2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Road Test

I don’t know about you, but 2010 doesn’t seem that long ago to me. Can you believe there were only three competing models
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
It’s hard to argue against CX-3 styling, especially in top-line GT trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in the subcompact SUV category back then? In only seven years that number has skyrocketed to 13, while another three have been announced for next year. Just for fun, do you want to guess how many mid-size sedans have been added to the Canadian market since 2010? None. In fact, back then there were 13, whereas now only 11 go up against each other, and one of those is slated for cancellation at the end of this model year. How’s that for a turn of events.

You’ve spoken Canada, and the automakers are listening. Yesterday’s Mazda6 owner is today’s CX-5 and CX-9 buyer, while even the once mighty Mazda3 is watching its market share slowly erode thanks in part to the highly successful compact CX-5 and this little subcompact CX-3. I can understand why. As much as I still like the Mazda3, especially in five-door Sport form, if push came to shove I’d more likely lay real money down on a compact SUV.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Mazda got the rear proportions of the CX-3 just right too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the CX-3 be at the top of my shopping list? It’s certainly one of Canada’s most popular subcompact SUVs. Since arriving on the subcompact crossover scene halfway through 2015, it’s placed a solid third behind the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek. This said by the close of Q2 2017 its year-to-date sales moved it up into second. After living with three different models over a trio of weeklong tests, I’m not surprised. All in all I find it good looking, sporty, fairly upscale, nicely equipped, and plenty practical, which are all good reasons for its rise in popularity.

Just the same, I can’t help but wonder if the folks at Mazda Canada’s Richmond Hill headquarters are starting to look over their shoulders at some of the latest competition now that Toyota’s sporty looking CH-R has shown up, just like Honda is probably hoping the HR-V’s sales lead
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
The new grille seems to fit all models to a T. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
doesn’t get consumed by the new Nissan Qashqai, a mini-Roque that will likely put up a good fight in this once fringe market segment.

In total, the subcompact SUV category’s 13 entrants include the bestselling HR-V with 12,371 sales last year, the runner-up Crosstrek with 9,723 deliveries, the third-place CX-3 with 9,354, the Chevrolet Trax with 9,072, Mitsubishi RVR with 6,196, Buick Encore with 5,533, Nissan Juke with 4,442, Jeep Compass with 4,252, Jeep Renegade with 3,962, Fiat 500X with 766, and Mini Countryman with 694. I can’t decide if the Mini and Buick should be counted in the subcompact luxury SUV segment because they’re priced higher, but in reality they’re somewhere
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
LED headlights add sophistication to the CX-3’s unique styling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in the middle. Neither has much effect on the CX-3, however, so it’s a moot point. The new CH-R is relevant, however, having sold 1,331 units in its first two months (May and June, while the Qashqai found 1,005 buyers (although arrived later in May).

Other than a requirement to mention the upcoming Ford EcoSport (due to arrive later this year), the just announced Hyundai Kona and Kia Stonic, plus rumblings about a new Volkswagen entrant that can now be sized slightly smaller than the outgoing Tiguan now that it’s grown up into the larger compact category, that’s the current state of the subcompact SUV segment. The CX-3 remains near the very top for all the reasons just stated as well as Canada’s adoration of its independent Japanese parent.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Mazda has managed to combine an equal balance of sport and elegance to the CX-3’s design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
won’t go into U.S. numbers, but suffice to say they’re not pretty with respect to anything Mazda sells, save the MX-5 “Miata”. Their number one seller in this class is the Renegade, a model far down the pecking order here. With all due respect, every one of the above noted SUVs is worthy of your attention and would likely provide an enjoyable ownership experience, some of my favourites being lower on the popularity poll, but in the case of the CX-3 I can wholly agree with its success. I’m not alone amongst industry pundits either, thanks to the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada (AJAC) having awarded it 2016 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.

I’ve read others knock its styling on social media, but I love every inch of the little Mazda sport ute, especially in as-tested top-line GT trim. Moving up from the $20,695
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
These 18-inch rims are standard with the GT. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
base GX model or $22,695 mid-range GS to the $28,995 GT allows for more sophisticated looking and much brighter LED headlights with stylish signature detailing, plus the world’s tiniest LED fog lamps inserted within the upgraded metallic bezels of its sporty front fascia, not to mention stunning twinned V-spoke 18-inch machine-finish alloys with gunmetal pockets around each side. Move inside and its well laid out cabin gets leather and Lux Suede upholstery, plus loads of additional exclusive features.

Want details? How about adaptive cornering capability and automatic leveling on those headlamps, LED signature daytime running lights, LED taillights, AWD, paddle shifters, proximity-sensing passive entry, auto climate control, a heads-up Active Driving Display, navigation, voice activation, and seven-speaker Bose audio. I know, I might as well be listing off items from well equipped BMW X1 or Mercedes-Benz
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
LED taillights look sharp. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
GLA, but even when the CX-3 is fully loaded up it doesn’t come close to entering the MSRP territory of those highfalutin models.

My tester also had a $1,500 Technology package that added satellite radio, automatic high beam assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), the latter using a near infra-red laser to detect vehicle activity up to six metres ahead before applying the brakes automatically to avoid a potential accident.

As mentioned before, the CX-3 comes in base GX and mid-grade GS trim too, with some of the features being pulled up to GT trim just as impressive, such as remote
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Love this unique two-tone red and black luxury-lined interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
locks that automatically engage while walking away, pushbutton start, heatable powered door mirrors with integrated turn signals, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle, heatable front seats, a seven-inch high-resolution touchscreen, a rearview camera, a powered moonroof, and more.

As noted earlier, much of that kit comes in an interior that borders on premium, and while I would’ve liked to see its gorgeous taupe-grey Titanium Flash Mica exterior paintwork contrasted by the CX-3’s optional Pure White leather upholstery, which is probably better described as Mazda does in the U.S. by calling it “Black and Parchment” leather because its two-tone design, highlighted by the same red piping as the all-black interior, doesn’t look anything like the much more elegant “Pure White” perforated hides in the CX-5 I tested last year, it’s
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
That’s psuede covering the door inserts, plus bright red leatherette armrests. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
nevertheless strangely not offered when this outer shade is chosen, so I made do with the standard black and red colour combination that offers up a sportier, rather than classier motif. Oddly, neither the dazzling mica paint or the alternative interior colour scheme adds anything to the CX-3’s bottom line, which is about as un-premium as the car industry gets, a positive for sure.

It would need fabric-wrapped pillars along with a soft-touch dash-top and door uppers to be a full-fledged premium product, but Mazda covers the primary instrument hood in stitched leatherette for an upscale look and feel, whereas the centre portion of the instrument panel gets a contrast-stitched and padded leatherette bolster across its middle. This is visually separated by an eye-catching metallic trim strip that elegantly integrates the centre vent, which would otherwise
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Mazda’s unique approach to sporty luxury makes the CX-3 stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
be invisible unless tilted up or down to direct air. The other vents are more obviously circular in design, but they allow excellent directional airflow. These were surrounded in piano black lacquered bezels in my tester, which matched some other glossy black trim around the shifter and elsewhere.

Even more enticing was the satin-silver polished detailing surrounding the wing-like analogue and digital primary gauges, plus the twinned lower steering wheel spoke and upper door garnishes around the door pulls. Additional metallic trim surrounds the tablet-style infotainment system perched atop the dash, while nice knurled metal rims surround all three automatic climate control dials. Knurled metal detailing surrounds the infotainment controller on the lower console too, which itself is surrounded by various quick-access buttons for the main menu, audio system, navigation, radio favourites, and the back button, while a handy rotating volume selector gets the same knurled metal treatment.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
This brilliant partially digital primary gauge cluster is highly legible in all lighting conditions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
details include textured matte carbon fibre-like trim on the upper steering wheel spokes and each side of the centre stack, red armrests and stitched door inserts that nicely match the red contrast-stitched perforated and suede leather seats. Speaking of upholstery, Mazda goes so far as to pamper each front occupant’s inside knee with a padded red leatherette bolster. Like I’ve been saying all along, the attention to detail in the CX-3 GT is very high-end.  

The aforementioned pop-up head-up display projected key information up above the dash-top, which kept eyes on the road more often than not, while the Bose audio system provided superb sound quality. Again, just a couple more premium-level features.

Of course,
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Rather than displaying graphics on the windshield, Mazda’s head-up display projects them on this pop-up "window". (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
performance is one reason Canadian consumers have long flocked to premium brands, and having driven most luxury crossovers in the subcompact class I can attest to a difference in off-the-line power. The CX-3’s sole Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder only puts out 146 horsepower and an identical 146 lb-ft of torque, which wouldn’t be enough to measure up amongst the premium players but it’s plenty powerful for mainstream volume-branded SUV that weighs just 1,339 kilos (2,952 lbs).

This said it could be a lot sportier, because Mazda joins many other manufacturers in unforgivably making their normally standard six-speed manual transmissions unavailable in top-line trims, the CX-3’s sportiest GT standard with its six-speed automatic with manual mode. At least
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
The navigation mapping was clear, precise, and extremely accurate. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Mazda was smart enough to include an engaging set of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and best of all it’s not a CVT.

This transmission is one of the reasons I’d place the CX-3 high at the top of the sportiest subcompact SUV list, plus the wonderfully zippy four-cylinder engine. This little ute loves to zig and zag too, especially in GT trim that provides those larger rims wrapped in 215/50R18 Yokohama Avid all-season rubber. Even at higher speeds its very controllable, something I’ve experienced each and every time I’ve had one at my disposal. This time I took the opportunity to test it on some of the rural backroads that surround farmland in the outskirts of my lush delta
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
The red bolsters are soft so as to protect the inside knee of driver and front passenger. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
suburb, some straight and narrow, and others bordering rivers and waterways that made for some fun cornering action. The CX-3 doesn’t get a sophisticated independent rear suspension like some others in this class, but it nevertheless handles as if it did. It was even quite controllable over bumpy surfaces during tight turns, which can cause some similar suspension designs to become unsettled as they lose traction, but the CX-3 held on, while its ride quality was excellent for the size and class of vehicle.

As noted before AWD comes standard with the GT, which aided traction in dry and wet yet didn’t detract much from overall efficiencies as noted by a five-cycle Transport Canada fuel economy rating of 8.8 L/100km in the city and 7.5 on the highway compared to 8.2 city and 6.9 highway in the manual-equipped front-drive model.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Love the knurled metal detailing on the large rotating infotainment controller and smaller volume knob. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
of the reasons the CX-3 is so thrifty with fuel is its size, but even though it’s on the smaller side its spaciousness should be good for most people. My five-foot-eight medium-build body fit in nicely, with about four inches above my head and even a little more room between my left shoulder and the driver’s door. The seats are extremely comfortable too, which is normal for Mazda, while sizeable side bolsters keep backside in place during hard cornering.

It’s tighter in back, which is the norm for this class, with about two inches ahead of my knees when the front seat was set ideally for me, plus a little more room next to the door for shoulders and hips. On that note I was surprised to find more than four inches above my head, which means someone six-foot-four should fit back there providing their torso isn’t much longer than
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Leather seats with psuede inserts plus red piping and stitching. And they’re comfortable too! (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
their legs and someone ultimately height-challenged is driving. I jest, of course, so those with really tall teens should probably consider a CX-5. The rear seats are very comfortable, just like those up front, with good lower back support, although there’s no centre armrest available.

Those back seats fold in a 60/40 configuration via latches that are easily accessible from behind, making it possible to flip them forward when loading things into the back without having to walk around to the side doors. Another CX-3 benefit is a good rear headrest design that’s not only comfortable when sitting inside, but slide completely down and out of the way to allow excellent rear visibility when not in use.

I can’t
2017 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
The rear seating should be large enough for most. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
tell you which subcompact SUV you should purchase, but if you choose to take home a new Mazda CX-3 I can’t imagine you’ll suffer from buyer’s remorse. It’s about as close to premium as you’ll likely get form a mainstream volume automaker, while its styling, performance, feature set and fuel-efficiency should make it a hot prospect on the used market too, keeping your resale value high. It’s even one of the safest SUVs on the road according to the IIHS, which gave this 2017 model a best-possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating when its aforementioned front crash prevention and specified headlights are added on. I can’t help but recommend it.
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