By on October 3, 2017

2018 Mazda CX-3 - Image: MazdaEvery Sunday or Monday, a very generous man appears in my driveway with a new car. The same man, in not as generous a fashion, also removes a car from my driveway. The most recent exchange involved the arrival of a fourth-generation 2018 Kia Rio and the departure of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Coupe we reviewed last week.

“Chilly one today, eh?” I say.

“I’m preparing myself for some cold days in PEI this winter,” Mr. Sowerby says with a chuckle. We chat for a moment about a recent Chevrolet Traverse event that was slathered across my Twitter feed, and as Garry gets into the Mercedes-Benz to depart he says, “You’re getting a Mazda CX-3 with a six-speed stick next week.”

Huh? It can’t be. Seriously?

For real.

But the manual-shift CX-3 is not destined for the United States.

Although Mazda has faced its share of struggles in Canada, the brand continues to exert itself far more successfully north of the border than south. Through the first eight months of 2017, Mazda owned 3.6 percent of the Canadian market but just 1.7 percent of the market in the U.S., where its sales are falling. And while the CX-3 is an afterthought both for Mazda’s U.S. dealers and for American subcompact crossover consumers, the Canadian success of the CX-3 plays a significant role in the brand’s 7-percent year-over-year growth through the first two-thirds of 2017.

As a result, while Mazda’s 2018 CX-3 continues to exclusively link the 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder to a six-speed automatic — a good automatic that makes that 2.0-liter feel surprisingly bubbly — Canadians will now be offered a six-speed manual. Few automakers execute a manual shifter as well as Mazda, so this will be a good opportunity for Canadian subcompact crossover shoppers to experience a little bit more of what makes Mazda Mazda.

Granted, few will do so. The six-speed manual offered by Mazda Canada is reserved for the base GX trim and can’t be paired with all-wheel drive. The benefit is a lower MSRP: in 2017, the least costly Mazda CX-3 in Canada stickered at $22,690, including $1,995 in fees. For 2018, Mazda drops the base price by $700 and will now advertise a sub-$20K base price (excluding fees): $19,995, or $21,990 before tax. The price of the basic CX-3 GX with a six-speed automatic, meanwhile, climbs by $600 to $23,290.

Capitalizing on a few more potential CX-3 buyers whose appetite for a manual transmission would have previously led them to the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai, Subaru Crosstrek, or Chevrolet Trax will serve some purpose. Being able to advertise a lower price on one of the segment’s leaders is perhaps even more important. The CX-3 owns only 3 percent of the U.S. subcompact crossover sector; it’s roundly outsold by the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, and Buick Encore in America. Even the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is twice as popular. But the CX-3 is one of the segment’s big dogs in Canada, claiming 13 percent market share and outselling every competitor so far this year except the HR-V.

As a result, despite a market that’s only one-eighth the size of the United States’ auto industry, Canadians buy very nearly as many CX-3s as Americans do. The 10,528-unit total achieved by the CX-3 in the U.S. so far this year is only 1.5 times stronger than Mazda Canada’s CX-3 total.

Introducing a manual-shift CX-3 in the United States would amount to a trivial blip on the radar. Doing so in Canada, where Mazda has far greater sway, might actually accomplish something.

[Images: Mazda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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32 Comments on “Mazda CX-3 Wants to Save the Manuals, Too...”

  • avatar

    Not sure why Mazda even bothers to sell a FWD CX-3…a 3 hatchback starts at $21630 Canadian, and offers far more backseat room, equivalent utility, and better performance.

    • 0 avatar

      The CX looks to have more wheel-to-fender clearance, for dealing with snow and slush. Could be a big deal in Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Because people buy it

    • 0 avatar

      The 3’s backseat is amputees-only as is so I can only imagine what the CX3’s is like. I like the looks of the CX-3, would like it better if it was lowered and didn’t have the cladding (it looks better than the 2)

      • 0 avatar

        No, it’s not “amputees only” in the 3’s backseat…I’m 5’10” and fit OK back there with the front seat where it’d be for someone my height.

        (I know, I shopped the 3 and made sure the back seat would accomodate my kids, both of whom are about my height.)

        I wouldn’t want to do a 500-mile trip back there, and it’s definitely smaller than the back seat in my Jetta, or a Civic, but it’s certainly adequate.

      • 0 avatar

        I sell Mazda’s in Canada. People who buy a CX-3 WANT something small. Our main client base the car is empty nest women 40+, who are typically married and have a husband with the “big” vehicle. They don’t particularly care about backseat space because its rarely used or, because they aren’t 6’2 (more like 5’5) there is still plenty of backseat space behind them anyways.

    • 0 avatar

      Size, looks, and ride-height. It’s small (a plus in my city, Montreal), looks a bit cooler to many than the 3, and the ride-height (even though only slightly different) is preferable to many for ingress/egress and slush/snow clearing abilities.

    • 0 avatar

      …the 3 is also a much larger car; the CX-3 is a tall 2 with plastic body cladding, sold at a premium to the fashion-conscious market…

  • avatar

    Hey Mazda – try 6 speed manual (with the big 4) and AWD. You might snag a few disaffected Subaru customers.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Hey PD-

      No one buys sedans. You want us to spend more money on a vehicle that is losing sales? How about you spend money on it. Or better yet, go buy a CX-5.



      • 0 avatar

        Who are you talking to? We’re talking about hatchbacks, like the CX-3 is. And what is Subaru’s 1, 2, & 3 best selling vehicles? The Outback, The Forrester, and the Crosstrek. A station wagon and two Hatchbacks. The Forrestor and Crosstrek are both available with a manual transmission. If the CX-3 and CX-5 had a 6MT and AWD available it would steal plenty of Subaru customers.

        • 0 avatar

          As far as stealing plenty of Subaru customers, I wonder what percentage of Foresters or Crosstreks are sold with a manual transmission. I’d guess somewhere in the single-digit percentage range.

          Assuming Subaru sold 90k Crosstreks a year, let’s say that 5% of those were stick shift. That’s 4,500 stick shift Crosstreks per year. Not many customers to steal at that number.

          Let’s go out on a limb and say that 25% of those people would have bought a CX-3 if a manual AWD variant had been available. I think that is way high, but let’s go with it. That means Mazda would have gained 1,125 sales.

          Not really worth it. Even at double my volume, it isn’t. Frankly, it’s a miracle Subaru offers the manual at all, let alone Mazda.

          I’d be interested to know how many manual, 4×4 Jeep Renegades FCA sells in the USA per year, on a related note.

    • 0 avatar

      Hell, just do the 2.5 and an automatic, and it’d be an improvement.

  • avatar

    As PD says. Manual, big engine, awd and decent convenience features. Why should I have to buy a plain roller skate just to have a stick.

  • avatar

    Canada loves their Mazdas. Back when my 2010 Mazda3 5-speed was new, crossing the border from U.S. to Canada, nothing unusual to speak off. Coming back, the border guard asked if I bought the car in Canada.

  • avatar

    Having just now returned from an errand in my Mazda 6 Touring with the 6 speed manual, I can say I really appreciate the availability of the manual in a mid-trim vehicle. It is too bad one cannot purchase a CX-3 with a manual transmission in the USA. It is also unfortunate Canadians have access to the manual in only the base-trim two wheel drive version of the vehicle. In my case, the available manual transmission is a big selling point. When it is not available, I feel like I need to comparison shop. That’s when I end up taking a close look at a Honda Civic SI sedan or coupe, a Chevy Cruze Diesel sedan or hatchback, one of a variety of VWs, a Subaru WRX, etc., etc. Because there are currently quite a few good choices out there that have available manual transmissions.

  • avatar

    Don’t know if “saving the manuals” is a North American issue. Because they are alive and well in Germany. Don’t know about the rest of Europe, but based on my research (looking through windows of parked cars), the vast majority of cars in Stuttgart have manual transmissions. And unless you specifically request an automatic tranny in your rental, it will have a manual transmission.

  • avatar

    I really enjoy these ‘preview’ commentaries on the cars in line to be reviewed, Tim.

  • avatar

    Is it that much cheaper to certify models for sale in Canada than the US? If you’re saying that Mazda sells “almost” as many in CA as in the US, but they have see the ROI in offering a transmission option there that they can’t here, then the only difference must be in the cost of doing so, no?

    I agree, though, only offering it in base FWD trim almost seems like an effort to prove the case that nobody wants to buy manuals anymore. “See, we offered it and nobody bought them,” I can see someone saying in a marketing meeting in two years.

  • avatar

    I’m not in marketing or compliance or any of that stuff. But I don’t understand why so many car companies put the manual in the base models, poverty-spec cars.

    I have to think most manuals are purchased by enthusiasts…and enthusiasts don’t want the bare bones cars, with the tiny engines, and without the AWD.

    Then they say the take rate is too small and kill the offering.

    • 0 avatar

      …that’s because in the ‘states, buyers are not the manufacturer’s customers, *dealers* are, and dealerships are much more interested in stocking cars they can quickly move to 95% of the market than in sitting on cars only 20% of the market will consider…

    • 0 avatar

      I used to manage inventory for a decent-sized VW dealership.

      The cool thing was, I was given the leeway to order oddball stuff. Back in those days (15 years ago), you could order all kinds of stuff from VW in manual transmission form. You wanted a stick shift, 1.8T Jetta wagon? No problem. Want that wagon with a V6 or a diesel? Sure. All wheel drive, stick shift Passat sedan? Done. These weren’t base cars, either. You could put options on them a la carte. You could get heated seats stand alone without leather, or with leather if you wanted. Stability control was a stand alone option. You could even order a top-end Passat V6 GLX with stick shift. Beetles, Golfs, Jettas, Passats, didn’t matter. Almost everything could be had with a manual transmission, and with options, too. The top end Passats and Jettas had power seats, auto climate, rain sensing wipers, and decent stereos, along with V6 power. Not bad for 2002-ish.

      Not only could you order options with manuals, but you had a lot of color choices. Not like Honda, for instance, where you get beige interior if you want white paint. If you wanted gold paint and grey leather on a Passat (horrible), you could have it. Charcoal exterior with butterscotch leather? Ok.

      So, I ordered those kind of cars from time to time. The stuff forum enthusiasts say they’d buy if it was only available.

      99% of the time, one of three things happened. The car rotted on the lot for an eternity. Lightning struck, and the one oddball customer came in and bought the car, but they wanted a huge discount because they had watched it on our lot for 6 months. Or, a dealer 300 miles from us had an oddball client show up at their store, and they asked us for a dealer trade. You pretty much gave up the car to them, because you’d need a car from them in short order, so saying no put you in a bad spot.

      As much as I hated to admit it, there just wasn’t much to be gained from being the car-guy inventory manager. You could only stock so many cars, and you had people beating the door down for automatic mid-level Jetta sedans. New Beetles would sell in two days if they were yellow or green and with an automatic. So that’s what you stocked. In the end, you’re in business to turn inventory for a profit, not have a cool car museum.

      Yes, the dealers are the customer of the factory, but what they ask for is based on what people walking in their doors ask for.

      • 0 avatar

        Fair points. I understand dealerships need to move the cars off their lots and meet sales quotas.

        But did you get many odd ball customers who were willing to put down a deposit and wait 2 months? I’d have no problem waiting for the car with the features and color I want. So instead of making educated guesses and buying various enthusiast configurations, could you build to order with the proviso that it could take some time for delivery?

  • avatar

    I had a 1st gen Mazda 3 and loved it. I somewhat like the current one, but there are a few things I find stylistically awkward. For me a CX-5 is slightly big, but a CX-3 would be just right with a couple inches of wheelbase and length.

  • avatar

    Any idea why Mazda is more popular in the Northernmost countries? It’s biggest market share is achieved in Iceland, Norway is #2 with 4.5%.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is steering feel. That’s what Mazda does best. With communicative steering, you can tell exactly how much grip is available in winter conditions every time you move the wheel. Many northern drivers probably don’t even realize why, but there’s an inherent sense of comfort when you can feel what’s happening between the tires and the road.

      Numb steering becomes unnerving when you’re used to experiencing huge variations in road conditions on a daily basis for months at a time. You have to drive excessively cautiously all winter, or just accept that you’ll occasionally have sudden moments of dangerously inadequate grip.

      Mazda suspension also tends to be quite communicative without being unnecessarily harsh. Again, perfect for winter conditions.

      • 0 avatar

        It makes sense, this is a huge part of how they win tests. But if I count who I know as new-Mazda-drivers in my network, I’ll have to emphasize the “many northern drivers probably don’t even realize why”-part of your post…lots of elderly men and women actually.

  • avatar

    “Mazda owned 3.6 percent of the Canadian market but just 1.7 percent of the market in the U.S”

    still many more sold in US

    “Few automakers execute a manual shifter as well as Mazda”

    I am yet to see one

  • avatar

    We are on the right track. Now we just need a the Mazdaspeed variant with about 300 HP, and let’s have a good full time AWD system on that, with a 50/50 lock and a limited slip rear end. Yeah, they won’t sell any, but I would like it.

    • 0 avatar

      I really dont like the way the CX3 looks. The CX5 is ok.

      As I see it, Mazda are in the conventional torque converter auto game so IMO it makes performance variants not in interesting to me.

      Mazda do have a turbo 2.5 four which is nice so I would suppose a turbo Mazdaspeed CX5 or Mazda 3/6 would be cool but I dont think they work without a DCT.

      They dont seem to want to get into the WRX/EVO X game though.

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