2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Manual Review - Three Pedals Only Enhance the CX-3's Best Characteristics

Fast Facts

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.
2018 mazda cx 3 gx manual review three pedals only enhance the cx 3s best

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.

It 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.

Indeed, 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.

Granted, 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 camping.

The 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.

Thanks 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 Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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2 of 47 comments
  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Oct 20, 2017

    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!

  • MyerShift MyerShift on Jun 09, 2018

    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.

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.