More elevated wagon than rugged crossover SUV, the 2019 Mazda CX-3 joins a growing field of subcompact crossovers. The CX-3 sits a bit lower to the ground than the Honda HR-V or the Subaru Crosstrek, helping it to better negotiate sharp corners and remain poised during emergency maneuvers. Although pulled by its front wheels, the CX-3 can be equipped with all-wheel drive, making it an even more desirable asset in places where snow is a frequent occurrence.
Although not as powerful as the turbocharged 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.
What’s New for 2019?
For 2019, changes to the CX-3 are mostly cosmetic. Outside a new grille, piano black accents and new 18-in wheels are the big news, while inside there is better storage space, a new electric parking brake with auto-hold feature and, on the Touring trim, a height-adjustable passenger seat. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are now standard, while the Touring trim can be equipped with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, auto high beams, lane-departure warning and adaptive front LED headlights, all of which now come standard on the Grand Touring trim. A CD player is no longer available.
What We Like
Racy exterior styling; handsome interior, excellent build quality; available AWD; sports-car-like handling; good fuel economy; advanced collision-avoidance systems
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 or Android Auto
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 FWD model is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. AWD 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 ($21,365, FWD; $22,765, AWD) includes Smart City Brake Support low-speed autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, 16-in 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 audio with a 7-in touchscreen display and Mazda Connect infotainment, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input jacks, keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control, electronic parking brake, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, an exterior temperature display and a rear backup camera.
The CX-3 Touring ($23,450, FWD; $24,850, AWD) adds 18-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, leatherette and cloth inserts, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, auto on/off headlights, Advanced Key keyless entry, heated front seats, manual passenger seat lifter and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The CX-3 Grand Touring ($26,720, FWD; $28,120, AWD) adds 18-in alloy wheels, a power moonroof, auto-leveling adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, leather seating, automatic climate control, voice-activated navigation, a head-up display, a 7-speaker Bose Surround Sound audio system, steering-wheel paddle shifters, an active driving display, adaptive front headlights, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, lane-departure warning, a more advanced Smart Brake Support for speeds above 19 miles per hour with pedestrian recognition and automatic high beams.
Options for the Sport trim include the i-Activsense package that brings adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go function, Smart and Smart City brake support with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, auto high beams, adaptive LED headlights, auto on/off headlights, automatic climate control, active driving display and rain-sensing wipers. The Touring i-Activsense package adds all the features of the Sport trim’s i-Activsense package minus those features already standard on the trim. The Touring also offers the Preferred Equipment package that adds Bose audio and a power sunroof. The Grand Touring offers the GT Premium package, which brings 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, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a tire-pressure monitor.
The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2019 Mazda CX-3 top marks in every crash-test category and awarded the 2019 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 a Chevrolet 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 the 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 mph in about 8 seconds, which is about 1 second faster than the HR-V and the 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
2019 Honda HR-V — The HR-V delivers a softer ride. It also has more ground clearance and a larger, more functional interior plus standard Honda Sensing and available Apple CarPlay. The HR-V’s interior isn’t as handsome and its acceleration not as quick.
2019 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.
2019 Kia Soul — The Kia Soul doesn’t offer the option of AWD, but it does offer a lot of vehicle for the money, with a lower entry price, more powerful engine options and a superior warranty.
Used Mazda CX-5 — A used 2013-2017 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 i-Activsense and Preferred Equipment packages hits the sweet spot. In our eyes, unless you need the sure-footed ability of the CX-3’s AWD system, you’d be better off buying a FWD 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.