By on October 3, 2018

2019 Mazda CX-3

People, pets, and cars all arrive on this planet in different shapes and sizes. Alert readers know this author’s proclivity for Large Machines which bend the macadam with their shocking curb weights and lot-hogging girth. I remain unrepentant.

It was a surprise, then, for the diminutive little roller skate you see here to spin my crank in a positive direction. Yes, it measures several sizes smaller than most other crossovers — smaller, even, than some of its direct competitors.

Like a Jack Russell terrier, what the Mazda CX-3 gives up in size it more than makes up for with excited exuberance. It’s like a Miata with a backpack.

Ok. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, as this car-on-stilts will obviously bow to the laws of gravity much more quickly than an MX-5 if you try to whip it through a set of corners with too much élan. Still, it is much more playful than its competitors, which is the point I’m trying to make.

The Mazda lineage is easy to spot, both inside and out. The zoom-zoom company isn’t the largest maker of cars in the world and, lacking the ability to draw upon the bank account of a corporate parent, common parts must be strewn around the interior like sawdust at a lumber convention. This is not wholly a bad thing, for two reasons.

2019 Mazda CX-3

First, flying solo allows Mazda to be more nimble and employ changes to their product without having to first pass the alterations though five hundred different departments. If a snake is discovered at Mazda, they kill it. If a snake is discovered at BigCarCo, they’ll have a meeting and then create a committee to study snakes before deciding to leave the snake alone because its shop steward threatened job action. Mazda is unfettered by such complications.

[Get new and used Mazda CX-3 pricing here!]

It helps that the parts bin from which they are drawing interior bits is filled with well thought out toys. The CX-3 driver faces a set of gauges whose tachometer is front and center with a tidy digital speedometer tucked in its corner. Infotainment is of the iPad-on-the-dash variety, but it works well paired with the rocker/rotary dial that controls the thing.

2019 Mazda CX-3

Knobs like these (no, I’m not describing my TTAC workmates), especially ones which rock and roll, sometimes feel wobbly and cheap as they make pathetic attempts to spin 360-degrees while simultaneously operating on ABXY axes. Not here. The just-inches-away volume dial is fine for passengers, and five redundant buttons provide shortcuts to major functions.

It is remarkable, really, given that the unit must integrate into just about every car and crossover that Mazda makes, not to mention they probably designed the thing on a relative shoestring — at least compared to companies where $100,000 is a rounding error.

This CX-3 is the Canadian-market GT version, bearing the weight of an all-wheel drive system. Its equipment level is equivalent to that of a Grant Touring in the States, a unit which wears a Monroney of $33,140 when shod with power at all four corners. An equivalent American trim trips the financial scales at $29,445. It’s worth noting that you lot south of the border get dinged $145 extra for the Soul Red paint shown here, more if you account for exchange ($595USD vs $450CAD).

2019 Mazda CX-3

The white leather makes the car look much more expensive than it really is, although long-term wear in a family environment might be a challenge. I’ve had to pry melted crayons and gelatinous gummy bears out of the Charger’s seats and thanked FCA for its durable black cloth every time I did so. That wouldn’t fly with this interior.

Every CX-3 being floorplanned on dealer lots today is powered by a Skyactiv-G 2.0 L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. This power team is good for 148 horsepower and 146 lb-ft torque, which doesn’t sound like much, but it shoved the CX-3 along the road with an alacrity not found in small-utes from other manufacturers. In a segment where most machines are more morose than a brooding teen or have the personality of wallpaper paste, the Mazda takes its sporty heritage seriously, offering drivers a dose of good cheer along with their commute, proving that driving fun and family hauling need not be mutually exclusive.

2019 Mazda CX-3

2019 Mazda CX-3

Just not too much hauling, though. The CX-3’s cargo area suffers from a fast roofline that gives the rig a sporty shape like that of an athletic shoe but eats into cargo space something fierce. The Subaru Crosstrek, just to name one, does a better job of packaging and delivers more room as a result. Be sure to bring along most of your daily detritus during the test drive to make sure you can live with the 12.4 cubes of cargo space behind the rear seat before you sign the papers.

Addressing my “MX-5 with a backpack” comment above, I do believe the comparison is apt, as most backpacks are designed to simply supplement a person’s carrying capacity by providing space for a minute’s worth of gear, while leaving the wearer free to jump around and have a bit of fun. So, too, does the CX-3.

Long-time Ace of Base readers (thanks, all five of you) know I enjoy and recommend the cheapest version of just about any given model. Guess what? Given all CX-3’s are powered by the same engine and are imbued with the same driving dynamics, I hold fast to that belief here as well. The entry-level CX-3 stickers for several thousand less than this GT but is imbued with the same engine and sprightly manners. All-wheel drive is neither necessary nor desired in any parts of the country. Those who do live in the snow belt would be well advised to buy four good winter tires for their front-drive CX-3. That’s what I do here in the Great White North, a place sodden with bull moose and treacherous driving conditions.

2019 Mazda CX-3

This pint-size tall hatchback proves the hackneyed old saw of good things coming in small packages. Winning over this 6’6” Large Person is no small feat, though those relegated to the CX-3’s second row should have small feet.

I’ll stick to my stretch-em-out Charger, no doubt. But anyone who’s in the market for a crossover rig with Size S on the neck tag would be well served to give this Mazda CX-3 their attention.

[Images: © 2018 Matthew Guy/TTAC]

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55 Comments on “2019 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review – Size Small...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    That dead on profile view has to be the worst angle – looks like a photoshop job because the greenhouse is so impossibly small.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I kind of liked this, and it was on my potential car list. Something small and fun and good looking (to me). I sat in one at the auto show, and was immediately pleased. The seat hugged my skinny frame nicely. I had enough room up front. Interior design was interesting for a cheap car.
    Then I turned around and… the back seat of this car is RIGHT THERE. I have never experienced something like that. The backrest is basically in your face when you turn around. Rear seat room was barely a concern for me, but the packaging on this thing is just insanely bad, I could never consider it.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Alacrity huh?

    I drove a Mazda3 hatch with this engine and a manual and it was kind of a dog.

    It’s got to be butt-slow with AWD and an automatic.

    Needs 2.5L or a turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

      The acceleration of the CX-3 isn’t acceptable for my purposes, but in the micro-CUV class it is basically the hot rod. Its low 8s 0-60 and low 16s quarter mile makes it quicker (in some cases much quicker) than its competition.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        Yeah, if you want any power, need to get a Hyundai Kona.

        I passed on the Mazda3 for that reason.

        I’m a 4 time Mazda owner, and it’s crazy to me that a Hyundai is the fun option vs. Mazda in certain instances.

        • 0 avatar
          johnds

          The problem I’ve heard with many friends/family test driving Mazda’s is they are often under powered. I have to laugh at the Mazda drivers who feel they need to prove their car is “Zoom Zoom” in my area when it’s apparent their car is slower than my boring Honda Accord. I drove a friends 2012 Mazda 3 2.0 and didn’t think it was anything world changing like Motor Trend/Car and Driver preach.

          • 0 avatar
            lon888

            I always keep in the back of my mind that Motor Trend proclaimed the original Omni/Horizon as the greatest cars ever. So…

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Same with the 3 2.0i auto rental I had. Any pass on a 2 lane road required a prayer.

  • avatar
    Brumus

    “Those who do live in the snow belt would be well advised to buy four good winter tires for their front-drive CX-3.”

    Or, if you’re already at the Mazda dealer, for roughly the same price why not skip the CX-3 altogether and purchase a Mazda3 hatch (and yes, most won’t need AWD so long as they install winter rubber). Better bang for the buck, in my estimation.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      This, exactly
      Many other car reviews I’ve read have said that a Mazda 3 Hatchback is superior in almost every measure – handling, fuel economy, cargo space – and is cheaper to boot. Even Motorweek, which doesn’t not like ANY car couldn’t see the logic of a CX3 over a 3 Hatchback.

      But guess which one Mazda will sell more of…

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Mazda knows their red paint. From Rosso Red back in the 1980s to this shade. In person? This color is stunning.

  • avatar
    igve2shtz

    I think this is a very attractive car, and would make an excellent little runabout. Too small for my needs, but, everytime I see one, I still say “wow”. The Kodo design works on all matter of cars, big/small/SUV. Not many others can say that.

    The problem is that the CX-3 still looks like a CAR and is not butched up enough to compete with the other ultra-small utes, the HR-V, Rogue Sport, Ecosport, Trax, whathaveyou. I think my Speed6 had more fender gap than this car.

    It does make a better alternative to a Mazda2, and has a better engine. But it needs more manual. But, it will go down in history largely forgotten, and be left to languish between update cycles.

  • avatar
    redapple

    I didnt care for the author’s style. The write up is just too cute, hip, jazzy, cool.

    Just too much.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions, but the flowery word play reminded me of classic Farago-Era TTAC.

      YMMV on if that’s good or bad.

      • 0 avatar
        deanst

        I admire the fact that it is obvious that he put some effort into the review (even with the odd typos -“Grant Touring”?). Much better than some of the other reviews which read like an homage to the reviews found in newspapers.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I think Farago might have eviscerated this car.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          Didn’t Farago eviscerate pretty much every car?

          • 0 avatar
            msquare

            Farago had a hell of a chip on his shoulder (still does?) and didn’t like being called out on it. He’d keep scores on people and ban them from commenting if he didn’t like what he saw. It took away from the genuinely good reporting he did during the Carpocalypse.

            Ripping everything in sight is not objectivity. It’s just ripping everything in sight. This critique was a fair one.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I can’t find the article now but I’d swear that there is a review of a Saturn Aura 3.6 V6 that Fargo did and he actually liked the car.

            But I’d also swear that was the only one.

  • avatar
    SteveMar

    We test drove the CX-3 this summer and I really liked the way it drove. Eager. Fun to toss around. Decent acceleration for the type of vehicle. It was just too small given our needs. We still use the backseat for a teenager and there was no way he would fit, let alone take along cargo. We were replacing a Jetta and the back end was smaller than the Jetta’s trunk. Drop the seats and things improved some.

    I don’t think the vehicle makes any kind of sense if you plan to buy the FWD version – the Mazda3 hatchback offers it all with more space. But it you want AWD in a small platform, this is a fun driver. As long as you are traveling light. Or you can get a CX-5, which is what we did. Almost as fun to drive and much more realistic in terms of space.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I’m a 4 time Mazda owner and former fan boy and I like this but it needs a few more inches in a couple dimensions and a lower beltline. I’m torn because I like smallish cars and the CX-5 is probably a touch too big.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    “It’s like a Miata with a backpack” Ha, yeah that’s quite the stretch.

    I have a decent amount of wheel time in the CX-3 when they were rentals at our dealership. They do have some endearing qualities. Interior is nice, seats snug yet comfortable, handles well for a crossover with sharp turn-in.

    It’s probably the best sub-compact crossover because it drives a like a Mazda3..which makes this thing pointless besides the awd. As with any Mazda, it could use more power but is fine for most people I’m sure. I think I get hung up on the price of these. You could get a vastly superior GTI or Elantra GT Sport for that kind of change. If you really need something bigger/higher off the ground, get the CX-5, it’s a better package.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      As a CX-3 owner, I would mostly agree with this.

      The CX-3 doesn’t offer anything over the Mazda 3 except AWD and slightly smaller package. If you’re living in an urban jungle where parking spaces and garages are 80% of normal for a suburb, the smaller size can be nice.

      But the 3 is the better value proposition.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ notapreppie – Agreed, a friend has a BK series 3 five-door, and he had a CX-3 as a service loaner last summer.

        It falls down for me in not providing four-person comfort like, say, an Encore does. But a case for the CX-3 can be made vs other cute utes from a dynamics standpoint, and it can be made vs the 3 if a smaller L x W footprint is important. (I’m inferring you live in a city proper, which I too have for a lot of my life.)

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    I’m two years into ownership of my 2016 CX-3 (bought used CPO). Top-spec, like the review here, with the added driver aid package.

    I think this review is spot on. It’s small and peppy. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s worth considering. If that’s not what you’re looking for, it isn’t.

    I just installed the CarPlay/Android Auto upgrade in mine (finding a dealer willing to sell me the parts was only moderately difficult). It rounds out the functionality of the infotainment system perfectly.

  • avatar
    Detroit33

    Love the word play or hate it, at least it’s not a standard vanilla write-up. I enjoyed it.

    As for the vehicle, I am impressed when I see them on the road for their attractive design and think fondly back to my Speed3. Of course, then I remember the NVH and wonder if they’ve ever figured out that several pounds of sound deadening material goes a long way. By general comments I read on the interwebs, I doubt it. Also, more engine, please.

    • 0 avatar
      SixspeedSi

      NVH wasn’t great in this from my point of view. Then again, you won’t find anything in the class that’s great in that department. I will say, it seems like Mazda is beginning to fix this with their newer products, the CX-5, 2018 6, as they move to more luxury feel with decent driving dynamics, instead of pure zoom-zoom.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Count me a fan of Mazdas in general (on my third now, a 2015 6 with manual trans) but I am not blind to the fact that Mazda products tend to have one or two glaring flaws that remove them from consideration for many buyers. My 6 has an overly firm ride…and entry and egress to/from the front seats is awkward.

    This cute ute’s flaws include the overly cramped rear seat and cargo area.

    Mazda seems content to remain a niche player…and when it markets products with flaws most buyers can’t ignore, it is sure to remain in that niche.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Fun review to read, but this car moves with “alacrity”? In truth, the thing’s slow as hell – over eight seconds to 60.

    If you must buy something in this class – and I have no idea why, but it’s your money – the Kona with the 1.6 turbo is the way to go.

  • avatar
    James2

    Mazda fan here. However, I question the designers/engineers sanity. Did someone look at the mismatched center air vents and actually say, in Japanese, “Hai!” Does a round vent cost more than a rectangular vent?

    Did one of them actually try to sit in back and actually say “Hai!” A couple more inches of wheelbase would do this car wonders. Sometimes, form ought to yield to function.

    I sat in a CX-3 when my 6 was at the dealer to fix something. The driver seat just didn’t agree with my body, so no go. I had the same issue with the 3, probably the same seat design. I had no problems with the seat in the new 6, go figure.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The color, the basic interior (no chrome nor wood trim silly ness), Mazda did all of this pretty well.

    I cant say that I like what its on though, the only CUVs I like tend to be very square yet spacious. A sporty roofline eliminates my main reason for buying one, space.

    Aren’t these based on the Mazda 2? How does this compare to the Mazda-Yaris thing?

  • avatar
    deanst

    The idiocy of CUVs is really highlighted in this class. Other than AWD and slightly higher height, there is no comparison between this and a good compact (or even midsize) car for less money. You can argue about reliability, but anyone considering this over a GTI or Mazda3 or many other cars just needs to do more homework.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Partially agree. All things being equal, I prefer sedans and five-door cars. But in my experience a CUV usually will not only match but beat its sedan sibling from one class size up in terms of roominess for four people. E.g., I’d rather have four of me (at 5’10”) in a Trax than a Cruze. The Trax’s uprightness more than makes up for the Cruze’s extra length and width. (Good Lord, are most sedans badly packaged nowadays.)

      The CX-3, however, doesn’t take advantage of the packaging fake truckiness can afford. It’s no roomier than a non-CUV subcompact, and it doesn’t match the 3 in four-person comfort.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I rented the Trax’s twin (the Encore) for a few weeks while my Jetta was in the shop for hail repair, and I can tell you from firsthand experience the Jetta’s backseat might as well be from a Maybach by comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        You can’t have 4 people in there. Unless they all 5’2″ or less. And the rear ones will wish you crash this car and buy another because sitting with vertical back support is a torture. But then the question is, how safe is this during crash. I don’t think very safe

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        My recent Jetta experience is limited to the front passenger seat of the outgoing (6th-gen?) model, so I won’t comment on the 6th or 7th-gen’s back seat. Note, however, that I specified “usually” and a given CUV’s “sedan sibling from one class size up” (i.e., from the same manufacturer). I’ve done sit-behind-myself tests in rental and auto show Traxes, Cruzes, Encores, and Veranos. I’d rather drive the Cruze or Verano, but I’d rather be a back seat passenger in the Trax or Cruze. The typical sedan today has plenty of legroom but compromised or severely compromised rear headroom. This is because the design brief, not to mention a lot of scribes’ testing, seems to be focused on baby seats rather than people over 5’9″. Kudos to the Jetta if it bucks that trend. (It also bucks the overwrought styling trend, so it wouldn’t shock me if the rear seat actually is decent too.)

        The CX-3 is really tight, though. I sat behind a 5’7″ friend and had to struggle to get my feet under the front seat, and the headroom wasn’t great. IMO, it’s almost more akin to a Beetle Dune-type treatment of the 2 than it is a CUV adaptation of the 2’s platform.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      There are a lot of way more pointless cars that I’m sure you either like or have no problem with.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    $29,445 for this? Really, why?

  • avatar
    ruckover

    One of the things that I love about being on the wrong side of 50 is that I can remember what slow means. Anyone complaining about a CX3 that has a 0-60 time of 8 seconds did not grow up when I did. This thing would toast most of the “muscle cars” of the late 70s.

  • avatar
    lastwgn

    I just do not understand people’s angst over the back seat with this car. Why must every car haul 4 people in comfort. I am thrilled that Mazda has such a nice variety of sporty vehicles. And it does not have to be straight-line fast to be sporty. Nothing wrong at all with an engaging drive.

    If you need to carry people in the backseat frequently, this is not the car that will suit your needs. If you rarely use this car to carry more than one passenger, it can be a great car. Fantastic to look at. Far better than the 3 with the license plate stuck front and center and its clown shoe profile. It sits just a bit higher than the 3 so that it makes for easier entry and exit, particularly for those over 50. Wife and I raised three kids. Know all about the need for a rear seat and cargo space. Once they were gone, we ultimately ended up with a CX-5 and a CX-3. The CX-3 was fantastic as a engaging drive for me to commute to work every day and when we need to carry passengers, we take the CX-5. My mother loved the car so much, particularly the right step in height for comfort, that she bought mine from me when I found the right MX-5 PRHT.

    The updated center console on the CX-3 corrects the single problem my wife had with the car, and the addition of a power driver’s seat corrects the only issue I had with the car. I moved into the CX-3 as a daily driver from an RX-8. Will always miss the RX-8, but enjoyed every drive to work in the CX-3 during the two years I owned it. Sure it cannot haul the basketball team. So? Not everyone needs to carry a lot of passengers all the time.

    Keep up the good work Mazda!! I am solidly in the niche you passionately cater to.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “It falls down for me in not providing four-person comfort like, say, an Encore does. But a case for the CX-3 can be made vs other cute utes from a dynamics standpoint, and it can be made vs the 3 if a smaller L x W footprint is important.”

      How angst-ridden and subjective of me . . . .

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The silhouette image is a metaphor for everything wrong with today.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Over thirty grand for this thing that can accommodate only legless rear passengers and flexible canvas grocery bags, and combines road-hugging weight and a tall center of gravity with the horsepower of a 1999 Ford Focus? Is this what we’re reduced to? If I’m going to pay this much dough for this little a car, it better have a tire-melting electric drivetrain.

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