2016 Mazda CX-3 Poised To Stand Out In Crowd Of Compact SUVs – Forbes
Tiny SUVs like the all-new 2016 Mazda CX-3 didn’t even exist in the United States until recently. Now they’re proliferating.
The CX-3 was one of four such vehicles that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show, including two other all-new models, the Fiat 500x and Honda HR-V, and an updated one, the Nissan Juke.
All of them are so much smaller than the typical crossover that they are considered subcompacts, with the big advantage of their diminutive size being better fuel economy.
They share underpinnings with existing cars, such as the Mazda 2 in the case of the CX-3 and the Honda Fit in the case of the HR-V. Thus, they enable automakers to increase the number of fuel-efficient models in their lineups without huge investments in new technology, says Thomas Libby, an analyst at IHS Automotive.
But even if the subcompact SUV market is suddenly getting crowded, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is poised to stand out.
As is typical of Mazda, the CX-3 is meant to offer styling and driving dynamics comparable to a premium vehicle, even though its price will be in line with mass-market competitors such as the Nissan Juke.
Structurally, the CX-3 is based on an all-new version of the Mazda 2 hatchback — which has not yet launched in the United States, but is being sold as the Demio in other markets. The architecture of the Mazda 2 has been modified though, to allow for a taller body, larger wheels, and all-wheel drive.
Under the hood, the CX-3 borrows from a larger vehicle instead. It features the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission from the Mazda 3. Front-wheel drive will be standard and all-wheel drive will be optional.
Mazda has not yet released fuel economy ratings or other specs for the 2016 CX-3. However, in the Mazda 3, the 2.0-liter engine produces 155 horsepower and gets 34 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Those numbers should be similar for the CX-3.
The CX-3’s engine, transmission and lightweight body structure — most of which is comprised of either high-strength or ultra-high-strength steel — are part of Mazda’s suite of Skyactiv fuel-saving technology. All the components are designed for optimum efficiency without compromising the fun-to-drive nature inherent in all Mazdas. For example, in the Mazda 3, the six-speed automatic is more fuel-efficient than the six-speed manual, yet it also offers quick gear changes for peppy acceleration and downshifts (as discussed in our Mazda 3 test drive.)
The optional all-wheel-drive system on the CX-3 features some advances not seen on other models, such as a redesigned rear differential that is lighter and smaller than the one used on the CX-5.
Mazda says the CX-3 also features a “wheel slip warning detection system,” which it calls a “world first.” A spokesperson could not elaborate when asked about the technology, but said more details will be available before the CX-3 arrives in showrooms this summer.
The styling of the 2016 CX-3 features Mazda’s latest design motif, which is called “Kodo,” or “soul of motion.” The prominent trapezoidal grille, sculpted fenders and high waistline are all hallmarks of this design strategy.
The CX-3’s headlights feature LED elements and have a different look than on previous Mazdas. The company intends to translate this look to other models, such as the Mazda 6 sedan and CX-5 crossover, which are getting refreshed for the 2016 model year.
Inside, the Mazda CX-3’s slim dashboard, paired-down controls and sculpted seats mimic those of other models.
Though attractive design is a big selling point for Mazda vehicles, it is the sporty driving dynamics — which the 2016 CX-3 should inherit — that most set them apart from competitors. The difference in steering feel, suspension tuning and throttle response that is Mazda’s signature ought to draw some buyers from the blander choices.
Compact SUVs are a hit with consumers. They have become the top-selling segment of the U.S. car market, according to IHS data, beating out the two previous largest categories: compact and midsize cars.
Technically, models like the CX-3 are considered subcompacts because they’re smaller than compact SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. But IHS and other data aggregators lump the subcompact and compact SUVs into the same category.
That’s partly because so few subcompacts had been available before. Now more automakers are expanding their lineups to include one, Mazda and Honda among them. Even luxury brands are getting in on the action, as with the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, which is new for the 2015 model year.
Counting the recently unveiled Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade (corporate twin to the Fiat 500x that just debuted in Los Angeles), the number of models in this burgeoning segment of the car market will more than double by next year.
Look for a steady rollout of the fresh choices. The Jeep Renegade is due by yearend, the Chevy Trax early next year, and the Honda HR-V in the spring.
This trend toward small SUVs is spurred partly by automakers’ need to comply with a government mandate to dramatically increase the overall fuel economy of their lineups, according to IHS’ Libby. “They need [the subcompacts] for hitting Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers,” Libby says.
The CX-3 is the third, and smallest, SUV in Mazda’s lineup, slotting below the compact CX-5 and midsize CX-9.
Pricing for the 2016 Mazda CX-3 has not been announced, but expect it to cost less than the CX-5, which starts at $22,375, including a requisite $830 delivery charge.
More Los Angeles Auto Show debuts:
Besides the Honda HR-V, which is a competitor of the Mazda CX-3, other highlights from the L.A. Auto Show include the BMW X5 M and X6 M, the Cadillac ATS-V, the Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang and the Toyota Mirai.
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