2019 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review - Napoleon Complex

Fast Facts

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD

2.0-liter inline four, DOHC (148 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
27 city / 32 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
8.6 city / 7.4 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
29.4 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $28,120 US / $32,825 CAD
As Tested: $29,625 / $33,676 CAD
Prices include $975 destination charge in the United States and $2,030 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2019 mazda cx 3 gt awd review napoleon complex

The Napoleon complex, of course, is where those of smaller stature overcompensate by being overly aggressive. Named for the legendarily short French emperor (who may or may not have actually been all that tiny), those so afflicted may be excessively loud, with a temper matching their height.

We car enthusiasts tend to anthropomorphize our four-wheeled friends, at the very least giving them names, if not attributing characters and personalities. The original Mini, for example, is frequently compared to an English bulldog.

Thus I feel compelled to toss the Napoleon complex label on the 2019 Mazda CX-3. It’s appropriately tiny, but with spirited handling well beyond the typical in the class. It’s also quite loud.

No, you aren’t seeing double. Matt Guy did indeed review a Soul Red CX-3 GT AWD back in October, very much like this one. His, a Canadian-market model, I’m sure has specialty port-installed poutine holders. My U.S. market model had no such feature, though I might have dropped a Timbit under a seat.

As Monsieur Guy and I are of similarly tall stature, it should come as no surprise that I echo his concerns with rear seat room. In short, it’s short. The kids could manage sitting behind me, but I felt their knees throughout my drive. Driving solo or two-up, however, I was pleasantly surprised with the level of comfort afforded to the front row.

The adaptive cruise control is a surprise at this price point — especially as it’s a system that functions all the way to a stop. It’s perfect for a traffic jam: set a safe speed, allow the car to stop as needed, and tap the resume button on the steering wheel when traffic begins to move again. When you find yourself drumming along with Phil Collins on the steering wheel, waiting for an accident to clear, a simple way to maintain safe spacing in gridlock is welcome.

I’m oddly weirded out by the asymmetrical central dash vents — look below the center screen. The left vent is circular, just like those on the flanks of the dash. But the right vent is horizontal. Weird. Interestingly, the heated seats on the CX-3 are impressively quick to come to temp. So much so that my typically frigid wife had to turn off the heat after about twenty minutes in the passenger seat, even as the exterior ambient was well below freezing.

It’s a much more pleasant driving machine than the Toyota C-HR, with a better driver’s seat. The rear seat is tighter than the C-HR, however. I’ll disagree with Mr. Guy on the “Miata with a backpack” comparison — unless that Miata is taking a triple load of classes, thus explaining the 613 pounds of books. This diminutive soft-roader weighs 2,952 lbs, versus the 2,339 lbs of the latest Miata soft top. It drives nicely, to be certain, with a directness to the steering and a relatively flat cornering attitude that is not often seen in this class of vehicle.

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

But it’s not a sports car. The minimal greenhouse means outward visibility is claustrophobic. The all-wheel drive is tuned for neutral handling in all conditions — not for tail-out slides on gravel. I’m not taking a CX-3 out on a racetrack. It’s fun enough to drive, but I can’t abide the Miata/backpack label.

Disclosure time: I had more time in this Mazda CX-3 than my usual weeklong loan. It seems that sometime before the initial delivery, a driver hit something in the road requiring a new tire and wheel. The impact also damaged the wheel bearing, but that wasn’t noticed until I started driving. The grinding from the bearing was so unpleasant that I began looking on various Mazda enthusiast forums for similar complaints. Nobody seemed to be having the same experience as I was. Thus, once Mazda determined the problem, it was repaired and I tested the car for another week. The bearing noise was gone.

There was still a good bit of road and engine noise, however — and a bit of wind howl around the A-pillar at highway speeds. It’s loud enough that I needed to crank the volume knob to drown out the noise. I know that Mazda is obsessed with keeping overall weight down, but ten pounds of insulation would do wonders.

About the styling — below the beltline, it resembles a Mazda 3 with black plastic cladding. I’d love to know how plastic cladding, so beloved by Pontiac designers in the Nineties, became the default signifier of a crossover. It’s frivolous and silly.

Above the beltline is damned near nothing. Something that those in more temperate climes will never notice is the simplicity of scraping frost off of the glass on the CX-3 — because there is so little glass, the time spent scraping is minimal. It looks squashed.

While this Soul Red finish reminds of the uniforms worn by the Duke of Wellington’s army at Waterloo, the CX-3 is certainly a loud, shouting Napoleon. For me, it’s not the most compelling option in the class.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 50 comments
  • R Henry R Henry on Feb 12, 2019

    I like Mazdas. I am on my third. That said, I understand that Mazdas aren't for everybody. In my experience, each one has had one or two major, glaring flaws that knock it out of contention for many mass-market buyers. In the case of this cute ute, the flaws are its cramped rear seat, to small greenhouse, and too little sound insulation. On my 2015 Mazda6 Touring with manual trans, the glaring flaw is: awkward entry/egress to/from front seats My 2001 MPV was hopelessly underpowered and undergeared-- the auto transmission never seemed to have the correct ratio. It also was the thirstiest 2.5L engine I have ever owned. There is a reason Mazda never really gets past its 3-4% US market share.

  • APaGttH APaGttH on Feb 12, 2019

    ...This car makes no sense... The B&B said that when the Buick Encore was first put into production - and yet every automaker is building in this segment, a number of them tickling or north of $30K sticker. Buyers say this whole class make sense.

  • Scott Mopar4wdthanks for those stats. But if 40% of suv buyers are 65+ that is not a long term strategyat 70 I’m perhaps not germane as I have only 2 cars now and replace only when they’re stolen
  • Mopar4wd I think the real question is when every EV can be optioned to be startlingly fast, you need something else to differentiate. Handling features etc, outright acceleration may not be as much a measure as it once was. That's the real problem I see for Dodge, their best bet would seem to be making them look way better than the competition.
  • Dukeisduke The wheelcovers with all the little round holes are from Pontiac, like the Catalina.
  • DungBeetle62 "Mark III would make its branding as exclusive as possible... " Meanwhile, 40 years on down the road every single Lincoln product was "MK _____"
  • FreedMike It is kind of refreshing to see an off-roader that is focused on the basics of off-roading, versus convincing its’ owner that he’s the real-life incarnation of the Punisher, and the owner of the largest penis in human history.