2017 Mazda CX-3: Is Less of a Good Thing Still a Good Thing?

By Jason Saini

It’s widely held that the Mazda CX-5 is the standard among small CUV’s in the marketplace. Mazda, trying to capitalize on that success, has now offered us an even smaller version with the same ingredients, and by all accounts it should be a smashing success. We tested a 2016 Touring Model last year, and this year Mazda supplied us with a loaded, top-of-the line model. While we love the idea of an even more compact CUV, this time the trim level didn’t really fit the car – and it left us a bit confused.

Mazda’s last attempt at a smaller ‘city’ car, the Mazda 2, was relatively unsuccessful. This class of car is very popular in Europe and Japan, but buyers here found little to like in a micro-car that was relatively featureless and ‘looked’ as entry-level as it was. So instead of bringing the all-new Mazda 2 here to the States, Mazda decided – smartly – to transform it into a CUV version, echoing the style of the CX-5 and evoking the beautiful Kodo-design philosophy that pervades the lineup right now. For the most part, we love it – especially the Touring model we previously tested.

For 2017 the CX-3 is almost unchanged, with some subtle adjustments in equipment and option pricing, but with an unchanged $19,960 starting price. One of the more notable adjustments is that the 18” wheels, previously reserved for only the GT model, are now standard on the Touring as well. We’ll come back to that later, as a key issue for most buyers will be which trim package to choose.

As for driving dynamics, it’s all Mazda in the handling department. Stable handling and striking agility are traits all throughout the lineup, and they are highlighted here as well. What surprised us is how much heavier the car feels than you would expect. The speed-sensitive steering gets heavy in the hands once you get rolling, and the 2.0-Liter SKYACTIV-G engine is called upon to haul a fairly-heavy AWD car around the acceleration, making it feel sluggish. The 6-speed automatic has plenty of ratios to keep the engine in the powerband, but when you try to accelerate there’s a long pause while the car selects the right gear and it further adds to the sluggish feeling.

The interior of this GT model is also having a bit of an identity crisis. We counted no less than 12 different materials/textures in five different colors throughout the interior. There’s black-faux-suede, white-perforated leather, red leather, polished black plastic, brushed aluminum… it’s just too much, and looks too busy. Think of a dish you’ve eaten that has a few too many ingredients. It’s not that it didn’t taste good, it’s just that it would have been _better_ with a few less. That’s how we feel about the interior.

As for technology, the GT we drove was equipped with both the technology package and the i-Active sense package, meaning radar-cruise control, front-collision warning and lane-departure warning. The technology package also includes a great heads-up display, which projects the speed on a small screen right in your field of vision. It’s a great way to help keep your eyes on the road. What’s lacking, however, for a nearly $30k vehicle – is a power seat. There are a few other omissions, like an auto-dimming mirror and lane assist. These all seem like small additions, and other cars offered by competitors have those features at a similar price point.

So what’s our conclusion about Mazda’s mini-CUV? We say stick with the Touring model. It will give you the best combination of features and value – with a well-equipped version selling in the mid-twenties. The fact that they have added features in 2017 for the Touring model likely means that Mazda is noticing that it’s the most popular model, and are making it even more attractive for buyers. While it’s not available with all the technology and safety features, it represents the best value and we think it’s the smart choice if a small CUV fits your needs.


Special thanks to 

Mazda Motor Corporation 

for providing this week’s car, 

the 2017 Mazda CX-3 


Grand Touring AWD.