If you’re looking for information on a newer Mazda CX-3, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Mazda CX-3 Review
Where some small SUVs tout their tall ground clearance and rugged off-road ability, the 2018 Mazda CX-3 carves a different path. True to Mazda’s image as a builder of affordable cars for enthusiast drivers, the CX-3 remains low to the ground for better balance in the corners. Mazda does offer the CX-3 with AWD, so snow-covered roads shouldn’t be an issue. However, anything dustier than a well-worn dirt road is going to prove problematic.
Although not as powerful as the Nissan Juke or Kia Soul, the lightweight CX-3 nevertheless offers spirited performance, and its handling and fuel economy rate among the best in its class. Inside, the Mazda CX-3 delivers one of the most tasteful, well-appointed interiors of any small SUV, although the fixed infotainment screen atop the dash has drawn some criticism for its design and function. Rear-seat legroom may be in short supply when compared to the HR-V, but there’s more than in a Toyota C-HR.
If you’re looking for a sporty, Mazda3-like driving experience, but with the added benefit of available all-wheel drive, the CX-3 will fit you like a glove. If, on the other hand, you’re more than 6 feet tall, need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis or are looking for a soft ride, the CX-3 will probably rub you the wrong way.
What’s New for 2018?
Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support is made standard on all 2018 CX-3s, while new optional equipment includes a heated steering wheel, a memory power driver’s seat and a full-color Active Driving Display. Mazda has also retuned to the CX-3’s suspension to deliver a quieter and more comfortable ride. See the 2018 Mazda CX-3 models for sale near you
What We Like
Racy exterior styling; handsome interior, excellent build quality; available all-wheel drive; sports-car-like handling; good fuel economy; standard collision-avoidance system
What We Don’t
Tiny rear seat; limited cargo space; weak engine; narrow side glass makes a guessing game out of parallel parking; annoying center controller for audio and navigation; no Apple CarPlay
The CX-3 is powered by a 2.0-liter Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine that’s good for 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive model is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive models see fuel economy figures drop to 27 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The CX-3 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.
The CX-3 Sport ($21,050, FWD; $22,300, AWD) includes Smart City Brake Support low-speed autonomous braking, 16-inch alloy wheels, power operation for the mirrors, windows and door locks, auto-off headlights, a rear wiper/washer, air conditioning, a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with a 7-in touchscreen display and Mazda Connect infotainment, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input jacks, keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering column, an exterior temperature display and a rear backup camera.
The CX-3 Touring ($23,135, FWD; $24,385, AWD) adds 18-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, leatherette and Lux suede inserts, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, auto on/off headlights, Advanced Key keyless entry, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.
The CX-3 Grand Touring ($26,105, FWD; $27,355, AWD) adds 18-in alloy wheels, a power moonroof, auto-leveling LED headlights, LED fog lights, leather seating with Lux suede inserts, automatic climate control, voice-activated navigation, a head-up display, a 7-speaker Bose Surround Sound audio system, steering-wheel paddle shifters and adaptive front headlights.
Options for the Touring trim include a Preferred Equipment package that adds Bose audio and a power moonroof. The Grand Touring offers the GT Premium package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, a more advanced Smart Brake Support for speeds above 19 mph, automatic high beams, a heated steering wheel, a memory power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, and traffic-sign recognition.
Dealer-installed options include rear sonar parking sensors, remote start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, all-weather floor mats and a center armrest. The standard audio can also be upgraded to include navigation by simply purchasing a $400 SD navigation card.
Standard safety features for the CX-3 include hill-launch assist, front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, Smart City Brake Support (speeds under 19 mph), electronic traction and stability control, and a tire-pressure monitor.
The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2018 Mazda CX-3 top marks in every crash-test category and awarded the 2017 model a Top Safety Pick rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also gives the CX-3 five stars overall but issued a "safety concern" warning in the side-impact test. Apparently, due to the intrusion of the left rear door during the side-impact test, the interior door panel struck the torso of the rear passenger dummy, causing a high lower spine acceleration.
In certain conditions exceeding 82g’s, there is a higher likelihood of thoracic injury.
Behind the Wheel
If the Mazda CX-3 has one clear advantage over its competition, it’s the way it drives. If you throw a Honda HR-V or Chevy Trax into a curve, you’ll get a little bit of lean and a lot of tire squeal. If you do the same in a CX-3, you’ll discover an SUV that hugs the pavement and delivers a precise steering response worthy of the Mazda brand. Handling is best in the Touring and Grand Touring, but the 18-in wheel and tire package also brings a noticeably firm ride, especially on broken or uneven pavement. The CX-3’s low ride height helps with handling but may hinder plans to do any light off-road adventuring. Though not big on power, the CX-3’s 2.0-liter engine can motivate it to reach 60 miles per hour in about 8 seconds, which is about 1 second faster than the HR-V and Chevy Trax.
We found the CX-3’s cabin to be extremely appealing, with an excellent layout and high-end materials throughout. The front seats are snug, but they hold the driver firmly in place during spirited drives. Unfortunately, the CX-3’s rear seat is barely fit for two adults, with little in the way of generous head- or legroom. Similarly, cargo space with the rear seat up is pretty minuscule. Even with the rear seat folded, the CX-3 can’t swallow a mountain bike or larger items, a feat easily pulled off by its main rival, the Honda HR-V.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Honda HR-V — The HR-V delivers a softer ride. It also has more ground clearance and a larger, more functional interior. This model offers the option of a manual transmission, but its interior is not as handsome and its acceleration not as quick.
2018 Toyota C-HR — The C-HR offers similar power and fuel economy figures, but a bit more front-seat legroom and a much more expressive exterior. However, the C-HR doesn’t offer an AWD option.
2018 Kia Soul — The Kia Soul doesn’t offer the option of all-wheel drive, but it does offer a lot of vehicle for the money, with a lower entry price, more powerful engine options and a superior warranty.
2018 Fiat 500X — The Fiat 500X offers better off-road abilities, more horsepower and equally attractive styling both inside and out. But the Fiat brand has yet to establish itself in the U.S. market, with fewer dealerships and a yet-to-be-established reliability and resale record.
Used Mazda CX-5 — A used 2013-2015 Mazda CX-5 will give you the same sporty Mazda ride and look, but in a vehicle that’s better suited to light off-road use. The CX-5 also delivers more interior and cargo space and, on models with the 2.5-liter engine, considerably more power.
For the money, the Touring trim with the Preferred Equipment package hits the sweet spot. However, if you want the latest safety technology, you’ll need to move up to the more expensive Grand Touring. In our eyes, unless you need the sure-footed ability of the CX-3’s all-wheel-drive system, you’d be better off buying a front-drive Mazda3 Touring or Grand Touring hatchback, which will give you better handling, more power, more interior room and an available manual transmission, all for about the same price as the CX-3.