Mazda CX-3: Sports car incognito

This is about buying (and bringing home) a sports car without your wife knowing about it.

Your sports-car dream runs thus:

It’s a Sunday morning and the sun has just started to break the horizon. You’re driving a quick and nimble small Mazda along the almost empty winding roads of Tanay. You step deeper into the accelerator and relish the rush of acceleration. You tap the brake pedal as you approach the next curve, flick the paddle shifter for a downshift, hear the revs from the direct-injection all-aluminum engine, and feel the power and torque of the Skyactiv high-compression two-liter push the car through the corner as the grippy low-profile Toyo tires work in sync with the finely tuned suspension.

There is a wall of mountain on one side and a ravine on the other. Yet you drive on with utmost confidence, thanks to the superb steering feel coursing through the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and the strong deceleration from the wonderfully modulated brakes. The sport bucket seats trimmed with leather and alcantara do a marvelous job of holding you in place even in the most spirited cornering maneuvers.     

This is pure sports car heaven.   

Having reached your destination, you pick up a few pasalubongsand get your wife and two kids in the car.

Wait, what?

This CX-3 packs more visual sensuousness than many automobiles much bigger than it.

Weren’t you driving a Mazda MX-5/Miata? How the heck can you fit three people in a two-seat sports car, you ask.

First, I never said you were driving a Miata. Yes, you were driving a small car from the Hiroshima-based brand. But you were driving the CX-3, Mazda’s smallest crossover. 

The CX-3 derives a fair portion of its underpinnings from the Mazda2 subcompact, a car you’d be hard-pressed to describe as sexy or svelte. But the MX-5, which is even shorter than the Mazda2 sedan, manages to pack a lot of eye candy within its very tidy dimensions. The Mazda CX-3, which is about as short as a Mazda2, manages exactly the same styling feat. It packs more visual sensuousness than many automobiles much bigger than it. 

The CX-3 has a very graceful beltline that flows gently up and down as it travels seamlessly from the hood line (when viewed from the side) through the doors all the way through the rear fenders and the tailgate. The roof, too, flows downward from the windshield towards the rear. The interplay of the sweeping lines of the roof and beltline create a very dynamic visual of the side windows. 

But that’s not all—Mazda added another character line, one that originates from the tops of the front fenders down through the front doors and terminates at the rear doors. 

The front end has a bold, compelling look, thanks to sleek LED headlamps and a gaping grille. Big 18-inch rims wrapped by sexy low-profile tires add to the sporting profile. It’s even got twin tailpipes set far apart like those on a Porsche or Subaru STI. The car simply looks great, despite its short length. Just like the MX-5. 

Most crossovers share their engine with their sedan or hatchback sibling. Not the CX-3. Externally, it’s not much bigger than its 1.5-liter-powered Mazda2 progenitor, but has the exact same 1998cc displacement as the MX-5. And unlike most crossovers that use wimpy CVT’s, the CX-3 has a six-speed automatic with Sport Mode. Guess where that six-speed auto box came from—yes, the MX-5. 

This drivetrain gives the diminutive CX-3 the moves. The MX-5’s 2.0-liter four may be more highly tuned than the CX-3’s same-sized motor (184 vs. 148 ps), but the torque ratings are much closer (205 vs. 192 Nm). The CX-3’s horsepower and torque peaks are also much more accessible than the MX-5’s (6000 and 2800 rpm vs. 7000 and 4000 rpm), making the CX-3, which weighs just 150 kilos more than the MX-5, feel even more nimble and responsive in daily (read: low to medium rpm) driving.  

Leather-and-suede red-trimmed bucket seats, a leather sports steering wheel (with audio and cruise control buttons), and paddle shifters give you that unmistakable sports car-like in-control feel you only get in a true driver’s car. 

The CX-3 has a very graceful beltline that flows gently up and down as it travels seamlessly from the hood line (when viewed from the side) through the doors all the way through the rear fenders and the tailgate.

Handling? Few cars can match the Miata’s sublime dynamics. But the CX-3 clearly shows the lineage of Mazda’s celebrated road-holding. Both cars have electric power steering that provide lots of feedback and are tuned to give the most skillful drivers millimetric precision. They even have similar tire sizes, with the CX-3 AWD’s rubber just one size bigger—215/50-18 vs. 205/45-17. That the CX-3 is among the smallest and shortest cars on the road makes it even more of a delight to zip through traffic. Just like the MX-5.     

And because of its all-wheel drive, the CX-3 Activ will give you more sure-footed handling on wet or slippery surfaces than any two-wheel drive car or crossover. Yes, including the Miata. 

Braking? Same deal. Even from high speeds, the CX-3’s brake pedal is wonderfully easy to modulate and delivers strong, consistent stopping power.

The CX-3 Activ AWD variant retails for P1,480,000. That’s a lot more than most subcompact crossovers (but a lot less than the MX-5 automatic’s P2,160,000 sticker). But the CX-3’s price, which also helps ensure a higher level of exclusivity, also gives you a boatload of features, includinga Smart Entry system with push-button engine start/stop, a head-up display, and a kick-ass 6-speaker Bose multimedia infotainment system with a 7-inch display and a BMW-like knob controller. 

Pair these with the aforementioned leather-and-suede interior and dual tailpipes, power driver’s seat, big alloy wheels, LED head-, fog- and taillamps, LED DRL’s, auto door locks and headlights, rain-sensing wipers, rear-view camera, parking sensors, among many others (only a sunroof is missing), and you’ve got yourself one fully loaded yet highly functional toy. 

Safety-wise, the CX-3 Activ AWD comes with dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, and Dynamic Stability Control.  If you’ve been hungering for a Mazda MX-5 but are constrained by the realities of life (i.e. budget, space, kids), then the CX-3 is the car to satisfy that hunger. Your spouse will even thank you for it.

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