2019 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD Review - Napoleon Complex

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
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.

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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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  • 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.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.