The four-door people carrier with a trunk that many of us grew up with seems to be going the way of whitewall tires, bell-bottom pants and mullet hairdos.
In its place is a dizzying variety of SUVS, CUVS, crossovers and sport cutes. The compact sport utility market in particular is going crazy and every other car seems to be a sport ute of some kind.
In the thick of it is the CX-3, one of three sport utilities introduced by Mazda to the market in 2015 for the 2016 model year.
Available in six versions, the 2019 CX-3 is powered by Mazda’s SkyActiv 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that, in this configuration, develops just under 150 horsepower.
You can choose from front-drive or all-wheel drive, and transmissions include a six-speed manual (kudos to Mazda for this, by the way), or six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.
My tester – an all-wheel-drive GT model – had the latter gearbox, and I was happy to discover that it’s not a continuously variable transmission, or CVT (more kudos to Mazda here).
In fact, the CX-3 is arguably the most driveable of Mazda’s sport cute triumvirate, although it could definitely use a little more power.
Although it strives mightily, the engine in the CX-3 is just not big or robust enough for this vehicle. It’s responsive and willing, but on long mountain grades, for example, it really has to work and the automatic gearbox is continually kicking up and down to maintain vehicle speed.
It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but this engine’s forte is definitely urban schlepping, as opposed to long-haul touring.
On the other hand, it is thrifty. I took my tester out for a three-day road trip into the B.C. Okanagan and it seemed to average around 7.7 litres/100 km overall – not bad considering how hard it worked on steep inclines.
But you’ll look long and hard for storage room with this little tusker. Mazda puts rear cargo capacity at 1,484 litres (52 cubic feet) with the back seat folded. That isn’t much – less than the Honda HR-V (1,583 litres) – and my standard test for storage, a full drum kit, just about filled the CX-3 to max. With the back seat up, you have room for a few bags of groceries or a small dog, but not much more.
But that’s OK – this is not a trailer-hauling, plywood-carrying SUV meant to double as a weekend work vehicle. This is a fun-to-drive, reasonably versatile sport cute aimed mainly at younger and female drivers.
And it handles well. It’s a little twitchy at highway speed but around town it’s nimble, easy to manoeuvre and simple to park. I’m not sure exactly what category the CX-3 fits into, but it’s arguably the most entertaining to drive SUV in Mazda’s stable.
Equipment level in the GT model is high, with all the usual modern conveniences and safety features – steering wheel paddler shifters, pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, rearview camera, heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc., etc. – coming standard. In fact, the only option on my tester was leather interior and glitzy “gunmetal” 18-inch alloy wheels.
Mazda is using a centre console arrangement for radio volume control, band choice and station source. Finding another station, for example, involves dialing in the radio and then scrolling along until you find the tuner, and then dialing in the station. There are presets, but the whole setup is unnecessarily cumbersome. But I did become accustomed to it after awhile.
Sound system and switchgear ergonomics are among the most irritating features on today’s breed of fully computerized, driver-interface automobiles. And the CX-3 is more straightforward than many others. But it’s still kind of a pain in the butt.
2019 Mazda CX-3
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 148 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 146 foot pounds at 2,800 rpm
Base price: $31,045; as tested, $33,890
Fuel economy: 8.6 litres/100 km city and 7.4 highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Honda HR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Juke, Nissan Qashqai, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro, Buick Encore.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).