Mazda of late has been working overtime to keep its models fresh. In a move reminiscent of the glory days of the Big Three, Mazda is making small changes nearly every year to bring new tweaks and new innovations to its lineup. Case in point: the CX-3 subcompact crossover. 2019 is only the fourth model year for Mazda's smallest crossover, but it marks the third year that the automaker has made noteworthy changes. With both 2018 and 2019 models on dealer lots, should you go for the new 2018 or the newer 2019?

While the name says 3, that can be a bit confusing for buyers. If you're looking for a crossover that's the size of the Mazda3 you'll actually want the CX-5. This one is more the size of the smaller, and now gone away, Mazda2.

That puts it firmly on the smaller side of the crossover field. Something you'll notice very quickly once you open the hatch. The high load floor makes reaching your cargo easy on the back but doesn't leave a whole lot of actual room for stuff.

But Mazda's not about packing more stuff in the boot, they're about packing more into the drive. That means that the CX-3 is a little firmer than other tiny crossovers. It's not quite tossable, but the nicely weighted steering has excellent turn-in and the chassis is responsive when you decide you want to drive with a little more verve.

That's one of the changes Mazda made for 2018 to improve the CX-3: a slight re-tune of the suspension to add a little more comfort back in. Along those lines, the CX-3 gained extra sound insulation too. Mazda had long had a reputation for trading a little more cabin noise for better handling but has now managed to make their lineup feel quieter and more refined without affecting drivability. It's still the handling choice in the segment.

Mazda actually improved the handling while refining the CX-3 by adding the company's G-Vectoring control. It automatically lifts and then reapplies engine torque when you're turning into and then powering out of a corner. It lets the nose tuck in just that little bit quicker, and while it's nearly completely transparent, you will likely notice the handling improvement.

2018 also brought a host of feature movement and changes. Low-speed emergency braking became standard across the line, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic moved down to GS along with a heated wheel, and the GS could be optioned up with a pack that added radar cruise, all-speed brake assist, lane-departure warning, LED headlights, and a colour HUD.

So what was there to change for 2019? Well, the engine for a start. The 2.0L four gets upgrades that effect an increase in horsepower. By two. That's right, 2019 brings 148 hp to the CX-3, up from 146 hp and lb-ft last year. While you probably won't notice that extra oomph, you will likely notice the effect at the pumps.

Manual transmission CX-3s, and yup, you can still get this one with a stick, see an improvement of 0.2 L/100 km in the city to 8.8. Highway economy is the same at 7.0, and the combined rating drops one to 8.0 L/100 km. All-wheel drive automatics make the same improvement in the city and 0.1 on the highway for 8.6/7.4/8.1 L/100 km. Front-drive autos strangely lose 0.1 city for 8.3/6.9/7.7 L/100km city / highway / combined.

Either year, the 2.0L four feels happy to rev, though slightly more sluggish than the power figure suggests. The manual box helps liven it up but is only available with the front-drive GX base model. The six-speed auto in the CX-3 feels slightly more sluggish to shift than in other Mazda vehicles but still downshifts confidently.

Outside, Mazda has made some appearance changes for 2019. The grille gets debarred, dropping from seven slats to four wider bars. The headlights have been revised and the taillights now offer a more aggressive, sunken-in look than the 2018. They're small changes but they do give the look a bit of an update. Where it doesn't change, though, is the wonderfully scalloped doors and rear fenders. Both years of CX-3 are probably the best-looking in this segment.

Inside, Mazda has made more substantial changes. For a start, the centre console has been completely revised. There is now an electronic handbrake in place of the lever-actuated one. That moves Mazda's HMI Commander dial forward and closer to the centre of the car. It falls much more readily at hand than the 2018. The CD player – and who uses those anyway? – is gone and that frees up a place in front of the gearshift to put your phone. In this size class, that extra storage space is quite welcome.

Unfortunately, that centre console has taken the cup-holding situation from not-great to worse. The 2018 model had two solid moulded cupholders that, while slightly further to the rear than ideal, were both capable of holding large drinks – as long as the armrest was up. (It would hold drinks with it down, but you couldn't get them out.) For 2019, both moulded options are gone. In their place are a pair of fold-down semi-circle drink frames. The front can be accessed with the armrest down, at least, but neither is good at keeping your coffee in place while you drive the way the CX-3 encourages you to.

There are some better interior changes, though we do miss one omission for 2019. First up, the seats on the 2019 have been redone. They're larger, with better foam. That's a big deal for big drivers and one that should leave most feeling more comfortable. Not that last year's seats were lacking.

The other interior changes see Mazda adding even more soft-touch materials and leather to what was already one of the nicest in the segment. They've also added even more sound insulation to quiet the cabin. But the GT's available three-tone red, white, and black leather and suede is gone for 2019. The new leather, available in white or black, is a nicer-feeling material, but the bold colour choices really could have made the CX-3's interior pop. It will be missed.

Here's the really big one, though. Mazda's infotainment system has been lacking a pair of very important features: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They're finally here. Any 2019 CX-3 built from September onward has those essential bits of connectivity software. It can also be fitted to any 2019s that don't have it for $250 if you act by the end of February 2019. If you buy a 2018, the upgrade will cost $445. And it won't be available until all of the 2019 buyers who want it have it.

When it comes to price, Mazda isn't making any offers on the 2018 CX-3s remaining on dealer lots. Individual dealers though, who want to move them, might be willing to talk. On 2019 models, Mazda is offering low-interest financing for up to 84 months as well as some lease cash deals depending on your location. Those are until the end of the month, when they could go up or down. The 2019 model got a price hike of a few hundred dollars, putting the 2018 model at a lower price to start.

So if you need connectivity and bigger seats, the 2019 Mazda CX-3 might be your better choice. If you want that gorgeous tri-tone interior, you had better hope your dealer has one left in a 2018.

Specifications


2018 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD 2019 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD
Engine Displacement 2.0L 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4 I4
Peak Horsepower 146 hp @ 6,000 rpm 148 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 8.8/7.5/8.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb 8.6/7.4/8.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 452 / 1,528 L seats down 452 / 1,528 L seats down
Base Price $24,695 $25,095
A/C Tax $100 $100
Destination Fee $1,895 $1,895
Price as Tested $26,690 $27,090
Optional Equipment