When you’re young and impetuous, you dream of owning a sports car so that every drive will be exhilarating. Life, however, brings you back to reality pretty fast. Bills pile up, it becomes harder to pay for an expensive car and, once kids enter the picture, you need a practical ride to take on modern family life. That’s why SUVs are so popular. They’re practical, more so in fact than the mid-size sedans my parents drove when I was a kid.
With everyone clamouring for an SUV and given the sizeable profit margins they offer, manufacturers – great visionaries that they are – have decided that even compact car buyers should have an SUV alternative to their favourite car. And so, subcompact SUVs were born. They’re basically small, high-perched cars that are generally offered with all-wheel drive.
There’s no shortage of choice in this category, and two models top the sales charts: the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. While the HR-V is an attractive choice with plenty of interior space despite is small size, those looking for a little fun in their otherwise committed adult life should definitely choose the CX-3.
Low marks for the cabin
The CX-3 shares a lot of traits with the Mazda2 subcompact. The 2 is already available in Canada, but for economic reasons the new generation is not. Built on the 2’s platform, you might say that the CX-3 is a raised Mazda2.
The CX-3’s passenger cabin was designed to look like a sports car. The overall design is nice and the infotainment screen that sits atop the dashboard is very trendy. And if you’re prepared to pay top dollar, the cabin can be upholstered with very high quality leather. The front seats are very comfortable and support both driver and passenger very well. Things go a bit sideways in the back, however, as the rear bench, where you’re supposed to put guests or children, is positioned very close to the front seats leaving legroom limited. This is no joke. The bench is suitable for kids and young teenagers, but not tall people.
This small SUV’s trunk has the same problem. The rear bench is raised and the space available is quite simply laughable. Sure, you can fit a few bags in there, but little else. Even if you lower the seatbacks, it’s nothing to write home about. The GT’s cargo space is 408 litres or 1,484 with the rear bench lowered. The GX and GS are slightly better at 452 and 1,528 litres. By comparison, the Honda HR-V, known for being spacious, offers 657 and 1,583 litres, depending on whether the seats are raised or lowered.
The infotainment system is another small problem for the CX-3’s passenger experience. While it’s relatively intuitive and the controls and menus are simple, it isn’t compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which everyone seems to want these days. Furthermore, the maps navigate particularly poorly.
Quite the chassis
All versions of the CX-3 have the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 146 horsepower and 146 lbs.-ft. of torque. This mill is paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox, although the GT can run in manual mode. The basic version of this little vehicle is equipped with front-wheel drive, but you can add all-wheel drive, of course.
Overall, there’s nothing negative to say about the drivetrain. The engine responds well to the accelerator, the gearbox is spot-on and the four-wheel drive system offers maximum traction in snow. However, 146 horsepower is barely sufficient, even considering that it weighs less than 1,400 kilos. A few extra horsepower would be nice at times, especially when passing other vehicles.
The real magic of the CX-3 lies in the chassis and suspension. These two components alone practically make it a sports car. The rigid vehicle takes corners with confidence and is bolstered by precise steering worthy of the big European brands.
Drivers who like a sporty ride will find that the CX-3’s qualities make you more confident in its handling, even on the highway. If you want a small SUV for one reason or another, and space isn’t a big concern for you, you’ll be won over by the Mazda CX-3’s ride.
“For those looking for a little fun in their otherwise committed adult lives, the CX-3 is without a doubt the choice to make.”
- Mazda CX-3: 80%
- Nissan Qashqai: 79%
- Honda HR-V: 78%