Mazda CX-3 and Toyota 4Runner Trail

| January 1, 2016


MAZDA CX-3 | Starting Price: $20,000

In a segment that is both growing in demand and quickly becoming crowded, Mazda’s CX-3 is a standout among its competitors. That’s no easy task considering who this mini Mazda is vying against: Fiat 500x, Honda HR-V, and the Nissan Juke, among others. Call it what you will — a subcompact crossover, a cute ute, or even just a hatchback — you just can’t call it plain.

The CX-3 has lots of character, thanks to its bold lines, almost non-existent overhangs, and overall aggressive-looking stance. The 18-inch wheels on the Grand Touring model nicely round out the overall effect. Even its nose is big and proud. Generally speaking, this is one fine-looking automobile.

The best part is that the CX-3 has substance to match its style. It’s as fun to drive as it is to look at. Mazda’s zoom-zoom heritage is alive and well in the CX-3. Thanks to its rigid unibody structure, this Mazda maneuvers with a confident zip in its step. Riding on MacPherson struts up front and a torsion-beam suspension in back, you get just enough road feedback to feel engaged, but not abused. The electric power steering feels as responsive as many higher-end sport sedans. Mazda’s Skyactiv engineering philosophy blends all elements of the car to create a harmonious balance of sportiness and efficiency, and it is well-pronounced in the CX-3. So whether you are scooting about in city traffic or taking a cruise on an open freeway, this vehicle is going to feel at home.

Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine propels the CX-3. Mated to a well-tuned six-speed automatic, this powertrain yields 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft. of torque. While those aren’t overwhelming numbers, they work in this category of small crossovers. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that even the AWD version gets 27/32 mpg city/highway.

Speaking of all-wheel drive, the CX-3 employs Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD system, which can monitor road conditions and instantly adjusts the power for optimal traction at any given time. This “predictive” system is available as a $1,250 option on all models.

Inside, the CX-3 is nicely appointed. The materials feel more upscale than others in this segment, with accent stitching and other contrasting trims. Front seats are extremely comfortable even after an hour or more of driving. The instrument panel’s layout is clean and user-friendly and includes a 7-inch screen featuring navigation. The back seat can feel a bit crowded for larger adults, but that’s no surprise in this category. Opt for the Grand Touring, and you’ll get LED lighting, heated leather seats, navigation, a Bose sound system, automatic climate control, among other things.

Pricing starts in the low $20K range and goes up from there. If you’re in the market for a fun-to-drive subcompact, you have lots of choices. However, the CX-3 is the one to beat.



TOYOTA 4RUNNER TRAIL Starting Price: $33,500

For more than 30 years the Toyota 4Runner has enjoyed a devoted following of loyal off-roading (and on-roading) enthusiasts. While most manufacturers (and customers) have moved over to the more practical crossover market, it’s good to know that there are still diehard, tried-and-true SUVs out there. And why fix something that isn’t broken? Fans have purchased well more than two million of these things.

The 4Runner’s body-on-frame design makes it a true, truck-based SUV. It’s solid and sturdy and can go just about anywhere you can imagine. It has a rugged-looking exterior with a front end that looks like it will swallow whole anything that gets in its way. Angular lines are chiseled and muscular, giving it a confidence-inspiring stance.

That confidence comes to fruition in the total package of engine, transmission, and its 4-wheel-drive system. The engine remains as the trusty 4.0-liter V6 mated to a 5-speed automatic with manual shifting mode. Total output is 270 horsepower and a beefy 278 lb.-ft. of torque. The Trail’s 4-wheel drive system is manually operated via a transfer case lever. It also comes outfitted with the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) which disengages the anti-roll bars to allow for greater suspension travel in extreme conditions. KDSS is automatic, so you’ll notice that even big potholes get smoothed out. Add to that the multi-terrain selector and you can optimize the vehicle’s performance for snow, sand, mud, or rocks; basically anything that isn’t pavement. Once 4-wheel drive is engaged, you can ease off the accelerator, sit back and let the 4Runner do all the heavy lifting, er…driving.

However, when you aren’t off climbing mountains, the 4Runner is mighty fine as a road warrior. The ride is definitely trucky, but not abusive by any means. Having a truck-like ride is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, refinements over the years have made it a much better thing. With true body-on-frame SUVs, you sacrifice a bit of interior roominess as compared to crossovers, yet the 4Runner still manages to feel roomy enough for 6-foot-tall adults. The perch from the driver’s seat offers an excellent and commanding view of the road, thanks in part to the steep angle on the windshield. And for the views you can’t quite see, there’s a rear back-up camera.

Soft touch surfaces are more abundant in this latest rendition of the 4Runner, including SofTex, leather-like heated seats. The central command center features a 6.1-inch touch screen with navigation, a full app suite, and SiriusXM Satellite radio. Without a third row, you can opt for the sliding rear cargo deck, a nice option for storing things out of view while maintaining easy access to items stored on top.

The Trail is the SUV for true enthusiasts. Pricing remains in the low $40K range.

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Category: New Automobiles

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