Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Mazda CX-3

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Since arriving as a 2016 model, the Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover has marked itself as being the fun-to-drive offering in this rapidly growing segment of pipsqueak utes. Motivated by a 146 horsepower four-cylinder that’s hooked to a six-speed auto, and running with either front- or all-wheel drive, the CX-3 blends a taut chassis, fine controls, and a sense of lightness that culminates in a perky, rewarding driving experience.

Still at the top of the field when it comes to driver engagement.

But all this fun can be tempered by a stiff ride and an excess of road and engine noise.

Last year, Mazda smoothed off some of the CX-3’s rough edges with updated dampers, bushings, and new front lower control arms. To quell some of the NVH issues, the 2018 CX-3 got thicker rear hatch glass, more sound insulation, and revised engine mounts.

Also new for 2018 was the implementation of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system that, on turn-in, imperceptibly reduces engine torque, transferring some load to the front wheels which quickens steering response.

For 2019, Mazda has bestowed further upgrades upon the CX-3 to keep it in the running. Key among these is standard blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert on all models. Horsepower and torque each get a two-point bump to 148 apiece, and with that comes improved fuel economy.

Outside we see a bolder grille, new chrome trim, fresh LED taillights, and new wheel designs. Inside, the cabin gets some upgraded materials, available leather, new trim styles and a redesigned centre console with electronic parking brake. The front seats have also been completely redone, with wider cushions in high-density foam. The CX-3’s interior was all ready arguably the best in the segment, and these improvements only secure that standing.

The 2019 Mazda CX-3 starts at $20,795 for the base front-drive GX. Here we test the mid-level GS that, with the added $2,000 i-Activ AWD, runs to $25,095.

Standard kit on the GS includes 16-inch alloys, 7-inch touchscreen, Smart City Brake Support, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry with push-button start, heated exterior mirrors, auto headlights, fabric seats (heated front), rain-sensing wipers, rear centre arm rest with cup holders, and heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The $1,500 Luxury package adds leatherette upholstery, sunroof, and satin chrome vent bezels. Also fitted to this tester is the value-packed i-Activesense package at $1,600 that layers on a healthy dose of safety features: front distance support and collision mitigation, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, adaptive LED headlights with self-levelling, lane-departure warning, and head-up display.

If you like driving, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the CX-3. The driving position is spot on, and the electrically-assisted steering delivers feel and feedback that eludes many other manufacturers. The CX-3 dives into bends with glee and shows fine balance and body control. Enthusiasts might bemoan the fact that there is no manual transmission (only a six-speed auto), but in reality, Mazda wouldn’t sell enough stir-your-own CX-3s to make it worth their while.

Despite the 2.0L SkyActiv-G naturally aspirated four-cylinder posting some of the best power figures in the segment, the CX-3 doesn’t feel particularly fleet, requiring some coaxing from the right Reebok to get things really rolling. But the engine does not object to a bit of thrashing, eagerly meting out the power and making a nice snarl while doing so. Again, this is all part of the little Mazda’s balanced equation.

SkyActiv is the name Mazda has given to its overarching engineering solution of finding fuel efficiency through reduced weight, lean drivetrains, and aerodynamics. It’s no false promise. This tester returned 7.9 L/100 km, which is pretty good for an all-wheel-drive crossover that goads you into hitting the on-ramps with extra gusto every time.

Mazda has hit a home run with the CX-3’s styling, fashioning a striking profile with its long hood, tapered greenhouse, and intersecting character lines. Granted, this GS on its 16-inch alloys doesn’t look as cool as the more expensive GT with 18-inch wheels, but the ride quality surely benefits.

Like some German premium vehicles, the CX-3’s infotainment system is accessed mainly via a rotary control knob behind the shifter. Yes, it makes for a clean look, but accessing most radio functions requires too much distracting knob-twirling and menu selection. A few hard buttons for radio presets would go a long way in making this system imminently more enjoyable and ultimately safer.

The head-up display with its little flip-up screen looks a bit like an afterthought, but it does convey a fair bit of info, including useful alerts when a vehicle enters one of the blind spots.

While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support was not initially available in the 2019 CX-3, it is now offered as a $250 dealer retrofit for those built before September 1, 2018. Vehicles produced after that date will have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built in as standard equipment.

Considering the CX-3’s small footprint, there is reasonable room in the back seat for two smallish humans, although the high beltline gives the cabin a claustrophobic feel. And better pack light as storage space behind the 60/40 rear seat is tight. There’s a price to pay for that rakish posterior – it eats into usable cargo volume.

Despite all the fresh metal coming to market, the Mazda CX-3 is still at the top of the field when it comes to driver engagement, and it also brags an interior that belies its price point. The safety system and feature count on this GS tester is also mighty impressive when looking at the competition. The only downside is the CX-3’s ride quality and NVH levels that, despite Mazda’s recent attentions, still trail most of the field. Still, it’s far from a deal breaker, and if you’re okay with that, this wee slice of the Mazda ethos is worth a look.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 148 hp
Peak Torque 148 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 8.8/7.5/8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 452 / 1,528 L seats down
Model Tested 2019 Mazda CX-3 GS i-Activ AWD
Base Price $25,095
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $30,190
Optional Equipment
$3,100 – Luxury Package $1,500; i-Activsense Package $1,600