Test Drive: Mazda’s CX-3 — an appealing subcompact SUV

Maybe Mazdas just grow on you. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for the fact we liked the 2017 CX-3, a subcompact sport-utility vehicle, better than we liked the nearly identical 2016 model we test-drove just a year ago.

The CX-3 is one of a small but feisty coterie of subcompact 5-door crossover vehicles that can be equipped with all-wheel drive. Unlike traditional SUVs, they handle crisply, are fuel-efficient and can slip into tight parking spaces. With the exception of the Jeep Renegade they’re not meant for off-road adventures, but they are undeterred by foul weather.

The CX-3 is the smallest of three Mazda SUVs. Equipped with a 146-horsepower inline Four and 6-speed automatic transmission, our Dynamic Blue Mica test car had a sticker price of $28,510. That’s about $1,000 more than the Honda HR-V subcompact SUV we test-drove recently, but before options, their prices were identical at $26,240. Setting the Mazda apart was a $1,170 option package that included desirable safety features, such as Smart City Brake Support, which minimizes or prevents collisions with stationary items in the car’s path; lane-departure warning; and adaptive cruise control. At the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels, CX-3s also have blind-spot warning systems. All CX-3s have rear-view cameras.

The CX-3’s major handicap, compared with competitors like the Renegade, HR-V and Buick Encore, is its modest rear-seat accommodations and cargo capacity. The HR-V can swallow 23.2 cubic feet of luggage or 55.9 cubic feet of cargo, compared with 10.1 and 42.3 in the CX-3.

Blame it on the styling. The CX-3’s visual appeal is undeniable; its long hood and front fenders give it a powerful, almost feral, stance. Functionally, however, the hood doesn’t have to be that long, and the passenger and cargo compartments certainly would benefit from a little extra space.

Mazda also misses with its center armrest, which blocks the cup holders. If you want to have a cup of coffee at your right hand, you have to move the armrest to a position where you can’t rest your arm on it. Fortunately, neither the armrest nor the cup holders hinder access to the convenient “Commander” multi-function dial in the center console; it controls the navigation and infotainment systems displayed on a 7-inch color touchscreen. It’s mounted high so the driver’s eyes are still on the road while he manipulates the electronic systems with the Commander dial.

While legroom in the HR-V came up seriously short for our 6-foot driver, the CX-3 was just about right. But only a small child would fit behind a CX-3 driver who insisted on sliding the seat all the way back.

Fuel economy in our all-wheel-drive CX-3 was about 29 mpg in mostly highway driving. The car is rated at 27 mpg city, 32 highway.

The CX-3 has won high marks for crash protection, earning five stars overall in government crash tests at receiving the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick Plus designation.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD

Price: $28,510

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 146 horsepower, 146 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 6.2 in.

Weight: 2,952 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 18×7-in. alloy

Tires: P215/50R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 10.1 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 42.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline