The Mazda CX-3 is one of the best-looking and most engaging subcompact SUVs in its segment. Compared with vehicles like the odd-looking Nissan Kicks and the visually sedate Honda HR-V, the CX-3 is imaginatively designed with cathartic sheet metal that lends to a handsome exterior appearance. It's rather dashing inside, too, with a straightforward, nicely appointed interior. Combine that with excellent driving dynamics -- don't forget the CX-3 has the same parents as the Miata -- and you've got one of the more interesting vehicles in the segment.
It just feels right
Mazda carries a reputation of building fun-to-drive vehicles, and that extends to the CX-3. Its 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine produces 148 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, giving the 2,809-pound CX-3 class-average acceleration. But horsepower and torque are the only elements where the CX-3 feels garden-variety.
The steering is direct and responsive, with high levels of feedback -- a typical Mazda trait. The suspension is definitely on the stiffer side of what you'd expect for a compact crossover, but it's never uncomfortable, even on the upsized 18-inch wheels of my Grand Touring tester. The solid chassis makes me more comfortable chucking the CX-3 a little harder into tight corners, with a welcome lack of body roll. The brakes, too, slow things down with confidence, with instant bite.
The CX-3 isn't quick, but these other components help make the Mazda feel more alert and engaging than its power figures might suggest. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and is more than willing to kick down in order to keep what little power there is on boil.
The front-wheel-drive CX-3 is EPA-rated for 29 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg highway, which is pretty good for the class. Its sporty character, however, made me drive it harder, and as a result, I only saw 25.6 mpg after 164.8 miles. The CX-3 also offers all-wheel drive, though it reduces fuel economy to 27/32 city/highway mpg.
Good for the eyes
With a starting price of $20,390 (plus $995 for destination), the Mazda CX-3 is an economy crossover, but its exterior design looks premium. Its sweeping body lines are complemented by a small greenhouse that lends to a tougher, more tank-like appearance. But despite smaller window apertures, there's great outward visibility from the driver's seat. Front-row occupants have plenty of room to stretch out as well.
My tester comes with eye-opening parchment (white) leather seat upholstery, set against black interior trim and carpets with a stitched charcoal swath of suede-like material running across the dash. The highly contrasting interior is a comfortable place to spend a commute and on a couple of occasions, the cabin reminded me of Infiniti's interiors. Better-quality plastics on the door panels would have completed that reminder, but the CX-3 is high-quality everywhere else inside.
It's likely the CX-3's heavier design emphasis has lightened its appetite for swallowing passengers and cargo. While folks up front have enough room, the rear seat is cramped, even for a skinny, average-height gent like me. The CX-3's cargo space with the rear seats up is 12.4 cubic feet. That's less space than just about everything in the segment. The Mazda's 44.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded isn't so bad, but really, what's the use of buying an SUV if when it's filled with passengers, you have no room for all their stuff?
Not as good for techies
It's a nice touch that you can option a CX-3 with a seven-speaker Bose sound system. The problem is that it's one of the worst-soundingI've ever heard. In addition to lacking clarity and punch, many standard, unbranded stereos sound better than the Bose in this Mazda. Do yourself a favor and keep it turned off.
The CX-3's audio tech may be lacking, but that's not so much the case with its infotainment, assuming you can live without Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The CX-3 comes standard with a 7-inch touchscreen that's paired with voice command and also includes built-in internet radio apps like Aha, Pandora and Stitcher. My heavily optioned CX-3 Grand Touring also includes embedded navigation with HD and satellite radio. I find the Mazda Connect infotainment rather uncomplicated to use, so the lack of phone mirroring in the CX-3 is less disheartening for me than it has been in cars with much more complicated infotainment interfaces.
When it comes to standard driver-assistance systems, that's where the CX-3 excels in the class. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and collision-mitigation braking are all standard. My loaded tester adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-departure warning, LED headlights, automatic high beams and rain-sensing wipers, not to mention other niceties like heated front seats, a sunroof and a pop-up head-up display.
It's priced right
For $28,245 as-tested (including destination), a loaded CX-3 is a nice car for less than $30,000 out the door.
My CX-3 is painted in one of the best shades of red ever to grace a production vehicle. The $595 Soul Red Crystal Metallic is worth every eye-popping penny. The $710 Premium Package is priced well, too, adding cool stuff like traffic sign recognition as well as a power driver's seat with memory, a heated steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The interesting choice
The 2019 Mazda CX-3 does just about everything right, but so do its segment competitors. However, if you want to have the most fun behind the wheel and the highest potential of turning heads, the CX-3 is the one to get. Beyond that, it's efficient, roomy -- for front-row occupants, at least -- and offers just enough luxury features and driver-assistance technology all for a price that's competitive with the rest of the class. Get a Honda HR-V if you want about the same level of practicality, and maintain a low profile. Get a Nissan Kicks if you want to maximize your hard-earned dollars. But if you want to make a statement with your money, the CX-3 is where it's at.