Editors note: This column has been edited for space. The full version is available online.
Mazda has a new compact crossover for 2016, the CX-3, fifth in a lineup of new-generation Mazdas featuring a full range of SKYACTIVE Technology and KODO-Soul of Motion design.
KODO was introduced in 2010, fully 50 years after Mazda launched its first passenger car, and was an evolution of the concept of design “motion” – especially athletic, sporty motion – to make vehicles exciting to view and to drive.
That theme has expanded to incorporate “motion inspired by nature,” such as the “strength, beauty and tension found in the instantaneous movement seen in animals,” according to Ikuo Maeda, head of Mazda’s Design Division.
The CX-3 is available in three trims – Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring – with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, priced from $18,960 to $26,240.
CX-3’s 146-horsepower SKYACTIVE-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine delivers powerful driving performance and excellent fuel economy. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard and helps provide that fuel economy, along with smooth, powerful acceleration and a direct-shift feel similar to a manual transmission.
EPA ratings are 29 mpg city/35 highway for front-drive models, and 27/32 for all-wheel drive.
No matter what the road conditions – dry, wet, or snow covered – the new-generation i-ACTIV AWD with active torque control coupling is ready to seamlessly adjust power to the wheels that need it most.
By monitoring outside temperature, acceleration, braking patterns and driver intentions, and utilizing a front wheel-slip warning detection system, the CX-3 is able to deliver excellent drivability and vehicle stability. The system prevents tire spin and excessive rear-drive operation, thus helping to conserve fuel.
CX-3’s bold grille features seven horizontal fins with silver-painted edges and a signature chrome wing outlining the bottom edge, extending into the adaptive LED headlights with an integrated line of LED daytime running lights, both conveying a sense of speed.
The lighting signature surrounding the low beams connects seamlessly to the headlight signature. The turn signal is positioned outside the main headlight housing, all together creating a narrow design suggestive of eyes staring forward. Wrap-around LED combination taillights are visible from the side as well as the rear.
From the side, the CX-3 appears larger than life, thanks to the rearward rise of the front fenders, lying beneath the front roof pillar. A long nose with flowing shape, a cabin section with blacked-out pillars, and a large solid rear body communicate strength and power. The rear features a short overhang design, adding to the clean, powerful appearance.
Eight exterior colors are available, including new Ceramic Metallic and two additional-cost colors; Soul Red Metallic for $300 and Crystal White Pearl for $200.
Interiors come in Black Leather or Black/Parchment Leather, both featuring dark red trim on the door armrests and floor console knee pads, and red piping on seat cushions where different materials meet.
Sixteen-inch wheels are standard on the Sport and Touring models, with 18-inch on the Grand Touring model. The 18-inch wheels feature thick sculpted spokes painted gunmetal gray with contrasting machined-metal edges, wearing all-season tires.
My review vehicle was an attractive Ceramic Metallic Grand Touring AWD with striking Parchment/Black interior showing red contrast stitching on the black bolster edges. Lighter Parchment on the thigh cushions, back cushions, bolsters, headrests, and across the dash visually opened up the space.
The interior was inviting, with a high-quality, sophisticated feel. Deeply sculpted door trim featuring quilted ultrasuede panels produced a sense of snugness and comfort, along with the plush quilted ultrasuede seat cushions and soft bolsters. The instrument panel shade was also covered in soft material with a stitch-like finish at the edge for a more-polished, mature feel.
Entry and exit were easy, and the heated front sport seats were roomy, with plenty of shoulder room and distance between, and there was enough legroom — 41.7 inches — for even my tallest passenger. Headroom in the front was 37.6-inches, with 37.2-inches in the back; rear legroom was just 35-inches.
With the rear seats set slightly higher, rear passengers had better visibility out the front. They were also able to converse with passengers sitting diagonally opposite in the front.
Vibration-absorbing urethane foam material in the seat cushions and seatbacks, along with the shape and firmness of the seats and a lower center of gravity, made the ride comfortable and secure.
Extended seatbacks in the rear made those seats feel roomier. The rear seatbacks folded 60/40, making room for a headboard and footboard, and lots of extra stuff I had to haul. Cargo area behind the rear seats was 12.4 cubic feet, which expanded to 44.5 cubic feet with the seatback folded flat.
The driver’s position, with a six-way manual seat, allowed greater visibility out the front, and, with the heated power mirrors mounted on the body of the doors, the field of vision between the front window and the mirror was wider.
Visibility out the back was also improved with the addition of quarter windows at the rear pillar. The longer footwell, thanks to forward positioning of the front wheels, and the distance between the pedals allowed me to reach the pedals more naturally.
Mazda’s Heads-up Cockpit concept puts all the displays and controls in the most user-friendly positions. The position of the shift knob on the floor console allowed me to move my hand smoothly from wheel to shifter, and to shift effortlessly. The commander control knob and buttons behind the shifter featured a handrest for comfort and stability during operation. A cup in the cupholder directly behind the handrest made resting my hand awkward, however.
A heads-up display (Mazda calls it the Active Driving Display) directly behind the steering wheel, part of a GT i-Activsense Package for $1,920, showed my speed and the distance setting for the radar cruise control, as well as navigation information including next-turn and distance-to-turn.
The thin screen pops up from the dash when the engine is started. The height of the display can be adjusted as needed using the center controller. The adjustment is, however, buried deep in several folders instead of a simple button on the dash – I had to refer to the owner’s manual -- frustrating.
The package included Smart City Brake Support, Smart Brake Support, Variable Rain-sensing Wipers, Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Auto On/Off Headlights, and High Beam Control.
Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support help avoid or reduce the severity of a frontal collision by detecting objects or vehicles ahead and adjusting or automatically applying the brake and reducing engine output.
Smart city brake works at speeds less than 20 mph, while smart brake works at highway speeds up to 90 mph by detecting objects or vehicles up to 600 feet ahead. Distance is displayed on the heads-up display, and an alarm is sounded, giving the driver time to react appropriately. Smart City Brake Support also includes Acceleration Control to help avoid unintended acceleration if the accelerator is depressed instead of the brake pedal.
Radar cruise control also helped maintain distance between vehicles, with the distance shown on the display and set by the driver. Mazda made the display visible even with the driver wearing polarized sunglasses.
My CX-3 had a Bose audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3/Satellite/HD radio, auxiliary jack and USB port, using seven speakers for excellent sound throughout the cabin. The simple navigation system also used the audio’s seven-inch color screen, and all systems were operated using the Multi-function Commander Controls on the center console.
Buttons for audio and navigation made switching the screen between the two simple. The navigation graphics were basic, except for the topographics (hills, valleys, and water) and the nighttime/cloud cover gray scale visuals.
Mazda Connect, the built-in infotainment system, also offered Pandora, Stitcher Internet Radio, Social Media Connectivity, Aha Internet Radio, and SMS Text Response. Bluetooth phone and audio streaming were standard, as was a rearview camera, power moon roof, and a tonneau cover for the cargo area.
Active safety measures include Mazda’s i-ACTIVESENSE advanced technologies, using sensing devices such as milliwave radar to ensure safe driving in all situations. Passive safety features build on Mazda’s high-strength SKYACTIV-BODY, with seatbelts and air bags, specially designed front seats and door armrests, and technology to protect pedestrians. The high strength body absorbs impact energy to suppress cabin deformation.
Base price for my CX-3 was $26,240. With the i-ACTIVSENSE Package, a Remote Start package for $550, and $880 destination charges, the total delivered price was $29,690.
The CX-3 handled well, and the ride was comfortable and smooth, except for some jerking from the radar cruise control when the vehicle ahead changed lanes, a vehicle unexpectedly moved into my lane, or I changed lanes to pass a slower vehicle.
The appearance of the new Ceramic Metallic exterior was also interesting, in that it changed subtly depending on the light level.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.