By on February 11, 2019

2019 Mazda CX-3 front quarter

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.

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 profile

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 interior

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 front seats 2019 Mazda CX-3 rear seats

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 center stack

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 dashboard

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 front

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 rear

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 cargo area

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 gauges

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.

2019 Mazda CX-3 rear quarter

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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50 Comments on “2019 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review – Napoleon Complex...”

  • avatar

    Ehh, a tall Mazda2 hatchback for 30 large.

    If I weren’t too lazy, I’d calculate many dollars per extra centimeter of ground clearance that is.

    EDIT: Had to do it. 152 mm vs 160 mm. In AUD, that’s $2012 per millimeter.

  • avatar

    Wow, my Mini Clubman had more back seat legroom than this thing.

  • avatar

    “So much so that my typically frigid wife had to turn off the heat after about twenty minutes…”

    This sentence needs a rewrite.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, a guy has to complain somehow when he is not getting what he needs at home. Leave Chris alone. Maybe the wife is reading the reviews and he’s sending a message.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, but the jokes just write themselves…

      Maybe what he thought was a wheel-bearing moan was actually his gloriously thawed-out wife. Forget the adaptive cruise – isn’t this a low price point for vibrating seats? Zoom-zoom indeed!

      Enjoy it while you can, Chris – as soon as the comments prompted by her brief starring appearance here begin rolling in to her social media feed, I predict a return of the polar “vortex.”

  • avatar

    These seem okay in a bubble but,
    0. How many people shopping this class really care about handling dynamics?
    1. On a 60 month loan it’s only a quick jump to go from the cheapest CX3 AWD to the cheapest CX5 AWD, which is roomier, taller, and more powerful without much penalty to FE.
    2. You can now get a Mazda3 hatch with AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      I had another rental CX5 grand touring last week, at one point I parked next to a CX3 and all I could thing was “why?”

      I rather enjoyed the CX5, the refinement of the NVH (aside from the motor) and ride quality is outstanding, as are the interior materials for the class. The motor is simply fighting too much mass, but did return decent mpg (29 in winter driving on cruise control for 76mph). With the 2.5 turbo motor the CX5 is probably among the most satisfying CUVs in the compact class. However the CX5 already suffers from one of the smaller passenger spaces (rear legroom/car seat room particularly) in the compact class, the CX3 then is pure clown-car.

    • 0 avatar

      But you can’t get a Mazda3 hatch with black plastic cladding around the wheels at any price.

      • 0 avatar

        Late to this thread . . . .

        Re: the cladding, Tonn is slightly off base in calling it “frivolous and silly.” In context, it serves a very useful purpose of keeping the vehicle from looking slab-sided. Now, that slab-sidedness is a problem of the industry’s own making.” But in the context of “we must make CUVs,” the cladding makes sense.

  • avatar

    It costs as much as a 3 sedan or hatch in the highest trim, which has a nicer interior than this, and more space front and rear.

    With the new 3 this car makes no sense, unless you’re entirely blinded by plastic cladding and 1/3″ of additional ground clearance.

    Also, it drives me nuts that the fan knob, hazard switch, and screen are not aligned. They’re all different.

    • 0 avatar

      “With the new 3 this car makes no sense…”

      With the old 3 this car made no sense.

    • 0 avatar

      True, but all anybody will ever see is that it’s taller than a 3 and that’s all that matters in CUV-obsessed North America. Even Motorweek, which loves just about anything with wheels, couldn’t understand why someone would choose this over a 3 Hatchback for all of the reasons you just stated.
      Unfortunately, this little CUV will sound the death-knell for the Mazda 3 in just a few years.

  • avatar

    It has a torsion beam rear axle, even with the AWD – hence the lack of ground clearance. That lack of complication is a wonder to stare at.

    You feel like you’re sitting deep inside a bucket due to that high beltline. Hard to rest an elbow on the window sill. An urban mini-warrior – when they age a bit more and are cheap to acquire, they’ll all likely become pizza delivery vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow I had to look that up, indeed it is a weird tubular single beam with driveshafts running out to the wheels. Never seen one of those before!

      • 0 avatar

        That is really weird. Considering something like a 1st gen Escape had a IRS regardless of FWD or AWD the FWD versions rear suspension was just missing the differential and shafts.

  • avatar

    $30K is too much for this car. You can get a CX-5 nicely equipped for about the same money

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    An SUV or CUV without good visibility is a non-starter in my opinion.

  • avatar

    A CUV with limited back seating space and cargo space? What is the point of this vehicle?

    • 0 avatar

      Fair question, Sloomis. I posted this in 2017:

      “I recommended one of these for a relative. A single young woman deep in the Snow Belt who wanted a stylish AWD replacement for her old Civic. She loved its strengths, and none of its deficiencies put her off.

      “That said, I’d wager most CUVs are being sold as family cars of some sort, so it’s hard to do much volume without a usable back seat.”

  • avatar

    I’ve had my 2016 CX-3 (GT AWD with iActiveSense) for about 2 years now and it seems not much has changed.

    The radar cruise now goes all the way down to zero (earlier versions like in my car stop working around 15mph). Still noisy. Still way more fun to drive than the HR-V that we tested.

    It’s incredibly sure-footed in the snow. I added as set of Continental WinterContact SI tires on 16″ alloys and had zero problems going to work during our first big snowfall of the season. 5″ overnight and nobody saw fit to plow the roads before rush-hour. Where everybody else was getting stuck on <1% grades or while trying to change lanes (including a 4×4 pickup truck that seemed to be stuck in 4×2) I just kept motoring on. Interstate 90/94 eastbound was a big, snow, 5 mph obstacle course.

    I just took a few co-workers to lunch and both front and back seat space was more than adequate.

    We've since added a 75 lb dog to (in addition to our 50 lb dog) and it's a little cramped. We can fit ourselves, dogs, and weekend luggage if we leave the air at home. I'm now looking at the 2019 Mazda 3 with AWD. However, for the price of the 3 AWD with radar cruise, I can get a CPO Infiniti EX37/QX50 with and have another $3k to spare so it will be a hard sell.

    • 0 avatar

      “back seat space was more than adequate.”

      Anybody 5’10” or above in the bunch? Sure seems like every review notes the very marginal rear legroom. It looks exaggerated in the photos above with the rear seats scooted back, but I’d hardly call it MORE than adequate just based on photos. Then again I’ve not been in one. I have been in the back of a CX5. With my 5’7″ mother in the front passenger seat, it was just okay, not great for me at 5’11.”

      • 0 avatar

        I should amend that it was “more than adequate” for a trip to lunch. I wouldn’t put full-sized adults back there for a long distance trip unless the zombie apocalypse hit when we were out to lunch.

        Then again, this is the car you would do that in.

        I’m always amused by people who complain about a sub-compact not having room in the back for three American-sized adult males. Well, duh, of course it’s going to have a tight back seat. It’s a small car not a Panther.

        • 0 avatar

          Ironically enough panthers have pretty poor rear seat legroom. Plenty of width sure, but mediocre knee space. The trend for a while now have been super-sized back seats, driven more by rear-facing infant seats more than anything else. Versa really set the pace back in 2006, everyone else has followed suit with 37+ inches of rear legroom.

        • 0 avatar

          Good discussion, and fair clarifications from Mazda owners notapreppie and (below) R Henry.

          A friend had a CX-3 as a loaner when his BK 3 was at the stealership for a repair. At 5’10”, I fit behind by 5’8″ brother, but I definitely felt more claustrophobic than I would have in an Encore (based on a sit-behind myself test conducted at an auto show). I had to work to tuck my feet under the front seat. They were OK once positioned, but I strongly dislike the perception of being ankle-tethered in the vehicle.

          I generally favor as little length and width in my vehicles as is required. The 3 vs CX-3 comparison is one where I might opt for the bigger platform, though. If I did a lot of street parking and very little hauling of back-seat passengers, I might favor the CX-3.

    • 0 avatar

      Might you be in Billings, MT?

    • 0 avatar

      An AWD 3 sounds ideal, for a price.

  • avatar

    Miata with a backpack? Maybe like a fanny pack at most…or maybe a moneybelt.

    No car in which the front seats have to be run all the way forward in order to fold the rear seatbacks can be described as having “more than adequate” rear seating space. With those rears folded, I would bet you would be able to use maybe 75% of the front seat travel, in fact…and only with the front recline set to bolt upright.

  • avatar

    I sat in one of these at the L.A.Auto show. With the front seat adjusted to fit my 5’9” height, the back seat jammed my legs into the front seats. No sale. My kids are bigger than I am.

  • avatar

    If you’re going to buy something in this class, only two cars make sense: the HR-V, and Kona with the 1.6T. The HR-V has a decent back seat, and the turbo Kona isn’t slow. Otherwise, these cars are all underpowered, overly thirsty, underwhelming at hauling people over anything but short trips, and comically overpriced.

    I’ve driven a more basic CX-3, and it’s agile, but it’s loud, and it’s slow. I found it overpriced at $24,000; with a $30,000 sticker, this car makes about as much sense as inoculating yourself with the Asian bird flu.

    • 0 avatar
      Minnesota Nice

      I have always driven Civics prior to leasing my 2018 CX-5 Grand Touring. I leased because I wanted more ground clearance, cargo, and AWD, but wasn’t convinced CUV life was right for me long term as a single 30 something.

      I think miseducation is the reason these sub compact SUV sell. By the numbers, they make zero sense- they have barely any ground clearance gains over their sedan counterparts, typically top out at what a mid tier compact SUV (arguably better in all ways) goes for, and have underwhelming fuel economy.

      But people still buy them because they say they want AWD and cargo but don’t want a bigger SUV despite the fact that they have less space than the sedans they’re based on and a set of winter tires on a Mazda3 will perform better than a CX-3 AWD in circles.

  • avatar

    I too, was weirded out by the asymmetrical central vents when this first came out and I still think it looks strange. Since I’m complaining anyway. I might as well add that Mazda desperately needs some new colors. I’m getting sick and tired of their “signature” Soul Red already. Enough! How about some fresh new colors? And also, who the hell wants a WHITE interior? It’s ridiculously impractical and the only choice if you don’t want to sit in a dark black bunker. Ok, I’m done for now.

  • avatar

    Gtem, you are exactly correct about a CX-5 with a turbo engine.
    I’m a week and a half into owning a ’19 CX-5 Signature Turbo AWD and it indeed has effortless acceleration. 250 HP( on 93 octane, 227 on ’87) but 310 lb ft torque regardless. In addition to my Suzuki Vstrom1000, the CX is a retirement gift from to, by, and for me. 35 years with Mazda counts for something.
    Cruising at 80 mph, it was a hop, skip and a jump to 105 before I knew it. The 2.5 is a long-stroke torquer, not a high-rpm screamer. Still…this engine in a CX-3 AWD…

  • avatar

    Loud, spirited uselessness. The HR-V’s mute, antiseptic uselessness shall reign triumphant.

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

    I had one as a loaner when my 6 was getting serviced. I liked it more than the CX-5’s that I have had as loaners, although none of them have had the turbo.. I drove really nicely on city streets, which were the only place I had a chance to drive it. The front seat was perfectly fine. I liked it.

  • avatar

    The odd vent wouldn’t weird me out as much as the tablet sticking out of the dash like it was the 90s again.

  • avatar

    I need more Mazda. More torque (turbocharging helps), more gears (with more leverage off the line), more sound insulation. Aside from the painfully bland looks and dodgy long term reliability VW makes a much stronger case to me.

  • avatar

    Who cares about the car – the guy is rocking to ADAM ANT!!!

  • avatar
    John R

    148hp. You can get 203hp in a Rav4 and 168hp in a Corolla now. Sweet handling or not a car needs to be able to get out of its own way. This may be trending towards being dangerously under-powered.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect you’re trolling, but I’ll take this comment at face value.
      – In terms of room and power, CUVs broadly align to sedans one platform size up in terms of roominess and power. The CX-3 is on a subcompact plaform; the RAV4 is on a compact platform. The RAV4 *should* have more power.
      – You’ve cited only the 2.0 engine in the sportier SE and XSE Corollas. The majority of 2020 Corollas will continue to have a 139-hp engine. The CX-3’s 148 hp is fine.
      – “This may be trending towards being dangerously under-powered.” Per C&D, the CX-3 does 0-60 in 8.1, the quarter mile in 16.3 at 86 mph, and tops out at 120. That’s not slow or even close to slow by any reasonable standard.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    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.

  • avatar

    …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.

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