Whether it’s small pastries, small pets or small clothes, people like little, cute things. So it’s no surprise that when the miniature or, officially, subcompact crossovers SUVs recently hit the scene, people went wild.
One of the pioneers of this new segment is the Mazda CX-3. I was present when it was first revealed to the public at last year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show and admittedly became smitten with its attractive appearance, which is saying a lot considering I’m not usually one for sport utility vehicles of any size or shape.
Even given its space-saving figure, you’d be hard pressed to guess the CX-3 is based off the tiny Mazda2 platform, granted the form factor does remind me more of a big hatchback than a shrunken SUV. There’s still 452 litres of cargo space in the back with the rear seats up, expanding to 1,528 with the seats down (GT models get a little less with 408/1,484, respectively).
Design language remains inspired by KODO, written all across the face with the stylized headlights and dominant grille. The blackened front lip, wheel arches, side sills, and rear bumper garnish lend the vehicle some off-road street cred.
Split into GX, GS and grade-topping GT trims, I tested the mid-tier GS in a lovely gleaming Ceramic Metallic colour. The $1,500 Luxury Package adds an instant upscale feel to the interior by providing black and red leatherette coverings on most of the otherwise plastic interior pieces.
Controls and displays are consistent with other recent Mazda offerings such as the floating seven-inch infotainment screen above the dashboard, the Human-Machine Interface media wheel/controls on the centre console and the neat all-in-one instrument cluster that has an inner ring showing the rpms and an outer ring for speed. Every trim level comes with the Mazda Connect system that offers your run-of-the-mill in-car apps and an ability to receive text messages and emails.
Power comes by way of a 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G engine pushing out 146 horsepower and a matching 146 lb-ft of torque. To make driving a little more fun, there’s a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, and there’s also a sport mode setting that changes the throttle response to add a little more torque into the mix when you step on the accelerator. Doing so does give you a kick in the pants, but the motor sounds like it’s working really hard to squeeze out every ounce of power from all four cylinders.
There’s an all-wheel drive option available, however, my press vehicle was equipped with front-wheel drive. Besides being excellent at saving fuel - my consumption numbers were 8.4 L/100 km in mostly city driving for the week - it’s about 64 kilograms lighter and 0.3 seconds quicker from 0-100 km/h, though I doubt many owners will be lining up to do quarter-mile runs.
The CX-3’s small-car underpinnings and sub-1 300 pound weight do make it one of the more fun crossovers to drive - and it needs to be - as this hot new crossover segment becomes more competitive by the minute with the likes of the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500x and Jeep Renegade. Just judging from the amounts of questions I was asked by curious members of the public who saw me driving around, I’d say Mazda is setting the bar pretty high with this one.
Highlights (as tested):
MSRP: $24,195 (base)
Motor: 3.2-litre Pentastar V6
Horsepower: 146 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 8.4 L/100 km city/highway combined (observed)