Maverick Mazda must speak Japanese with an Italian accent.
What else can you say about a free-wheeling company that claims its flowing, carefully carved cars and crossovers embody the “soul of motion”?
I halfway suspect Mazda ships them in bubble-wrap with a bottle of Chianti in each vehicle’s trunk.
Probably not, but just take a look at the 2019 Mazda CX-3, a polished subcompact crossover that offers far more fine style and driving dynamics than dreary practicality.
Is that Italian or what, Luigi?
In a hot segment full of lukewarm boxes, the radiant – and somewhat flawed – CX-3 looks as if it should be playing with loftier near-luxury crossovers.
Sorry, Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Subaru, but it’s hard not to be a bit dazzled by the gently blunt front on the wine-red CX-3 Grand Touring model I had recently.
A large blacked-out grille, for example, featured a distinctive piece of chrome trim at its base that wrapped around into big bold headlamps – actually sliding into the lenses of the lights.
And it didn’t stop there. A broad, slightly raised hood eased gracefully down onto smooth, muscular front fenders.
Although the sides appear featureless at first glance, take a closer look.
A really subtle, sloping character line above the front door-handle angled down, discreetly disappearing into the back door.
A second low-profile line began faintly at the top of the back door, forming a brief shoulder over a short, sweeping rear fender.
In bright light, it had me muttering “soul of motion…soul of motion” without a clue as to what in blazes that meant. (I missed a few Philosophy 101 classes at Mutt U.)
But even a Texas hick like me could see the Mazda’s sculpted glow, capped nicely by a rakish, tight-fitting top.
Clinging to prominent 215/60 tires on 10-spoke wheels, the CX-3 looked almost like a concept vehicle that had just rolled off the floor at the Detroit auto show.
I only wish the Mazda’s 2-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder engine packed as much verve as the rest of the crossover.
Look, I understand that most small-crossover buyers aren’t looking for ground-shaking, tire-smoking power in their mini-people-movers.
But with a scant 148 horsepower to move 3,200 pounds, the all-wheel-drive CX-3 kind of failed to meet the expectations raised by its special body.
Think of it as computer-dating on wheels.
Depending on how you drive, though, you might not notice it all the time.
Thanks to reasonable low-end torque and a well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission, the CX-3 jumps pleasantly away from stops, sounding smooth and satisfied as it accelerates.
In addition, the little hummer gets 27 miles per gallon in town.
However, the first time you try to enter a frenzied freeway and plant the right pedal to the floor, you won’t find much reward in the CX-3’s anemic upper ranges.
It’s not a huge weakness. With a 0-to-60 time of 8.2 seconds, according to Car and Driver, the CX-3 can at least claim to be adequate.
But it deserves better.
Fortunately, the vehicle’s robust, well-tuned platform and suspension – based on the tiny-yet-spry Mazda2 – almost compensate for the skinny engine.
The CX-3 dives into corners like a small, taut hatchback, holding a confident, unwavering line with minimal body lean.
Moreover, the steering was quick and well-weighted with good road feel, making it easy to move the CX-3 around in traffic.
On fast back roads, it kind of drove like a high-riding Mazda3 sedan with a sliver of Miata in it.
But like all good times, the fun can occasionally wear a bit thin. In sport mode, the CX-3 steps over bumps and imperfections firmly, feeling kind of fidgety on some city streets.
I call it street-massage.
Actually, it wasn’t a major irritation partly because the black-and-white interior in my CX-3 provided a really pleasant distraction.
Every bit as good as the exterior, the interior often seemed almost too refined for a vehicle costing less than $30,000.
A smooth, expensive-looking black dashboard, for instance, curved down to a dark suede mid-dash that featured a 7-inch tablet-sized display screen protruding from it.
Among the nifty details on the mid-dash were round climate vents with inner rings painted the same red color as the vehicle.
Unfortunately, you must tune the stereo through the display screen – a detail I wish Mazda hadn’t overlooked.
Meanwhile, sculpted black door panels were trimmed with a silver patch around the door-handles resembling aluminum, while gorgeous off-white seats offered supportive sectioned centers.
The back seat provided decent head-room but limited leg-room, and the cargo space behind the back seat looked as if it could handle no more than a couple of good-sized bags.
I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over it because I figure the CX-3 will mainly appeal to single people and couples without kids.
Among the options on my vehicle were the Premium Package with items like a six-way adjustable power driver’s seat and heated steering wheel ($710); and Red Crystal paint ($595).
Even with its relatively minor flaws, the CX-3 beams with good design and artful touches – as well as a spicy dash of Italian flair.
Let’s hope little Mazda can keep the heat.
Photo Credit: Mazda
- What I liked most: The CX-3’s alluring looks, deft handling and fine driving characteristics – qualities rarely found in a sub-$30,000 compact crossover.
- What I would change: As always, the soft SkyActiv engine, which Mazda is already fortifying in other models with a turbocharger.
- MSRP: Base price for the Grand Touring model, $27,145; as equipped, $29,625.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway and 29 mpg overall with filler on the left.
- Official color: Soul Red Crystal Metallic.
- Odometer reading when tested: 4,937 miles.
- Weight: Approximately 3,200 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 168.3 inches long/69.6 inches wide/60.7 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 11.9 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 1,031 pounds.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2019 Mazda CX-3 in a few words: Easily the best-looking and best-handling compact crossover among mainstream vehicles.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Hofu, Japan.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mazdausa.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE350