big horsepower and a fancy stereo. I do miss it, and that should be an indication of how good the CX-3 is. My four-year-old daughter misses it too, but she also misses the pet rock she lost in February.

The CX-3 is aimed at a particular bracket: one I happen to fit squarely into, even as round as I am. It’s a city-sized AWD that drives and handles like a car – and a good car at that. It’s maneuverable and easy to steer which is a boon in our condo parking garage. The size is adequate for our young family and the flexibility of the hatch meant I achieved a few Ikea runs without any drama. These were trickier when I had to bring Maddie with me. If you have one child this car is well-sized. Two and it might get cramped. If you like to carry a large stroller the trunk won’t do it.

This is a Goldilocks car, and I just happen to be Goldilocks. [Funny, I always picture you as one of the three little pigs… Ed.]

The driver's seat is infinitely better to be in than any other, with a lack of height adjustment making the passenger seat uncomfortable for taller folk. The back seat is really for children or frenemies only with limited leg room even if the high roofline makes for decent headroom. The lack of amenities like a covered console and armrest, plus the absence of a pull-down armrest (and therefore cupholders) in the back seat means the CX-3 is unlikely to enamour the non-driving members of your family quite the same way as your driving members.

Equally frustrating was the inability to turn on the rear reading light independently of the front.

It’s fair to say that Mazda’s focus for the CX-3 was myopic. Most of this car’s development was done from the driver’s seat. And the rewards for that effort are immense – so long as you’re the driver.

From the beginning: Arrival, June, June Supplement, July, August, September, October

Automatic high beams, cornering lights, and the head-up display are all high-tech features that make driving at night or low light far easier. The LED headlights, foglights and taillights are all features of this GT trim only (lower trims get halogen lights) but we were impressed by their performance and by their day-time visibility. Not to mention the sleek and attractive light signature.

We’ve raved consistently about the handling of the CX-3 and will continue to do so.

The 10.6 m turning circle (smaller than a Yaris hatchback) is perfect for parking-lot maneuvering and adds to the CX-3’s impressive agility. The rear suspension is a torsion beam – on paper an unsophisticated and plain option but one that applied here still develops confident road holding and traction. The front is a similarly basic MacPherson strut setup with only a stabilizer bar to support it (and only on the front) yet somehow produces convincing turn in and excellent mid-corner grip – all without sacrificing ride quality. In fact, the CX-3 rides well over most surfaces. It’s only real challenge? Larger speed humps and curbs.

It remains a shame that the CX-3’s powertrain can’t deliver on the promise of the chassis. A car that drives as playfully as this puppy deserves a little more pep – though whether it deserves this much alliteration is another story entirely. The 2.0L four is good for 146 hp and 146 lb-ft (#symmetry) at 6,000 and 2,800 rpm respectively which should be enough to shuttle the 1,339 kg subcompact SUV about. It’s a big step up from the Honda HR-V’s anemic powerplant but still needs more. As a result of the underwhelming numbers the CX-3 needs a lot of revs to get going, which means more engine noise, more vibration and more general fuss.

I should note here though that a heavier chassis and more sound deadening mean the CX-3 suffers a lot less from NVH and wind noise than the Mazda3, but why, oh why is there no sound insulation in the engine bay?

Official NRCan rating is 8.8/7.3 L/100 m city/highway, and we saw 8.2 L/100 km for our mostly-city and traffic-jam-riddled commute. I was hoping for better, but aerodynamics are aerodynamics and this is a tall vehicle. During our massive subcompact comparison test the CX-3 returned the second-best fuel economy, beaten only by the XV Crosstrek on the day (8.8 vs 9). The Honda HR-V recorded 9.2 L/100 km – with a lower-powered engine.

The interior materials held up extremely well to the ravages of my family. What you see in the photos is the result of six months and 12,000 km with a four-year-old. Spilled smoothies, mushed lollies, the lot. The leather on the outside edge of the driver’s seat showed some discolouration from my jeans – but one wipe with a microfibre cloth dealt with most of it. The Alcantara inserts in the seats remain clean and pill-free, the cream leather maintains its lustre and shape, and the dash-top leather is still at its best. Some of my friends even claim the CX-3 has kept its “new car smell”. All I know is that six months in, the quality of the interior materials and finish has been proven genuine. No façade here, just genuine quality.

Our GT was equipped with the seven-speaker Bose audio system with a boot-mounted subwoofer. It sounds great, but this meant the false-floor in the trunk that allows a few more inches of clearance under the cargo cover couldn’t be moved. Things like this are a minor frustration but a frustration nonetheless, especially when you consider the subwoofer doesn’t actually take up the space where the floor would sit, but merely takes up space where you need to slide it to lower it down. In short, a better designed system would allow both the boom box and false-floor to coexist more peacefully.

Some say the seven-inch infotainment screen – which by the way has some of the sexiest graphics I’ve ever seen – looks like an afterthought. I’ll let Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony take this one:

“On the occasions I swapped out of our long-term Corolla, the CX-3’s HMI interface felt like moving up a segment or into the luxury class. Yes, that’s because it clones the BMW iDrive interface, but it works, although with less features in the system, a similarly intuitive experience and ideal positioning for visibility with the least amount of distraction.”

We covered the whole system in-depth in long-term update No. 3.

Again, Mazda’s design focus is why the CX-3 is such a charming car. It drives beautifully, looks spectacular and the interior design is worlds above its price range, but the execution of the “liveability” components needs a little work.

The question Mazda is about to find an answer to is this: Is a fun-to-drive city car a valuable contender in the blooming subcompact SUV market? Will enough people pick the relatively high seat height, funky styling and fun-to-drive factor of this car over the cargo magic of the HR-V, or the “true SUV” ride height of the Jeep Renegade? Or the simple efficiency and slightly larger space of the XV Crosstrek?

Sales figures say an emphatic “yes”. When you consider the might of Honda’s sales network, the CX-3 (and Subaru Crosstrek’s) performance is brilliant. It shows that this segment of cars is flush with people who value style, driving dynamics and interior quality.

And we think those who have laid out their hard-earned money will continue to be very, very pleased that they did.

Pricing: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT with Technology Package
Base Price (GX): $20,695
Base Price (GT): $28,995
Options: $1,500 (Technology Package: Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning and satellite radio)
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,895
Price as Tested: $32,490

3 years/unlimited distance; 5 years/unlimited distance powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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