Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and Jonathan Yarkony

“Wow!” There were three of us there. All bitter, seasoned auto journalists. One of us had already seen the 2016 Mazda CX-3 on his First Drive event just a few weeks ago. Still, all of us were effusive in our praise.

Bugger, I seem to have run out of synonyms for “hot”.

“That is sexy.”
“Gorgeous.”
“Stunning.”
“Adorable.”

While we played thesaurus with each other the Soul Red Mazda gleamed in the sunlight before us. If looks were everything – and to many shoppers they are – this Mazda CX-3 will massacre sales charts. The styling I couldn’t really get behind in the 3 is executed brilliantly here. First impressions count for a lot and the CX-3 is delivering big time on that front.

Opening the door I was gob-smacked. The white on black leather seats with suede inserts are upscale and, well… Bugger, I seem to have run out of synonyms for “hot”.

When I first saw my wife walking down the aisle I’m told I let out a string of love-struck swear words, I might have done a similar thing here.  That aesthetic appeal isn’t unique to us three, either. Everywhere I went I’ve seen people staring at the car, and I had two people ask me about it within 12 hours of picking it up. It’s an eye-catching attention-grabber and that can only be positive for Mazda.

And thus begins our six-month long-term test of Mazda’s all-new CX-3: a car brand new to market. Mazda (among others) has recognized the white space in the booming cute-ute market and leapt in boots and all with an immediate contender. If I was Mitusbishi’s RVR, Chevrolet’s Trax or even Subaru’s Crosstrek I’d be quaking in my boots; the cavalry are coming.

It’s possible the impact of new entrants to this market is already being felt. YTD the smallest SUVs and Crossover sales numbers are down 9.5 percent so far according to GoodCarBadCar, with Chevrolet’s Trax down 22 percent year-on-year and Mitsubishi RVR down 17. Bucking the trend, Subaru XV Crosstrek is up 11.7 percent. Still, previous growth patterns show this segment booming, so it seems people are holding on, waiting for the newcomers to arrive. Those include this Mazda and the Honda HR-V, both being launched within weeks of each other – and yes, we absolutely will have a head-to-head shootout of those two during our long-term test.

The whole series: June, June Supplement, July, August, September, October, Wrap-Up

But back to the car at hand. This is the top-of-the-line GT worth $28,995 with $1,500 more for the Technology Package that adds Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning and satellite radio. The base model starts at $20,695 with air conditioning and automatic gearbox, $2,000 more gets you four driven wheels in either GS or GX models. In this top-trim spec AWD is standard. I thought the LED headlights and HUD were part of the Technology Package but discovered to my surprise they’re actually standard on the GT trim. The HUD is effective, detailed and just plain cool. Some people think these are gimmicks, but I find them genuinely useful when driving, especially with navigation built in.

Motivating the CX-3 is a 2.0L four-cylinder shunting 146 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic gearbox. No, no manual is offered – yet. We’re told Mazda Canada is fighting the good fight, but it will be hard to convince the higher-ups to bring a manual when customer demand is so low. The engine is willing and the automatic can be controlled with both the gear lever (which is set up correctly with forward for down, back for up) and paddle shifters. The paddles call up downshifts and upshifts rapidly, allowing me to change down even high up in the 6,500 rpm redline. Like every other Mazda review ever written (excepting some few on the Mazdaspeed3) I think more power would be welcome here, but time will tell if the performance is livable or not.

Dodging construction in downtown Toronto had me squealing with delight, a CUV of any derivation has no right feeling this engaging. The steering is firm, perfectly weighted and communicative. It’s as direct as the Minis I adore and really feels razor sharp. Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony noted in his first drive that the suspension setup is mundane on paper: “Front suspension is the fairly standard MacPherson strut with coil spring and antiroll bar, while the rear suspension is a simple torsion beam,” he noted. And yet it provides the sort of responsiveness and agility usually reserved for more complex double-wishbone set ups.

Official EPA ratings were just released, 8.1/6.7/7.6 L/100 km city/highway/combined for the FWD models and 9.4/6.9/8.1 for AWDs. This is bang on the numbers produced by the HR-V, in fact the CX-3 beats it by the smallest margin possible in city driving with FWD machines. This one is brand new so we’ll need the engine to bed in to find a proper average, but we’re looking forward to seeing that one play out.

I’m already enamoured by the driving dynamics but will be paying special attention to NVH. In the 3 I noted high wind noise (or rather, my daughter did) and a flimsy feeling to the doors. The CX-3 is beefier and that seems to have improved sound insulation, even hard bumps in the road aren’t as audible in the cabin. Panel gaps and interior fit seem strong on first impression, but again it’s something we’ll be looking out for over the course of this test.

I’ve mentioned the gorgeous seats, and can report that in the short stint I’ve had in them they’re supportive and comfortable. We’ll be sure to hit up some road trips and get quality time in them. I have already noticed a tight back seat without much legroom, however, so I’ll also report on the seat’s ability to absorb and mitigate the kicks of an impatient four-year-old. “Are we there yet?” 

Small details are already jumping out at me. Things like the red trim on the door cards and the texturing of the hard trim. My wife noticed immediately that the dashboard top is not leather – which means she’s more into leather than I thought. Good news, that.

Cabin storage is a big thing for me and I was pleased to find a holder for my phone in the centre console. Good news is it’s deep and tight so won’t let my phone go flying about the cabin when I’m playing witches-hat slalom in construction zones, equally good news it’s back at the back of the console, effectively out of sight and therefore mind of the driver. I’ve been putting my phone in the glovebox of late just to avoid the temptation of the flashing blue notification light, so I like that storage solution. The tray at the front of the console is shallow and not sizeable, so expect a groan and grump about that as this long-term test continues.

We’ve got a lot planned for the CX-3. We’ve got lots of questions, we know you do to. Feel free to leave them in our forum comments section.

First impressions are strong and it will be interesting to see if those impressions are more than skin deep. Will they last? Is the size right for our small family? Will the lustre of thrilling driving dynamics stay with us or fade? Fair to say this has evoked a passion already, but as Romeo and Juliet can attest, passion is often fleeting.

Pricing: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT with Technology Package
Base Price (GX): $20,695
Base Price (GT): $28,995
Options: $1,500 (Techology Package: Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning and satellite radio)
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,895
Price as Tested: $32,490