Honda HR-V vs. Mazda CX-3 vs. Kia Soul vs. Buick Encore: Small crossover four-way, part two.
This week: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD.
Price: $29,790 as tested (including $550 for Mazda mobile start, and $100 each for door-sill trim plates and rear bumper guard). A bare-bones front-wheel-drive model can be had for $19,960.
Marketer's pitch: "What if more adventures started from the driver's seat?"
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the "excellent fuel economy; sporty handling; quiet speed; attractive, high-quality interior with appealing features," but not the "snug rear seat; humble cargo capacity."
Reality: Edmunds and I diverge a bit.
Bated breath: I waited with great anticipation for Mazda's entry into the compact-crossover race. The larger CX-5 is a favorite of mine, so I thought smaller would be even better. Alas.
Consistency or foolishness? Ralph Waldo Emerson once told us, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
Perhaps it's a foolish inconsistency to apply that idea to a car review, but it seems that Mazda wanted to provide the standard Mazda console in the crowded CX-3 interior. In this endeavor, the CX-3 falls short.
Bent elbow: Today's Mazda interiors feature a stand-up display screen on the dash with a control knob on the console, shifter in front of it, and cup holders behind.
Unfortunately, the cramped quarters of the CX-3 leave no place for a console storage bin, and coffee cups ride under the armrest. So frequent sippers must leave the armrest up, which interferes with the driver's elbow.
While I suffered these indignities, my eyes would glance longingly at the blank dashboard under and next to the display screen. This mountain of unused space appeared perfect for either the control knob or hideaway cup holders. The (surprisingly) more stretched-out Mazda3 has room for cups and a console. And elbows.
Up to speed: The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine offers standard Mazda performance, though it's the lesser of choices in the lineup. It's sufficient but not breathtaking, impressive enough for a mere 146 horses moving a vehicle of this size and gulping regular unleaded.
On the road: The CX-3 falls short of Mazda's usual handling standards. Body roll makes the vehicle a little less fun than even the CX-5; it's about on par with the Kia Soul.
A sport-mode switch changed the handling not much, as far as I could tell. In fact, I recently noted how delightful the Mazda6 midsize sedan was, and it didn't have any such switch.
Shifty: The six-speed automatic comes with shift capability through the lever or on the paddles. The lever sits so low that having the armrest down made shifting uncomfortable.
Friends (or former friends): The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat complained about the standard manually adjustable seat from the outset. She found the seat stiff and uncomfortable, and hard to position correctly. I found the driver's seat acceptable.
In back of us, though, sat a teeny-weeny backseat. Legroom is really bad. Sturgis Kids 2.0 and 4.0, both near 6 feet, found a half-hour trip to be fairly uncomfortable. They're patient with most vehicles, but they complained quite vocally about this one.
The seat itself also sits straight, which doesn't improve comfort.
Stuff: The long cargo compartment and slanted rear window provide good, usable everyday space for hauling groceries and such. But a square hatch like the Soul makes for more usable area when hauling bigger items.
As for cargo room, the CX-3 is the baby of the group, with just 44.4 cubic feet available with the seat folded.
Night shift: The overhead lights are fairly bright, as in all Mazdas I've tested recently. They don't offer the kind of ambient lighting more astute makes provide.
The headlamps also don't cast much in the way of glow and sit a little low.
Fuel economy: I averaged 27.5 m.p.g.
Where it's built: Hiroshima, Japan.
How it's built: The CX-3 has no reliability rating as a new model, but big brother and factory mate CX-5 gets top marks from Consumer Reports.
In the end: It's too bad Mazda bought into the small-crossover mania that I'm told was sweeping the nation this model year. When I wrote about the Mazda6 sedan, I lamented that the Mazda6 wagon has long since been discontinued; it would have made a much better offering.
Next week: Step back in time with a 2015 Kia Soul.