Imagine a world in which the crossover SUV, the blight of our roadways, was the default transportation option. Where most vehicles are tall, bloated, with poor handling.
Some might say that weâ€™re already there â€” heck, weâ€™ve been saying that.
But in our imaginary world where the crossover has been the standard for decades, consider what the impact of a marketplace disruptor like this 2018 Mazda 3 GT could be. All of the utility of a CUV, but with better fuel economy and handling. In this bizarro world, this revolutionary compact hatchback might indeed be all the rage. Thus, Iâ€™m calling the Mazda3 â€œThe Crossunder.â€�
Yeah, Iâ€™m biased against the crossover. Iâ€™ve generally valued vehicle dynamics over ride height, asÂ thereâ€™s no escaping physics when attempting quick lateral maneuvers. But many shoppers argue that a crossover offers â€œmore spaceâ€� than the comparable car.
Iâ€™m here to dispel that myth.
Take a look within the Mazda brand â€” at the CX-3 subcompact crossover â€” and compare it to this Mazda 3 hatchback. Equipped similarly (I â€œbuiltâ€� a front-drive CX-3 online), the crossover is exactly ten US dollars more expensive than the hatchback. And in virtually every dimension, the hatchback is bigger. Head room, cargo room with the seats up or down, shoulder or hip room â€” the hatch wins.
And the CX-3 gives you exactly one tenth of an inch of extra ground clearance: 6.2 inches to 6.1. Not nearly enough to take on any serious trails.
Iâ€™d argue that this Mazda 3 has plenty of room for most families of four. A little extra cargo space would be nice for really big strollers or for the ubiquitous Pack nâ€™ Play that allows parents to imprison their infants while traveling, but once the kids are ambulatory, they donâ€™t need all of the bulky stuff.
We had our typical kids sports weekend while I drove the Mazda 3 â€” soccer, volleyball, softball, and cheerleading all within 30 hours â€” and we fit everything we needed for the weekend, including coolers, camp chairs, and food, in the hatch below the tonneau cover.
With all of that loaded up, itâ€™s still a great ride. The kids had plenty of legroom in the back. I could have used a bit more lower back support (the adjustable lumbar cushion doesnâ€™t extend quite far enough for me), but itâ€™s still comfy enough for most.
Iâ€™ll grant that the interior is a bit dour. Dark leather and dark trim, with a couple of piano black bits to highlight every stray bit of french fry salt that drops near the shifter, isnâ€™t particularly inspiring. But the interior works well, with a big center tachometer dominating the driverâ€™s attention. The adjustable head-up display is quite nice, displaying lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring alerts as well as road speed, though in bright light it washes out a bit through my polarized sunglasses.
Audio quality is excellent via the optional Bose-branded nine-speaker audio system. My usual selections of Eighties pop sounded clear and loud. Mazdaâ€™s console-mounted control knob is still not my favorite method of controlling navigation and audio, though with familiarity (they use the same controls and screen in every car) itâ€™s becoming easier to manage. I suppose my gripe comes with the relative slowness of setting multiple presets â€” which I do every time I get a new car. Most people set presets once, changing them rarely. This gig means Iâ€™m changing presets weekly, and Mazdaâ€™s interface is just a bit slower than most to respond to changes. Once set, everything is simple to use.
Ride quality is impressive for a smaller car. The 18-inch alloy wheels and resulting low-profile tires do give a healthy thump when encountering big bumps, but otherwise handling is predictable and neutral. With 184 horses, itâ€™s not slow and plenty fun to drive. However, comparing it to more performance oriented competitors like the VW GTI mean this Mazda isnâ€™t quite a hot hatch. My tester had a six-speed automatic that shifted quickly and firmly, allowing me to hold gears when trying to hustle, but for those so inclined, the available manual transmission is one of the best. Steering is quick and precise, and noise from both wind and road is minimal.
This Mazda3 is a crossover without the over. Plenty of room for people, stuff, and activities, with none of the tradeoffs of those not-so-high-riding, not-quite-sport utility vehicles. Itâ€™s time to choose a crossunder.
[Images: Â© 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]