2016 Mazda CX-3: a Little Angel… With Horns

Last year, The Car Guide set up a comparison test between seven subcompact SUVs. The Mazda CX-3 easily won the fight, thanks to its amusing road manners, its dynamic chassis, its sporty styling and its high levels of fit and finish. Its tight cockpit and cargo area as well as its modest engine output wasn’t enough to break the hearts of our testers.

Following that comparison test, I had the opportunity to drive this class-leading vehicle. It really impressed me. Then, in the middle of winter, I drove it over a longer period of time, over longer distances. And for the first time, I realized that this angelic little SUV also has a pair of little horns…

Vehicle for single – or vasectomised – people
Several folks who climbed aboard this Mazda noticed the beauty of the dashboard. They also said: “hey, it sure is small in here.” If space is adequate up front, it’s not the case in back where two adults will rub shoulders. There’s a third seat belt, but it’s for show more than anything else. My kids haven’t been in child seats for quite a while now, so I didn’t try to install one inside, but I can just imagine the task at hand given the narrow door openings. Installing two seats should be a task so arduous that a vasectomy might seem a simpler solution.

The cargo area doesn’t look very roomy either, and it truly isn’t. The capacity ratings speak for themselves, and those who will try to stuff luggage for three people going on a two-day trip will start talking to themselves, too. To get a conclusive result here, we must use our best Tetris skills.

A few ponies short of happiness
Under the hood, there’s a naturally aspirated, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 146 horsepower and as much torque. Here, again, the CX-3 isn’t all that cooperative. Acceleration isn’t bad, mind you, as the 0-100 km/h sprint is performed in less than 10 seconds. Passing from 80 to 120 km/h is a done deal in 6.5 seconds.

Maybe if the four-banger wouldn’t scream as loudly every time we prodded it, we wouldn’t have the impression that it’s straining to do its job. After two weeks at the helm of my test vehicle, my average fuel consumption was 8.4 L/100 km. Given the vehicle’s size, I was expecting maybe 8.0 L/100 km, but the difference isn’t dramatic.

Our CX-3 tester was also equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel drivetrain that provides extra safety. Getting through the snow that crossed our path was an easy challenge. We should also point out the excellent grip of the Toyo Observe GSI-5 215/50R18 tires.

It’s at that precise moment, on a windy and snow-covered country road, that we forget about Tetris, child seats and the engine that’s noisier than it is powerful. The CX-3 drives like a sports car. It feels light and agile, and its steering sends good feedback to the driver. The suspension is sometimes harsh, but provides solid handling characteristics while preventing body roll that’s usually associated with SUVs, subcompact or not.

Happily, the seats offer good support while cornering. The various traction and lateral stability control systems don’t intervene for any reason. And when they do, it’s done discreetly, not violently.

Odds and ends
I could say that the high beam control system in our vehicle – a CX-3 GT with the Technology Package –wasn’t all that sharp, as I had to manually dim the headlights before they blinded oncoming traffic. I could also lament the location of the infotainment system’s rotary dial, placed too far back and difficult to use when the centre armrest is folded down. Or even complain about the exasperating lack of storage points.

There’s also the heating system that struggled to keep the cabin comfy in colder temperatures with three people on board. I could yell at the poor chap who designed the base of the windshield, a difficult place to brush the snow off. However, I can’t blame him as he probably never scraped snow off a car in his life. I won’t even talk about it in my article; that’s how indulgent I am!

Yet all these issues are minor and forgettable as soon as we drive the CX-3 on a road that’s the least bit sinuous. At that moment, we should just remind ourselves not to wake up the little devil that lives in the mind of every driving enthusiast.

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