By on September 14, 2016

2017 Mazda CX-3 Sport

Sometimes a manufacturer churns out a base trim that is — all things considered — the primo choice for that particular model. Here’s an example.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. Another bloody crossover. But before you scroll down to re-read one of Jack’s breathless exploits or Sajeev’s rants on automotive style, permit me the following: what would happen if Mazda spent all its R&D budget shoehorning a rotary engine into the upcoming MX-5 RF?

They’d go bankrupt, that’s what would happen. While the keyboard warriors inhabiting dusty corners of the internet would undoubtedly put down their stale popcorn long enough to cheer, the rest of the world (y’know, those of us who actually buy cars) would read the rotary reviews with interest then promptly stampede to a competing dealer to sign on the dotted line for something with a high beltline and a modicum of practicality.

In base Sport trim, the CX-3 stickers at a take-out dinner under $20,000, yet sees fit to include such niceties as air conditioning, a seven-inch touch screen billboard, and a helpful backup camera. All-wheel drive is a $1,250 option and wholly unnecessary unless your backyard decor includes — as mine did for eighteen years — polar bears and a couple of icebergs. An angry version of Mazda’s KODO design language makes the base CX-3 one of the more stylish options in this category to this jaundiced eye, particularly when slathered in a few gallons of $0 Dynamic Blue Mica paint.

The SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine sees fit to channel a pleasingly symmetrical 146 horsepower and 146 pounds-feet of torque. Acceleration is helped by the CX-3’s diet of Lean Cuisines, contributing to curb weight well under 3,000 pounds, 200 lbs less than a base Jeep Renegade. Mazda’s six-speed auto is the sole transmission of choice but manages to avoid any sort of comparisons to slushboxes of yore. The suspension is firm enough to recall Mazda’s core values of sportiness and a rip to the redline will help you forget, if only for a moment, that you got talked into buying a subcompact crossover.

Sure, our ME wasn’t totally enamoured with this thing, but he’s generally delusional (as proven by his decisions about moving day). I will agree the CX-3’s value proposition loses its luster as it zoom-zooms its way into the high $20,000 bracket, and rear seat space is poor for anyone past the fifth grade. At the instant ramen end of the subcompact crossover scale, however, the base CX-3 checks many of the right boxes. Now, do the sensible thing and go buy a Mazda3 hatchback instead.

Not every base model has aced it. The ones which have? They help make our automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you’d like to see in our series? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate our selections.

The model above is shown with American options and is priced in Freedom Dollars. As always, your dealer will probably sell for less.

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36 Comments on “Ace of Base: Mazda CX-3 Sport...”

  • avatar

    The only thing “crossover” about that blue midge is the beltline crossing over your sightlines. Otherwise it’s just a small hatch.

    BTW, why does Mazda short the cabin space in favor of their ridiculously long snouts? Moar cab-forward, please.

    • 0 avatar

      The long snout is to accommodate the header that is part of the Skyactiv system. It’s kind of like Mazda already put a performance part on there for you. The really unusual thing is that it gives a FWD vehicle RWD proportions.

      • 0 avatar

        “Mazda already put a performance part on there for you”

        Rather presumptuous, wot? Gimmee more room and less zoom-zoom.

        • 0 avatar

          If that’s what you want you have a lot of options. You should be happy.

        • 0 avatar

          But zoom-zoom is what you buy the Mazda for, presumably.

        • 0 avatar

          I wouldn’t call it presumptuous – it’s more for mileage than performance. The Skyactiv approach to efficiency is to use a very high compression ratio, which means it’s more important than usual to keep temperatures down and prevent knock. The long header keeps hot exhaust air from getting back into the combustion chambers before the valves close. (Or something like that.)

          They’re betting that enough buyers will prefer high mileage (plus the reliability of not having a turbo or CVT) over rear-seat space.

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks for the cogent response. I Google imaged the Skyactiv layout and see the fitment problem.

            Now, my admiration for the Japanese ganbatte spirit is second to no one’s, but it’s sad to see misdirection/desperation turn all that striving and labor into dork.

            Was Mazda around in the midget-sub era?

    • 0 avatar

      Ever since the original Mazda 3 hatchback, I’ve always felt that Mazda had taken a liking to the PT Cruisers proportions.

      At Corey:
      Beat me to it!

  • avatar

    “Now, do the sensible thing and go buy a Mazda3 hatchback instead”

    I thought the CX-3 was build on the Mazda2 platform? Which we can’t get anymore unless you want to buy a Toyota. CX-5 is built on Mazda3 underpinning.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      The CX-3 is priced like a 3 hatchback, so I’d agree that if you are going to spend $20-27K the 3 is a far more sensible way to do it.

      • 0 avatar

        Plus, you can get the 3 with a manual (and it’s not some unicorn – there are lots of ’em out there).

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Yeah, it’s a no-brainer from my point of view. The 3 is a great car even with the base engine and it’s just right across the showroom. I understand why CX-5 sized CUVs are selling like bonkers. I don’t yet get it for things like the CX-3

          • 0 avatar

            You know folks gotta have them some compact CUV, though…hell, if people will buy a Chevy Trax, they’ll pretty much buy anything. And if it were down to something like the Trax, or the CX-3, I’d take the Mazda for sure. It’s a decent little car. It’s even good to drive. But the 3 that is sitting 20 feet away goes for less, and it’s OUTSTANDING to drive.

  • avatar

    ace of base? you kidding me. This car is unusable and overpriced

    • 0 avatar

      Unusable? It can’t be driven? That’s awful. I can’t believe you’d spend $20k for a car that will not move an inch.

      Oh, the back seat is small, so the entire vehicle is deemed “unusable”?

      As for the price, have you seen what is out there for $20k?
      This is more expensive than the Renegade but cheaper than the Chevy Trax. The Honda HR-V is ever so slightly cheaper, but only with a manual trans. $20k is right in line with its competitors.

      You’re missing the point, though, the idea is that the base model of this vehicle has a lot of content you’d normally pay a lot more for.

      As for the vehicle itself, the author clearly states that you should buy a car instead of this.

      • 0 avatar

        Back seat is not just small… if you ever went to take a dump in outhouse, where you don’t actually sit on the hole but squat over it. Well, this is the way you sit in CX3.

        Yea, for less then 20, I can get Camry, Mazda3, and whatever else. You know… yea, they are bigger, more comfortable, safer, etc

        • 0 avatar

          My biggest complaint about the interior is the shortness of the seats. I’m a fit 5′-10″ and can comfortably sit behind myself, so I’m sure the size is adequate for many. Particularly the single females that this is targeted toward.

          My 5′-0″ friend wanted to buy a vehicle this small, for ease of parking both on the street and in her tight garage. But she didn’t like the visibility from her driving position and went with a brown, manual Mazda3 GS Sport instead.

  • avatar

    It’s time to stop touting back up cameras as some kind of impressive feature in a base model. They are required by law (at least here in the states).

    • 0 avatar

      I think the mandate doesn’t take effect until May 2018, but the spirit of your criticism is spot on. Manufacturers have been including cameras for some time now in anticipation of the law and because it’s cheaper than effecting a redesign a couple of years down the road. It’s not some sort of “Golly gee, this is generous!” phenomenon, as all too many scribes indicate.

  • avatar

    We looked at one when my wife was shopping for a replacement for her ’09 Honda Fit. We found it quite ridiculously small inside. Stylish, yes, but not much in the way of “utility”.

  • avatar

    Honest question, is this a review? It reads more like a press release. I could have penned this in about an hour just reading specs on this car.

    • 0 avatar

      “Sometimes a manufacturer churns out a base trim that is — all things considered — the primo choice for that particular model. Here’s an example.”

      • 0 avatar

        I’d say in the case of the CX-3, the base model is the only one that even remotely makes sense. These things get stupid expensive when you option them up.

        • 0 avatar

          Just like the Tiguan.

          • 0 avatar

            And I’d probably take the Tiguan, truth be known – those VW turbos are awesome in low speed traffic because of all the torque. The Golf I drove felt effortlessly fast around town with the 1.8T and the Tiguan has the 2.0. When you push the 1.8T it poops out, but that in-town power is A-plus in this class. Plus I’m sure VW is giving these away.

            With the CX-3, you have to engage the sport setting on the transmission (which works great, actually), and really lean on it, or it’s a dog.

  • avatar

    We were quite interested in a CX-3 at one point. We’ve owned a Mazda6 and Mazda5 previously, so we should be decent prospects for Mazda to get us back into the brand.

    Here is what torpedoed the idea of buying one, in case Mazda cares:

    The best value for the buck, for us, was the Sport AWD. Try finding one of those in our area. At first, I thought inventory would improve after launch, so we waited. And waited. Continually, loaded out Grand Tourings kept showing up, or Tourings with sunroof. The value proposition declined significantly from the level of T with S and up to GT.

    Front wheel drive Sports did show up from time to time. No. At that point, I’ll just buy a Mazda3 hatch, thank you.

    So, Mazda refused to send Sport AWD units to my city of 2 million people, in an area that gets snow in the winter. The local Subaru dealer can’t keep Imprezas and Crosstreks in stock, but Mazda won’t send low end AWD CX’s if you pay them to. The Honda dealer down the street is selling LX AWD HR-Vs right off the truck.

    Next issue. If I want a CUV, I want at least a minimum of ground clearance. Something better than a small sedan. The CX-3 front bumper or valance or whatever you want to call it is ridiculously low to the pavement. That thing is going to get smashed into a curb, or torn off when I hit a piece of ice that fell off a semi truck on the road. Give the dang thing at least a shred of toughness, of SUV pretense. A smaller Maz3 hatch does nothing for me. Mazda, you may note that Subaru took the Impreza, with its horribly under powered engine, jacked it up on stilts, and it sold like hot cakes. Lift the Gee Dee CX-3 up a little. Or, do the Crosstrek treatment on your 3 5 door. Lift that bad boy two inches, stick AWD under it. Watch the money roll in.

    Last: cargo room. The Honda HR-V has a pleasantly surprising amount of hauling space. The CX, you can barely fit a box of Kleenex back there. Double Yoo Tee Eff Mazda.

    We’d have overlooked the limited cargo space if the CX-3 sat an inch or two higher, and most importantly had someone less brain dead managing lot stocks in our metro. Lots are loaded with AWD and FWD Grand Touring. Who buys tiny crossovers at those prices? Hardly anyone, judging by the monthly sales reports. MINI shoppers, maybe?

    Offer to Mazda: Pay me as a subcontractor for 6 months to get your inventories into some sort of mix that will actually sell. Watch sales double. You’re welcome. :)

  • avatar

    I drove one of these not too long ago…love the styling (particularly from the rear), but it’s sort of underwhelming to drive, and the back seat is dinky. The base model I drove didn’t have a center armrest, which was sort of awkward with the high seating position (you have to step up to a higher trim level for that). I wasn’t crazy about not having a manual available either (though the automatic worked darned well).

    Better bet: a Scion iA (or whatever Toyota’s calling it now – same platform with a slightly smaller engine, and you can get it with a manual). One wishes Mazda had also imported the slick 2 hatchback.

    Or, as others have mentioned, a base 3 hatchback, which is a lot less money, has a far better back seat and is one of the best driving compacts extant.

    Oh, and yeah…there are plenty of them around with manuals.

    But if you’re evaluating this as “ace of base,” then the base CX-3 is definitely the way to go – load these things up and they push almost 30 grand, which is ridiculous for this car, particularly when the CX-5 right next to it is vastly better at the same price point. And speaking of the CX-5 and ace of base…

  • avatar

    For only $1800 more you can get a base CX-5, which is not only bigger, but has a proper clutch pedal.

  • avatar
    Trucky McTruckface

    So the CX-3 is such an amazing value in base trim that it merits a whole article, but you should still buy a Mazda3 instead?

    The pointlessness of this series never fails to amaze me.

  • avatar

    One thing Mazda has had right since there has been a Mazda is their paint colors. Mazda has amazing color availability on their vehicles. The only two companies that do red better is Porsche and Ferrari – for one example.

  • avatar

    The CX-3 isn’t a bad vehicle. The driving dynamics are not as impressive/fun as the CX-5, but it is a smaller and less expensive vehicle. The interior design, in the GT trim, appears to be high-end and it looks nicely modern. I really like the round air vents. The front seats are comfortable, with proper side bolstering. At higher revs, the engine note is very noticeable and sounds proper for a small “driver oriented” vehicle. It is very quick to start at red lights. The back seats are useable if the front seats are adjusted to the middle front/back adjustment. And, overall, it is a decent and relatively inexpensive compact 4WD hatchback. I recently had an opportunity to spend some time driving one of these. If this is your sort of thing, I’d recommend one. And, because I was impressed with it, I bought one for myself (a new 2017 GT which hasn’t yet been delivered to me). I’ll keep you posted on my (and my kid’s…who recently started driving) continued experience with it. I hope that it proves to be a good vehicle for my family to share.

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