This whole crossover business has been confusing from the very start, only for its offerings to become even funkier and push boundaries even further. Is there a single carmaker to blame for starting this weird trend, or is it down to consumers for wanting such a thing? It’s supposed to provide comfort, a raised ride height, a truck-like feel, and lots of space, minus the bulkiness of an SUV—but how about a sport package boasting speed and handling? Forget truck-like, then—these things are becoming more and more like cars!
But admit it or not, we all love crossovers. The BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne have spawned smaller versions. The upcoming Audi Q2 and BMW X2 are pushing the limits. The Japanese, too, are close behind: After the Nissan X-Trail came the Qashqai; after the CR-V, the HR-V. And don’t forget the Nissan Juke. As for Mazda, the CX-5 handles really well, so imagine something smaller. This—the CX-3.
It’s no taller than a subcompact sedan or hatchback. It’s addicting to look at—fluid, and meatier than the CX-5 because of its proportions. It’s just slightly bigger than the 2, after all. A character line from the hood and front fenders flow downward to the rear doors, steering clear of another one from the taillights, creating chunks with a tonal value of dark to light from the bottom. The roofline draws just as much attention, being nicely capped by small rear windows, black C-pillars, and the requisite spoiler.
Silver accents on the running board attempt to add some length, while unpainted lower portions of the bumpers lend an off-roader image. If the CX-5 is a cheetah waiting to pounce, this is a cub wanting to play, with big paws in the form of those 18-inch wheels. The CX-3 is easily the best of the Kodo design principle.
In the cabin, matching the playful exterior are red inserts on the knee rests and door pulls, red piping on the seats and shift boot, and generous swathes of suede on the seats and doors. The interior is based on that of the subcompact 2, with a center-mounted tach and a heads-up speedometer display. A Bose sound system makes things feel even more premium.
The seats are nice to the feel and offer the right amount of bolstering, considering you’ll toss the CX-3 like it ain’t a crossover. If there’s one thing I like about Mazda, it’s that driving position is always A-plus, setting the tone for an unforgettable experience. At the back, tall occupants still have enough legroom. Headroom is also pretty decent. The downside? Trunk space. While a sizable box fits in the back, you’ll have to fold the backseat and remove the rear tray for bigger items. Rear visibility is also compromised by the smallish glass, but there’s a backing-up camera to compensate for it.
The 2.0-liter engine from the 3 finds its way into the CX-3, detuned from 155hp to 146hp for better fuel economy. The power loss isn’t a big deal because curb weight is also lower. As mentioned, this one is the AWD variant, although it’s hard to say if the extra weight from the drivetrain is a considerable penalty. The assurance of having added stability makes you feel more secure and assertive.
Unlike in our rainy September cover shoot last year, I’m blessed with good weather while I have my tester. While I can’t relate to writer Niky Tamayo’s gripping narrative of the CX-3’s STI-like capabilities in the wet, handling is so sharp, it makes its the CX-5 feel, uh, big...and ho-hum. That says a lot because the CX-5 handles the best in its class. You’ll want to hit #instaroads all the more. It’s easily apparent that this baby crossover is from the same car brand that made that roadster. It more closely resembles the MX-5 than it does the bigger sport-utes in the lineup. It makes no practical sense, but when you drive it, it puts a smile on your face.
Over a span of five days and a distance of 280km (the odometer has a little over 2,000 clicks on it), the test unit yielded around 13.5-14km/L on the highway and 8-8.5km/L in the city (with i-Stop deactivated). With the kind of traffic we have now, you’d want something as agile and well-rounded as this. Thing is, though, this top-spec AWD goes for P1.48 million, and that’s Mitsubishi Montero Sport or Toyota Fortuner money right there.
Hard to make sense of it, but if you want it for the sake of having a crossover, no one can blame you. Good things come in small packages. The CX-3 simply nails that line.
SPECS: Mazda CX-3 AWD
Engine: 2.0-liter petrol I4
Power: 146hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 192Nm @ 2,800rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic