2018 Mazda CX-3: Big fun in a small package

You get a lot standard in the 2018 Mazda CX-3. Large seven-inch display, wide-angle rearview camera, push-button start, air conditioning, internet capable radio, cruise control, and get this… a six-speed manual transmission! You don’t see many of those anymore. And you get Mazda’s new “G Vectoring Control” system. More on that later.

The “base” GX I drove arrives ready to go for $22,025, and that includes freight/fees (nice of Mazda Canada to include the freight in the stated price). It’s front-wheel drive, of course (you can get all-wheel drive but not with the manual shifter), and with its zippy 2.0L, 146-horsepower engine and (for an extra $575) navigation system, this would be a very complete and competitive package. Fuel consumption is an economical 8.2/6.9 L/100 km, and regular grade gasoline is specified.

My first impression of the CX-3, however, was that it’s smaller than I expected. Really, in pictures it looks quite the formidable vehicle, but in person it’s more of a small hatchback car with the ground clearance of a compact SUV. This is not surprising as the platform of the CX-3 is the diminutive Mazda2 (Mazda doesn’t sell that car here anymore, but the platform obviously continues).

So the CX-3 is very much in the subcompact class of crossover vehicles, which has its plusses and minuses.

Exterior styling is appealing in my view: aerodynamic curves from front to rear, but with a sporty flair. The GX version rides on 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, but larger alloys are an option at extra cost if you want. The Eternal Blue Mica paint of my tester is a no-charge option, as are black and white if you’d prefer. Soul Red Mica and Snowflake White Pearl round out the colour palette and add $300 and $200 respectively. A black interior is standard regardless.

Inside, Mazda’s dashboard and controls represent one of the best examples in the business. Easy to read, understand and operate, the instruments, switches and knobs fall easily to hand and the centre-console mounted Mazda Connect control is handily located (with one exception) and intuitive. Materials all seem first-rate; nothing cheap looking here.

Performance is snappy! It’s a very sporty and responsive ride, with a willing engine and very satisfying and enjoyable shifting from the manual gearbox. Handling, likewise, is sharp and agile. In this regard, CX-3 follows Mazda’s approach found throughout its lineup. Sportier than most competitors, but by no means extreme. Entertaining, if you will.

Part of the explanation must be the G Vectoring System mentioned above, which received the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) award for Best New Innovation Technology in 2017. It operates by “adjusting engine torque, intentionally optimizing vehicle weight transfer during every day commutes and spirited drives alike,” according to Mazda. Seems to work!

So the plusses of CX-3″s compact dimensions are its nimble and enjoyable driving dynamics, and ease of maneuverability.

The only minuses have to do with interior space. Room behind the back seat is minimal (actually, it looks bigger than it is in my picture). If you’re a couple with a baby, for instance, this vehicle won’t give you the room you need for your stroller and gear plus occupants. You’ll have to go to the CX-5 if you’d like a Mazda, which of course will bump up the cost. Similarly, storage room for front-seat occupants is also in short supply. Lower the centre armrest, for example, and you’ll eliminate your drink holders (see picture below of my coffee cup, held captive under the armrest). Plus you’ve got your Mazda Connect control down there, also battling for access when you’re using the armrest. Rear-seat room? Cosy, to use a real-estate euphemism.

However, if you’re looking for a nimble hatch with the elevated height of a small SUV and you don’t need to carry too much gear (with the rear seat down, the cargo area significantly expands), I think you’ll love the driving experience that the Mazda CX-3 offers.

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