By on October 16, 2017

2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy Cain

2018 Mazda CX-3

2.0-liter DOHC inline-four (146 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm)

Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

26 city / 34 highway / 29 combined (NRCan Rating, U.S. MPG)

9.0 city / 7.0 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

27.0 mpg [8.7 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $21,050 (U.S) / $21,990 (Canada)

As Tested: $21,350 (U.S.) / $22,290 (Canada)

Prices include $940 destination charge in the United States and $1,995 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Does it matter that I think it’s a hatchback? In the minds of the consumers Mazda is targeting, the modestly updated 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a crossover, an ess-you-vee, a utility vehicle.

We ought to make some allowance for the designation differences. The Mazda CX-3 offers all-wheel drive. The wheelarches are cladded in black plastic. The loftier ride height creates 6.1 inches of ground clearance, up from 5.5 inches in the Toyota Yaris iA, which is essentially a Toyota-branded sedan version of the latest Mazda 2 (that’s never been sold in the United States) on which the CX-3 is also based.

Let’s give in to Mazda’s marketing for a moment, then. If the CX-3 “may lead to spontaneous excursions,” how will it respond to a harvest season visit into Prince Edward Island’s endless reserve of potato fields?

To make matters more interesting, our CX-3 steed lacks Mazda’s optional all-wheel drive as well as Mazda USA’s standard automatic transmission. Count’em: there are three pedals.

2018 Mazda CX-3 shifter - Image: © Timothy CainIt was only last Friday afternoon that a friend asked whether my oldest boy would like to survey a potato farmer’s operations. We headed across the island to visit a farm in Middleton where we watched the smallest storage building quickly swallow millions of pounds of potatoes: floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Hopping in a potato truck, one of a vast fleet of red trucks that are scarcely used outside of a brief autumn stretch in PEI’s economically vital potato harvest, a three-year-old’s dreams came true as we meandered alongside a harvester in Kinkora. Minutes later, the potatoes were dropped off again in Middleton. And on the cycle goes.

“This is prime Mazda CX-3 territory,” said no one, ever.2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy CainIndeed, increasing ground clearance by six-tenths of an inch does not turn the CX-3 into a mud-flinging, rock-crawling, snowbank-blasting off-roader. The 2018 Mazda CX-3, especially with Mazda Canada’s latest six-speed manual transmission dropping the base price below CAD $20,000, is more about getting to the field than actually crossing the field. Moderately lengthy grass angrily pings off the undercarriage. Minivan drivers look down upon CX-3 drivers like F-150 Raptor owners observing occupants of comparatively low-slung Jeep Grand Cherokees. The absence of driven rear wheels makes parking in sandy patches of PEI’s famously red dirt roads potentially problematic.

But rather than looking at the two-year-old CX-3 as an inauthentic attempt to foist faux “crossover” credentials upon a subcompact car, imagine the CX-3 is a hilariously fun alternative to the Encores, HR-Vs, and Outlander Sports of the world. Like the CX-3, they lack the ability to criss-cross a potato field. Unlike the CX-3, they’re missing the chassis, steering, shifter, and rev-happy powerplant that can make the journey to the potato field a joy.2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy CainGranted, the CX-3 doesn’t have the flexible space of rival subcompact crossovers, a fleet of vehicles that isn’t widely known for abundant interior volume. We squeezed child seats into the back of the 2018 CX-3, but only by moving the front seats into a dangerously uncomfortable zone. The CX-3’s bite-size dimensions compromise other elements, too. The Mazda Connect controllers are tucked awkwardly into the center console where the armrest impedes operation. The clutch pedal in this car is far too close to the dead pedal, but where else is it to go? Cargo volume, meanwhile, measures a paltry 12.4 cubic feet, 8 fewer than the Mazda 3 hatch, 12 fewer than in the HR-V.

You knew all that, of course, because our former managing editor took a 2016 Mazda CX-3 camping2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy CainThe manual transmission that isn’t on Mazda USA’s CX-3 spec sheet, however, strengthens the CX-3’s dynamic case. Mazda’s expertise in constructing a proper manual shifter results in an abundance of unnecessary shifts just for the sake of shifting. Clutch effort is light but feelsome. The 146-horsepower 2.0-liter isn’t turned into a drag racer by the insertion of a manual shifter, but personal control over the proceedings brings a level of vigor to the inline-four that was previously untapped.

It’s not just the manual transmission, either. The CX-3’s lively steering is married nicely to the base model’s smaller 16-inch wheels, which eliminate the crashiness that can be exhibited by CX-3s on 18s. Presumably benefiting from Mazda’s G-Vectoring control for 2018, the CX-3’s steering rack isn’t discernibly different outside of back-to-back drives, yet it’s not surprising to see Mazda — of all companies — honing the CX-3’s dynamic appeal.

Beyond dynamics, the CX-3’s interior materials make the smallest non-Miata Mazda feel more costly than its MSRP. Mazda also upgraded door seals, thickened glass, and added sound deadening to decrease noise in 2018 models. It’s noticeable.

2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy CainThanks to the manual transmission, the 2018 Mazda CX-3’s Canadian advertised base price falls $700 to $19,995, undercutting the Nissan Qashqai by three loonies. (The CX-3 costs $21,990 with fees.) The CX-3, of course, does what the Qashqai and most competitors outside the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman don’t do: major on fun. Even without the manual transmission, that’s been a winning formula in Canada, where the CX-3 has routinely outsold all rivals aside from the Honda HR-V.

In the United States, on the other hand, a manual transmission would be about the last item to enhance the CX-3’s losing case. Americans don’t hanker after subcompact Mazdas, and the ones who do prefer more costly trims and all-wheel drive.

[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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47 Comments on “2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Manual Review – Three Pedals Only Enhance the CX-3’s Best Characteristics...”

  • avatar

    So there’s one round a/c vent, and one rectangular a/c vent, on either side of the touchscreen? Goofy. Did they have two different designers, each working on one half of the instrument panel?

  • avatar

    A very handsome car. Drives nice too. Too bad it’s not worth buying because of the small interior space and downright laughable cargo space…and that tiny hatchback opening.

  • avatar

    So without AWD as the differentiator, what’s the point of getting one of these over a base Mazda3 Hatchback? I think the prices are within a couple of hundred dollars of each other. And in the US, the 3 can be had with a manual.

  • avatar

    Point about the 16″ rims is well taken…

    I, personally, have gotten sick of the crashing ride and heavy feel of the giant, weighty rims on cars these days.

    I kinda wish we could get back to 17″s being the big, performace sized wheels. 18+ are, generally, awful.

    • 0 avatar

      When purchasing a CX-9 I gave up a number of features I was interested in because I had to buy the Touring trim to get the 18″ wheels and avoid the 20s. Thankfully, when I replaced it with a Durango, Dodge offered most of what I was looking for on the Limited model with the 18s. We are all suffering with reduced ride quality, more expensive tires and rim rash due to the industry’s fascination with the appearance of larger wheels. This will continue until we can get some momentum around the appearance of more sidewall. Return of whitewall tires maybe?

  • avatar

    Potatoes? That’s padaydas, pal. What – you couldn’t work in ONE Stompin’ Tom Connors reference?

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Hoekcy Song > Bud the Spud.

      • 0 avatar

        I woke up this morning feelin’ mighty low
        I gazed upon the patatoe field all covered up with snow
        First me wheat, then me oats now me spuds are gone
        The grub box is empty, how will I carry on?
        But still I got me freedom, my credit rating is high
        Don’t have to pack a lunck box or heed the whistle’s cry
        I’ll always be a farmer I don’t care about a thing
        And if I can get the tractor fixed I’ll combine in the spring.

        I’m a poor, poor farmer and I’ll always be
        A poor, poor farmer cause farming is for me
        I’d rather be the farmer cause farming’s what I love
        And I’ll still be a farmer up in the land above

  • avatar

    Why would you buy this over a base Golf? That 6/10″ of ground clearance must make ALL the difference, eh? Plus all that beauuutiful black plastic cladding…

    Assume the outward visibility is atrocious?

    • 0 avatar

      Same questioning. Golf is a better value overall. Not underpowered with that small asmathic 2.0L. The 1.8T from VW is a magical mill. Even if the CX-3 driving is good, it is nothing compared to the VW.

      The only downside of the Golf is that the actual base price of CA$20900 is for a 3-door, not a 5-door. The base 5-door is more CA$23900, about the same price of the FWD CX-3 GS at CCA$24700.

      • 0 avatar

        Didn’t know you could still get 3dr Golfs up North. No such thing in the US anymore, and the 5-door is under $20K starting price here (before the huge discounts).

        Sucks about the 3dr too – I would certainly have preferred a 3dr GTI to my 5Dr, my back seat is primarily decorative. And they used to be a little cheaper here too.

        I really don’t get car makers. People who want the oddball stuff like a 3dr or a manual, generally REALLY want that, and would pay more for it. I would not have batted an eye at paying $1000 more for a 3dr GTI. I don’t think I am that weird, I just want what I want.

      • 0 avatar

        I bought a 2017 Wolfsburg edition Golf with a 5spd. There’s really not much to dislike about the car other than the reverse camera sucks, as do the reverse lights. I care more about the lights than the camera, but trying to use them both together can be a challenge. Nearly any other quibble can be fixed by the aftermarket.

        I cannot see a reason to purchase this class of car. The slightly higher ride height and access points could be a plus if I were older.

        But I’ll enjoy my well-known and known quantity in my Golf, rather than an automotive fad.

  • avatar

    Within the class, it seems that the Outlander Sport is the “offroader” of the bunch with very decent 8.5ish inches of ground clearance and a option to lock the AWD viscous coupling (sadly stick shift is FWD only).

    My parents wheel their little ’07 Base Fit all over their farm, I want to say the older Fits without the Sport lower body cladding had right around 6 inches of ground clearance. The Fit managed a decent 22 cu ft of cargo capacity with seats up, 42cu ft seats down. And the Fit is damn near a foot shorter than a CX3! I honestly don’t understand this class (looking at the FWD variants). The Fit even had that upright-ish chair seating with similar height (I’m guessing) as this CX3.

    • 0 avatar

      I may be biased, but the RVR is also the best looking of the bunch, with the squarest and handsomest shape, and therefore best visibility and utility. And a much more conventional interior dash shape, which is my personal preference.

      The metal to glass ratio of the CX-3 is depressing.

      Also, I have an RVR Limited Edition which came with 18s, and we worked a deal with our dealer to swap to a set of 16s of an SE. The difference in ride quality is stark.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed on looks of the Mitsu. Very purposeful and handsome. Funny how the “outdated” designs just keep looking better and better as everyone else flame surfaces and predators the crap out of their designs. The Frontier is likewise the best looking midsize truck (or any truck period) IMO.

        • 0 avatar

          I think the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is handsome car as well. To me, it kind of recalls a Subaru GL from the mid-80’s in shape and style.

          If only Mitsubishi had some real powertrains ( no CVT’s) to go with it, it might have been a contender in my last purchase.

  • avatar

    Gotta just love the CX-3. In manual form it’s got to be that much better!! To bad we in the US won’t get it. I would think the take rate for a Touring or GT would be sub 5%. I would be in that sub 5% for sure. Or I could just get a 3 Touring 2.5 or GT both in manual. That would be a tough decision. I don’t like CUV’s at all but the CX-3 would be a consideration.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it looks great and is a blast to drive. But it also has about the same interior room as a Ford Fiesta.

    Save yourself some money and buy the larger and more efficient Honda Fit.

    • 0 avatar

      My Ford Fiesta feels like a yoooooge boat of a car on the inside … except for the back seat, but I don’t sit back there.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      It’s not an unreasonable point, bringing up the Fit, which delivers huge space/flexibility points. But here I am driving a Fit for a week after spending a week with the CX-3 and the refinement/NVH gap is vast. So too is the degree to which the CX-3 is a blast to drive swiftly and he Fit does not want to be driven swiftly.

  • avatar

    I am amused at how automotive commentators keep up an emotional drum beating for the manual. Face it, guys, it’s over. Only an infinitesimal number of cars are so equipped here in North America. Even at the top of auto kingdom, the Porsches and Ferraris, manuals are a distant memory. The market place has voted, as have the high performance guys, and no one wants manual transmissions in this marketplace. Nostalgia is fine, but people don’t drive it. Read the numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      May be we are not all plastic-covered engine lovers, not drive-like-my-dishwasher amateur or not totally-blant-design souless machine owners. One size fits all is extremism, consumerism is about abundance of choices. I really miss the time Volkswagen had 4 different engines for its Golf : 2.0, 1.9 TDI, 1.8T and the VR6 with like 4 different transmissions.

    • 0 avatar

      I won’t stop complaining about things until I am dead. In fact, I bet my final words will be a complaint.

    • 0 avatar

      “Save the manuals” will be on my tombstone. Flowers will be arranged in a shift pattern.

    • 0 avatar

      I just don’t get how a sticks supposed to save a CUV thing from mediocrity. At least have some standards with sticks!

    • 0 avatar

      I have a manual car for the first time in a decade. Yes, sometimes shifting/ clutch work is tedious while in traffic and I live in a hilly area. But most of the time, I enjoy shifting manually with a clutch.

      I know that many folks don’t like manuals. But they don’t have to buy them either. They can continue the “chore” of driving and staring at their phones while they do it. As long as I can operate a clutch, I prefer to do so, even if it’s only in a “fun” car and not a DD.

      Give me the option and not just on the base car. I know its hard for automakers to justify the R&D for such a low take rate.

  • avatar

    The funny part is, the Mazda3 has the same exact ground clearance (6.1″). But it rides on a better chassis and has more cargo space.

  • avatar

    abundance of unnecessary shifts just for the sake of shifting…words of music right there…words of music!

  • avatar

    It still looks like a sneaker from the side. I’d take the Mazda 3 over this.

  • avatar

    The inline rectangular vent would make me very upset any time it was not perfectly aligned so the trim matched up.

    Which of course seriously limits the usefulness of the vent.

    I don’t like this interior, or this car really.

  • avatar

    Does Toyota still sell the iA? The Mazda 2 based car?

    I can’t think of any reason why I’d buy the CX 3 over that other than it having a useless hatchback.

    • 0 avatar

      I assume the CX3 is the only reason why there hasn’t been a Mazda based Yaris hatch by now. The fact the iA is sedan-only is completely ridiculous, and certainly was the main reason we bought a Fiesta over it. Subcompact sedans are one of the only vehicle segments more pointless than subcompact crossovers.

  • avatar
    The Ryan

    Didn’t Toyota offer the Tercel hatchback with a 4X4 option? Would that have counted as an early crossover?

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, I don’t like this whole iPad/tablet style for infotainment. It looks tacky and tacked on in any vehicle it’s in. At least Audi gives you the option to drop it into the dash, but that’s another thing to go wrong too!

  • avatar

    Cool the it has a manual, but nope.
    Look at that IP!
    Darn thing looks like it’s winking at me. Doesn’t look professional.

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