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Mazda CX-3Mazda's new small SUV's a real winner  

By Jim Bray
July 23, 2015

Chalk up another hit for the "Zoom-Zoom" folk, if there's any justice left in the world. That's because Mazda's brand new CX-3 SUV/crossover is a terrific vehicle that should compete well in its market niche.  It's a fun little beastie that, like most Mazdas, is a relative blast to drive.

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The new CX-3 occupies the "subcompact crossover" segment, so it's competing with things like the new Honda HR-V, which I have yet to drive but look forward to opining about, as well as the Nissan Juke and others of that ilk. And of the ones in this niche that I have driven so far, the Mazda is easily the best "driver's car" of the bunch.

This is one of the reasons Mazda is my favourite Japanese car company right now, not so much because I think its vehicles are better than the other vehicles coming from the Land of the Rising Sun, but because of, well, "Zoom-Zoom." Mazda seems to put "fun to drive" on a pedestal, and they generally pull it off as well - and while I've dumped on the entry level Skyactiv engine when installed in the Mazda3 and the CX-5, because I don't think it offers enough oomph in those applications, it's actually a pretty good match for this little critter. 

The engine under discussion is a two litre inline four Mazda says puts out 146 horses @ 6,000 rpm, and 146 lb.-ft. of torque @ at a nice and low 2,800 revs. It's adequate for this vehicle, though of course I'd love it if they'd drop the larger, 2.5 litre Skyactiv engine into it (184/185 hp/torque) into it anyway. Dunno if that'll happen (it probably won't), but 'twould be very cool.

In the meantime, the CX-3 isn't really underpowered - I just like having as much "Zoom-Zoom" as humanly (or robotically) possible - and I'm confident its owners will be quite satisfied with how it moves along. The vehicle feels basically like a tall Mazda3 (even though it's supposedly based on the Mazda2) and since that's one of my favourite cars right now, I think that's a very good thing.

The CX-3 is instantly recognizable as a Mazda, which is also good, since Mazda's designers do an excellent job of making attractive and compelling vehicles. It's kind of like a CX-5 that's been shrunk like I shrank my tee shirts the day my wife was silly enough to let me do the laundry - though from the C pillar back it has its own unique appearance. Overall, the CX-3 looks muscular and sporty and even quite high end considering its relatively low entry price. Overhangs are short and the tight greenhouse actually imparts a better view outside than you might think judging from the vehicle's outward appearance.

Front wheel drive is standard on the lower end CX-3's, but Mazda Canada's sample came with the optional all-wheel drive system, with its active torque split. Oomph gets to the wheels via a smooth, six speed automatic transmission with a decent manual mode aided by paddle shifters that do a pretty good job.  The suspension - independent, MacPherson strut-type up front, with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and a Torsion beam bum - is pretty tight, which is also a very good thing if sporty handling is important to you.

Steering and brake feel are typically Mazda (in other words, just fine!) and the carmaker makes available the kind of nannies (blind spot, lane keeping, etc.) that are becoming nearly ubiquitous now, unfortunately. Fortunately, you can shut them off and, even better, they stay off when you fire up the CX-3 next time.

One thing that doesn't fire up automatically is the "Sport" mode, which tightens up the CX-3's responses very nicely. This isn't a big deal, I guess, but consistency would have been nice.

Even though the CX-3 is definitely entry level, you'd never know it from the interior. Oh, the rear seat's a tad tight, but what one isn't in this class - or even classes above? But the CX-3 looks and feels a lot more expensive than it really is, with good quality plastics and Mazda's current typical interior, which is minimalist from a buttons/switches standpoint but still classy and efficient.

This means that instead of hectares of knobs, buttons and switches, you merely get a couple of knobs on the centre console, one of which is the main controller and the other of which is the audio system's volume control.

The interface between the knob, the centre stack-topping LCD screen, and the humans using the stuff isn't the best in the industry, but it's better than lots of them. You also get a weird, flip up clear plastic panel atop the instrument panel that gives you a head's up display. This is the same as in other Mazdas but it still seems like an afterthought compared with the HUD's that project "onto" the windshield. That said, it works fine.

The CX-3 is available in a variety of trim levels, starting with the front drive GX ($20,695) and ranging up to the top line GT with the optional Technology Package ($30,495). The GS sits in the middle and all trim levels can be had with all-wheel drive (which is the only way the GT version comes). Mazda's sample was a loaded GT with the tech package - and option that gives you Smart City Brake Support, Blind Spot Monitoring(BSM), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), High Beam Control (HBC), and integrated Satellite Radio.

Being of the GT persuasion, it also featured leather and Lux Suede trimmed upholstery, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, full LED exterior lighting, a navigation system, a fine Bose Audio system with seven speakers and automatic climate control.

That's a lot of "Zoom-Zoom," especially for just over 30 grand.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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