Honey, I Shrunk The CX-5: The 2016 Mazda CX-3

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Mazda CX-3
The 2016 Mazda CX-3.
If you've read TireKicker before, you know of our admiration of and appreciation for the Mazda CX-5. In the past three years, what had been the "baby" Mazda crossover (smaller than the CX-9 and CX-7) never put a foot wrong.  But now, the CX-7 has been dropped from the lineup, the CX-5 is the middle child and there's a new baby in the family.

Rear view of 2016 Mazda CX-3
2016 Mazda CX-3.
The CX-3 is an entry into the hottest segment of the market...the truly small crossover.  Carmakers are still pouring into the fray, but at this point, the CX-3's most direct competitor is likely to be the Honda HR-V.

Were it not for ride height, you might think these are simply four-door hatchbacks, not crossover SUVs, but the combination of available all-wheel drive (which both our Mazda and Honda testers had) and true utility set them apart.

The CX-3 we drove was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring Model.  Equipped with a 2.0-liter engine making 148 horsepower (seven more than the HR-V) teamed to a six-speed automatic (versus the Honda's Continuously Variable Transmission), it delivers the same EPA estimated 27 mpg city and 32 highway as the Honda.  Base price for the top trim is $26,240....$400 more than the HR-V's fanciest.

As always, Mazda nails it on the fun-to-drive quotient.  Their vehicles are drivers' cars...simply more engaging than the competition.  It may have roughly the same power as the Honda, but the combination of a true automatic rather than a CR-V and Mazda's devotion to sports car-like handling make a huge difference.

Interior view of 2016 Mazda CX-3
2016 Mazda CX-3 interior.
The instrument panel will be instantly familiar to anyone who's been in the Mazda 3 or the new MX-5 roadster. There's just more room.  As usual, the seats are supportive, comfortable for the long haul, and the steering wheel is just the right diameter and thickness.  Navigation (standard on the Grand Touring model), audio and other functions are viewed on a permanently upright screen atop the dash. Some like it, some don't.  The criticism is that it looks like an afterthought. Our opinion: It puts the screen in a more natural line of sight, without requiring a taller dashboard, preserving the driver's view of the road.

There were three extra-cost options on our tester:  The Soul Red paint costs $300, Mazda Mobile Start is $550 and the GT-IACTIVESENSE package (radar cruise control, smart city brake support, variable rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning, automatic on/off headlights and high beam control) is $1,920.  Bottom line: $29,890.

Both the CX-3 and the HR-V are fine examples of the new breed of small crossovers. Neither would be a bad choice, and the Honda, based on the marque's history, is likely to last a lifetime.  But if you want or need the connection with the road...if you want an MX-5 but need a crossover, the CX-3 is the way to go.