Every Sunday or Monday, a very generous man appears in my driveway with a new car. The same man, in not as generous a fashion, also removes a car from my driveway. The most recentÂ exchange involved the arrival of a fourth-generation 2018 Kia Rio and the departure of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Coupe we reviewed last week.
“Chilly one today, eh?” I say.
“I’m preparing myself for some cold days in PEI this winter,” Mr. Sowerby says with a chuckle. We chat for a moment about a recent Chevrolet Traverse event that was slathered across my Twitter feed, and as Garry gets into the Mercedes-Benz to depart he says, “You’re getting a Mazda CX-3 with a six-speed stick next week.”
Huh? It can’t be. Seriously?
But the manual-shift CX-3 is not destined for the United States.
Although Mazda has faced its share of struggles in Canada, the brand continues to exert itself far more successfully north of the border than south. Through the first eight months of 2017, Mazda owned 3.6 percent of the Canadian market but just 1.7 percent of the market in the U.S., where its sales are falling. And while the CX-3 is an afterthought both for Mazda’s U.S. dealers and for American subcompact crossover consumers, the Canadian success of the CX-3 plays a significant role in the brand’s 7-percent year-over-year growth through the first two-thirds of 2017.
As a result, while Mazda’s 2018 CX-3 continues to exclusively link the 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder to a six-speed automatic â€” a good automaticÂ that makes that 2.0-liter feel surprisingly bubbly â€” Canadians will now be offered a six-speed manual. Few automakers execute a manual shifter as well as Mazda, so this will be a good opportunity for Canadian subcompact crossover shoppers to experience a little bit more of what makes Mazda Mazda.
Granted, few will do so. The six-speed manual offered by Mazda Canada is reserved for the base GX trim and can’t be paired with all-wheel drive. The benefit is a lower MSRP: in 2017, the least costly Mazda CX-3 in Canada stickered at $22,690, including $1,995 in fees. For 2018, Mazda drops the base price by $700 and will now advertise a sub-$20K base price (excluding fees): $19,995, or $21,990 before tax. The price of the basic CX-3 GX with a six-speed automatic, meanwhile, climbs by $600 to $23,290.
Capitalizing on a few more potential CX-3 buyers whose appetite for a manual transmission would have previously led them to the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai, Subaru Crosstrek, or Chevrolet Trax will serve some purpose. Being able to advertise a lower price on one of the segment’s leaders is perhaps even more important.Â The CX-3 owns only 3 percent of the U.S. subcompact crossover sector; it’s roundly outsold by the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, and Buick Encore in America. Even the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is twice as popular. But the CX-3 is one of the segment’s big dogs in Canada, claiming 13 percent market share and outselling every competitor so far this year except the HR-V.
As a result, despite a market that’s only one-eighth the size of the United States’ auto industry, Canadians buy very nearly as many CX-3s as Americans do. The 10,528-unit total achieved by the CX-3 in the U.S. so far this year is only 1.5 times stronger than Mazda Canada’s CX-3 total.
Introducing a manual-shift CX-3 in the United States would amount to a trivial blip on the radar. Doing so in Canada, where Mazda has far greater sway,Â might actually accomplish something.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.