Small hatchbacks have always been fun to drive and practical too. So why shouldn’t a small crossover with a hatch be much the same?
Well, more and more tiny crossovers are being made and mostly they are pretty entertaining to drive. This week’s bright metallic blue (dynamic blue mica) Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD fits that bill.
Steering is light and lively with quick handling and downright perky acceleration when you toggle the Sport mode on the console. That pumps up the revs so the 146-horse 2.0-liter I4 has maximum torque, which also is 146. The Mazda zips away from stoplights with relative enthusiasm, but you’ll need to toggle back to the normal setting or it holds the engine’s revs way too long and eventually will suck down gas mileage.
But hey, toggling the Sport mode is almost as much fun as shifting a manual transmission – almost.
Add to that the practicality of all-wheel-drive to help steady the little crossover in winter slop, plus excellent fuel economy and you’ve got an attractive and cute ute, er crossover to take the place of any small sedan or hatchback.
The CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest crossover, just down a notch in size and wheelbase, from the CX-5. Both handle well.
Small crossovers like this one, with a 101-2-inch wheelbase, though suffer in ride quality. While the CX-3 was fine on a highway jaunt to Green Bay, ride became a bit bumpy in town. Road imperfections made it seem chattery at times. Also the acceleration is just so-so if you don’t use the Sport mode.
But shifts from the 6-speed Skyactiv Sport automatic transmission were smooth and well mated to the crossover. Braking (4-wheel discs) also is fine and the fuel economy will keep you smiling once gas prices return to higher levels.
Mazda uses its patented Skyactiv system for cleaner, more efficient fuel use. This time I got 30.4 mpg in my 90% highway jaunt and 28.7 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. I’ve had hybrids that were only slightly better. The EPA rates this one at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
The Grand Touring, which this one was, is the top trim level. It kicks up the interior finish a couple notches, with not only leather seating, but three-level heated front seats and a 6-way power driver’s seat.
The interior was downright sporty looking with white and black leather seats that feature dark red stitching. There was maroon leather trim on the doors and console’s sides, plus a carbon fiber-look trim on the steering wheel hub and door armrests. Mazda also includes suede door inserts to give the CX-3 a high-quality look and feel.
The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number with the usual radio, phone and cruise buttons on the hub, while the dash is well laid out and has big climate control knobs with automatic settings so you can set it and forget it.
The CX-3’s radio/navigation screen is fair sized, but Mazda still doesn’t offer radio pre-set buttons on the dash. It uses a knob on the console to adjust the radio and other on-screen functions. This is better than a touchpad as offered in some other vehicles, but not as easy as six pre-set buttons on a dash. I know that dates back to the 1950s, but it works!
Seats are well formed and supportive and drew praise from several riders. And while the vehicle is small, four adults will fit in comfort if no one is extremely tall. Headroom is good, but legroom can become crowded in back when a tall front seat occupant pushes the seat back.
There’s good room behind the rear seat for cargo and the rear seat splits and folds flat for extra-large loads. The rear hatch is manual, but that’s to be expected in this size and price of crossover.
Also standard on the Grand Touring model is a power sunroof and I must say that the sun visors will extend to block side sun. You know that’s a peeve of mine and even some pricier vehicles still don’t offer these. Sheesh!
There are other solid safety features too, like a backup camera and blind-spot monitor, both standard. This CX-3 went a bit further with a GT I-ActiveSense package that costs $1,170. It adds radar cruise control, smart city brake support, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights with high-beam control.
Other add-ons on the test CX-3 were minor and mostly for appearances, so the base $26,240 price only grew to $28,810, including $900 for delivery.
If you can do without the leather interior and other goodies, you could go with the base Sport model with front-wheel drive. It starts at $20,860 including delivery while an AWD model starts at $22,110.
For the electronically adept, there are multiple hookups, including two USB ports and a 12-volt outlet. A CD player is standard too. Other pluses include heated power mirrors, keyless entry and push button start.
On a fairly tight budget but looking for a sporty crossover? Mazda may have an answer for you.
FAST STATS: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Hits: Excellent fuel economy, quick handling, AWD and perky acceleration in sport mode. Stylish interior and good features for price. Cute styling, blind-spot monitor, heated and supportive seats, sunroof and visors extend.
Misses: Bumpy ride, no radio channel preset buttons on dash, just knob on console.
Engine: 2.0-liter, Skyactiv-G I4, 146 hp
Transmission: 6-speed Skyactiv Sport, automatic
Weight: 2,952 lbs.
Length: 168.3 in.
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Cargo: 42.3 cu. ft. (rear seats down)
MPG: 27/32 (EPA)
MPG: 28.7-30.4 (tested)
Base Price: $26,240
Invoice: $26,396 (includes delivery)
Rear bumper guard, $100
Roof rack side rails, $300
Door sill trim plates, $100
GT I-ActiveSense package (radar cruise control, smart city brake support, rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning, automatic headlights, high beam control), $1,170
Test vehicle: $28,810
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage