WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CALIFORNIA — The subcompact crossover SUV market was 118,000 in 2014, and it’s likely to be 290,000 this year. That’s more than doubling in one year, and it’s a good explanation of why Mazda created the CX-3, a car vehicle line manager Dan Calhoun described as aimed at “young urban singles and couples living a cutting-edge lifestyle.”
It’s a very small car, but roomy inside, powered by a slightly less powerful version of the motor from the new Miata MX-5 (more about that car later). In California, Mazda turned us loose in the canyons around Los Angeles and the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu to test both cars.
First, the CX-3. What makes this car an SUV? Well, four-wheel drive is available, and the styling cues (such as the blacked-out arches over the wheels) suggest it. But there are some commonalities between this platform and that of the co-developed Mazda2, and if you’d rather see it as an on-pavement car, fine. Do SUVs get 29 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway?
Speaking of the highway, the 146-horsepower, two-liter CX-3 (sold only with a six-speed automatic) is in its element there. The cabin is roomy for the front passengers, and OK for the rear if the seats move up a little. Headroom is great, and luggage space good for a vehicle this size. It’s not really a family car, but four people could certainly take a nice vacation in it.
The CX-3 came through fine in the extremities — on the switchbacked hills above Malibu, it cornered with alacrity, and without much body roll. Acceleration on steep hills wasn’t instantaneous, but made itself available eventually. The ride on rougher sections of the highway was a bit jittery but this would still be a fine long-distance machine.
I predict Mazda will sell a lot of CX-3s, because it’s a stylish and affordable choice in a segment that’s skyrocketing. An introductory Sport model sells for $19,960, a mid-range Touring for $21,960 and a top-of-the-range GT for $24,990. Even the Sport is sold well-equipped.
The 2016 MX-5 is hotly anticipated, and not least by me, since I recently became the proud owner of a 1999 second-generation car. They made an interesting comparison. The fourth-generation car, which is already on sale in its Launch Edition version, is something of a return to first principles, including weight loss (it weighs 2,332 pounds with manual, very close to my car’s 2,337) and a horsepower increase to 155 from the all-new two-liter engine.
On the road, it didn’t disappoint. It’s much tauter than my car, with a 30 percent increase in rigidity from the third-generation car. All Miatas handle well, but this one loves to be thrown into corners. The great fun with these roadsters is taking them up through the (now, six) gears. Cruising on a highway isn’t the car’s forte — take the station wagon.
Pluses on this car include the easy up-and-down top, the high-revving four-cylinder engine, the puma waiting for its prey stance, the six-speed transmission (with fifth being the 1:1 gear) and a new connectivity, with a seven-inch touch screen and music playing through a Bose sound system. I don’t have too many negatives, though the lack of storage (not even door pockets) is (as always) a problem. It’s a weekend car, not a weeks-away car.
There are three 2016 MX-5 models, starting with the Sport at $24,915, moving on up to the Club (a performance emphasis) at $28,600 and the Grand Touring (with luxury features) for $30,065.
And my Miata, you were asking? It’s doing just fine, thank you. I’ve been taking it out on a lot of short excursions and fixing little things. There’s not much wrong with it — how could there be, it’s a Miata with 31,000 miles on it?
My ’99 is a more basic roadster; the 2016 car is more sophisticated, but both are a lot of fun. That was the watchword for the Miata when they introduced it in 1989, and it remains so in this fourth generation.
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