A cost-effective crossover

by Haney Louka . Feb 09 2018
Mazda G-Vectoring Control, Smart City Brake Support, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth, a seven-inch display, rear-view camera and auto-off headlights are standard with the GX.

Mazda

G-Vectoring Control, Smart City Brake Support, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth, a seven-inch display, rear-view camera and auto-off headlights are standard with the GX.

There are only a handful of vehicles on the market today that carry a sticker price of less than 20 grand. And of those, there are precious few I would endorse with a thumbs-up to those who come to me for advice on what to purchase.

Of course, budget is a primary consideration for those in the market, and I wouldn’t suggest that someone bump up their budget by $5K to get into a nicer ride. But I would encourage them to look for something slightly used at the same price point if the entries they’re looking at don’t check off all of the boxes required to meet their needs.

The Mazda CX-3 does get my endorsement, provided those who consider it know which boxes it checks. Mazda sent us a refreshingly bare-bones version of its smallest crossover. At $19,995, it squeaks beneath that $20,000 threshold (before destination and taxes, mind you) while still managing to pack a lot of value in base form.

Our GX tester carried no options either, so its as-tested price, with air-conditioning and destination, is $21,990. All CX-3 models pack a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that generates 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, and in this base GX model, the power is routed to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission.

That’s right, this is a small crossover with a stick shift — a rare sight these days. The problem is that this is the only trim level that has a stick, and the first option before you add anything else is a six-speed automatic transmission, which is a $1,300 hit. Want all-wheel drive? You need the auto first, then another $2,000 to send power to the stern. Want any other options? You need to step up to the $22,695 GS and then add all-wheel drive, and then choose options.

But rather than focus on how expensive the CX-3 can get with options, let’s look at how complete it is without them.

Standard equipment on the GX includes Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, Smart City Brake Support, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, push-button start, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a seven-inch display, rear-view camera and auto-off headlights.

G-Vectoring Control, or GVC for short, shows just how much Mazda cares about the nuances of vehicle handling. When the driver heading into a corner first turns the steering wheel, engine torque is automatically reduced to transfer load forward and increase front-tire traction. That improves turn-in response. Once the corner is underway, torque is restored to balance the front-rear weight distribution and improve stability.

While the feature is too subtle to determine its effectiveness, it surely contributes to the CX-3’s handling on the road. Mazdas have an uncanny responsiveness to drive inputs, and it’s paying attention to details like this that allows them to be so engaging.

Smart City Brake Support has trickled down from higher trims levels for 2018. Previously only available on the GT technology package, this active safety feature uses sensors to detect close-range obstacles at lower speeds, and enhance the driver’s efforts to avoid a collision by applying brakes more quickly and firmly than the driver would on their own. Active safety is also present in the form of dynamic stability control.

Being an entry-level model for Mazda, the CX-3 does have some humble roots in the form of the Mazda 2 subcompact hatchback. That means a torsion beam rear suspension rather than an independent setup that more premium models enjoy. But while the ride is firm in a sporty way, the torsion beam suspension didn’t rear its ugly head during mid-corner bumps like I expected it to. On our winter city roads, though, don’t expect a settled ride from any CX-3 trim level.

Styling-wise, this mini crossover scores high among its peers. Whether you’re comparing it to the Honda HR-V or the bizarre Toyota C-HR (do model names actually mean anything these days?), it manages a sleeker and sportier look than either. Granted, the steel-wheel-clad GX doesn’t have the same presence as the GT trim with its 18-inch alloys, LED lights and body-coloured trim, but that’s why it can be priced where it is.

Inside, I consider the situation a little less successful. The cabin is a festival of hard, black plastic. That I thought it looked cheap immediately after spending a week in a similarly priced Honda Fit speaks volumes. Again, there are a lot of upgrades that happen on the way up to a GT to remedy this situation.

I thoroughly enjoyed piloting the little CX-3 with its manual gearbox; amazing that an entry with such humble roots can be such a joy to work through the gears. A hundred and forty-six horses are enough to keep things interesting, and the shifter itself is crisp and accurate.

My week in the CX-3 left me with just one lingering question. Mazda has another manual, front-drive hatchback that is priced within $100 of this one. It’s called the 3. And it’s lower, wider, more powerful, more practical and better looking.

So why would anyone essentially go down one class for the same money? The answer lies in North American buyers’ inexplicable obsession with crossovers. Somehow, that makes it more desirable than a mere hatchback.

Regardless, either of these would be a fine choice for someone looking for a hatch with a distinct focus on fun.

autoreviews@mymts.net

LC MediaThe interior of the base model GX may be an area where you’d want to pay for upgrades.

LC Media

The interior of the base model GX may be an area where you’d want to pay for upgrades.

MazdaAll CX-3 models pack a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that generates 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque.

Mazda

All CX-3 models pack a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that generates 146 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque.