by Deiondre van der Merwe
If you're looking for a vibrant little runaround, the Mazda CX-3 is sure to steal your heart. While it's marketed as a subcompact crossover, the true nature of the CX-3 is more akin to that of a hatchback - a style that is almost extinct in the USA. This can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. Its small, neatly-wrapped packaging sacrifices some seating and trunk space, but shoppers are rewarded with excellent handling and a grin-inducing driving experience in return. The CX-3 is home to a traditional naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder that could use some extra punch, but what the crossover lacks in power, it makes up for in personality. The CX-3 boasts an impressively premium interior that makes it hard to believe you're sitting in a $20,000 car. It also boasts a Top Safety Pick+ award, but are all of its merits enough to cement the one-trim show high up in a segment that also contains the Honda HR-V and the Hyundai Kona?
Mazda sent a barrage of upgrades in the direction of last year's CX-3, and the result of that was a pleasurable and modern crossover. Why mess with a good thing? The Japanese automaker leaves the 2020 model mostly unchanged, though they have culled the Touring and Grand Touring from the all-new lineup, leaving the Sport to fight a one-car battle. Mazda has also made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, along with some new driver-assist features under the i-Activsense suite.
With just one trim available, pricing is a simple affair. You'll pay the least for the FWD-equipped CX-3 Sport that has an MSRP of $20,640, bookended by the FWD-equipped Hyundai Kona's $20,100 asking price and the Honda HR-V's base price of $20,820. It wouldn't be fair to call the Sport a "base model", though, as it's the only one in the lineup, but it offers arguably more value than similarly priced models from rivals. The AWD Mazda CX-3 costs a little more, upping the price to $22,040. Both mentioned prices exclude the $1,100 destination fee as well as any taxes, licensing, or registration.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
While we have a few gripes here and there with the powertrain of the CX-3, its superb attitude on the road is where it shines. The crossover will take you over bumps and cracks and you'll be none the wiser. This merit usually comes at the cost of energetic handling as a whole - but not for this Mazda. The combination of its tight dimensions and excellent suspension makes it a hoot in and out of bends, and this makes it a lot easier to forget that the engine can be a little dull at times. The steering is yet another virtue of the CX-3, thanks to adequate weighting and incredible responsiveness. Point it in the direction of your choice and the Mazda will get you there with predictability that possibly no other rival in this segment manages. Parking the crossover would be an easy task if we were to consider steering alone, but the alien-like styling of the car results in some uncomfortable blind spots. Said blind spots will only be a real issue on the highway when you need to overtake, given that you'll already be distracted by begging the engine to get a move on. All of the CX-3's merits are largely due to it being more of a hatchback at heart than a true crossover, and that works out perfectly fine for us. If you don't want to take our word for it, book a test drive. You won't be disappointed.
There are a few flaws that would make the CX-3 dismissable within the segment if they were to be considered on their own, like the fact that it doesn't offer the space and ground clearance boasted by other crossovers. We've mentioned before that it feels like more of a hatchback than a true crossover, but look beyond its slightly lackluster engine and tight dimensions and you'll find excellent fuel economy, great value for money and, most importantly, a car that's fun to drive. The CX-3 offers so much character that it's hard to dislike. It has a fluid connection to its driver, and this is further aided by its precise and weighty steering wheel, along with a superb suspension setup. If that isn't enough to convince shoppers, it's safe as houses and boasts a Top Safety Pick + award that's well deserved, thanks to a generous number of safety and driver-assist features. Pair all of that with attractive exterior styling and an interior that bears resemblance to more expensive German rivals, and you have a sassy crossover that's worth every dollar.
Picking your new Mazda CX-3 has never been easier than it is now, with just one model to choose from and very limited additional options. What we would recommend is opting for FWD and adding the Soul Red Crystal exterior paint for $595 - it adds even more attitude to the already peppy CX-3. If you want to improve its exterior appearance even further, the front and rear bumper package adds some more attractive front and rear lower fascia. Add the $500 parking sensors for good measure. Overall, the CX-3 is pretty impressive as is, and with all these options ticked, it will set you back around $23,360.
The CX-siblings share obvious DNA in terms of styling and interiors, but their goals are very different. While the CX-3 is aimed at the younger market, the CX-5 will likely appeal to a more mature market with bigger families to consider, although it is impressive and fun to drive in its own right. In terms of size, the CX-5 is much larger and with that, offers less frugal EPA estimates of 25/31/28 mpg. It will manage five occupants a lot more easily than the CX-3 can, and has a more powerful 187 horsepower standard engine (250-hp optional turbo motor) along with some added plushness in the form of leather upholstery. It's not as fun to drive as the CX-3, though, and its bigger size is obvious from behind the wheel. Both have their merits and offer a similar suite of standard conveniences, and the CX-3 is a good choice for a young family - but the CX-5 will win the battle in terms of how much luxury, space, and power it provides.
The HR-V and CX-3 share a segment, but couldn't be further apart. The former focuses on practicality and offers significantly more cargo space with its seats folded, but what it offers in space, it lacks in luxury. The HR-V's interior can't hold a candle to the one found in the CX-3, and cheap materials have been used to put the entire cabin together. The Honda also falls behind the competition in terms of standard features, lacking full smartphone integration as standard along with a few safety features. The HR-V is a true utilitarian, where the CX-3 packs luxury into a much smaller place. If you're known for planning long camping trips with the family, the Honda will be the better choice, but if your main priority is a crossover that can get the kids to school, the CX-3 would be the one to go for.
The most popular competitors of 2020 Mazda CX-3: