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.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
The Mazda CX-3 SUV has always had styling that stands out from the subcompact crowd in the US thanks to in-your-face looks that makes sure the smaller body demands attention. This is one of the few crossovers that twenty-somethings seriously consider buying with their own money. Lateral chrome blades make up the grille, flanked by a set of sharp full-LED headlights with daytime running lights, and the rear gives off a futuristic vibe thanks to geometrical taillights and prominent creases, while dual exhaust outlets are standard. A set of 16-inch wheels seals the stylish deal.
The way that the CX-3 is styled makes it appear bigger than it actually is, but smaller dimensions mean that the crossover is a whizz at getting into those tight parking spaces in the city. A total length of 168.3 makes it slightly smaller than the Honda HR-V, and it has a 101.2-inch wheelbase to match. It has some rather narrow haunches, resulting in a total width of 69.9 inches. Though the CX-3 is marketed well by Mazda as an SUV-like crossover, its maximum ground clearance of 6.1 inches falls short of both the HR-V and the Hyundai Kona's climbing abilities, so you'd be better off sticking to smoother tar in this one. Curb weights for the Mazda range from between 2,851 pounds and 2,994 lbs based on your choice of FWD or AWD.
You'll have the choice between eight colors for the outside of your CX-3, with five of these available at no extra cost. No-nonsense shades like Jet Black Mica and Titanium Flash can be had for the less adventurous, and two shades of blue include Eternal Blue Mica and Deep Crystal Blue Mica, but these aren't going to incite much awe either. The Ceramic Metallic is arguably the best option in the standard selection. Snowflake White Pearl Mica will cost you $200, and if you add another $100 to that, you can get the Machine Gray metallic. Our favorite hue is, unfortunately, the most expensive one, the $595 metallic Soul Red Crystal, but it does the CX-3 justice in a way that the other shades can't manage.
We all have that one friend who's in an obviously toxic relationship, but chooses to stay because they've been together for so long already and it's comfortable. That's the same relationship that Mazda finds itself in with its naturally-aspirated engines. The automaker enjoyed an influx of sales using this engine once upon a time, but the breakup needs to happen. That being said, it makes the best out of the situation and the 2.0-liter four-pot allows for a run from 0 to 60 mph somewhere in the eight-second range, which leaves the turboless HR-V behind, but inevitably has to catch up to Hyundai's turbocharged Kona that tackles the feat in just over six seconds. We're not saying the performance is bad, because that would be untrue. In the city, the Mazda zips in and out of traffic eagerly, which is what it was designed for. It's only when you venture onto the highway that the crossover starts to wheeze a little, especially with its disappointing top speed of around 110 mph. If the Polar Express visits your town around Christmas, the CX-3 is available with an all-wheel-drive system to aid its all-weather capability. But if you're in the Sunshine State, the FWD spec will perform just fine and shave off a couple of pounds while it's at it.
A straightforward approach was taken by Mazda for the CX-3, and it only offers one engine choice. We've already expressed our woes about the absence of a turbo, so we'll just dive right into the better stuff. The naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine punches out 148 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque, which is notably more powerful than most 2.0-liter engines in this segment without a turbo, but the turbocharged engine in the Hyundai Kona offers 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque in comparison. The four-pot is coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission, though you can resort to using the manual shift paddles if you're a sucker for punishment. It's not all bad for the six-speed, and when it's left to do its thing, it'll deliver smooth changes. Prepare for it to take a leisurely stroll from gear to gear, though, and it will noticeably hesitate when you put your foot down with assertiveness. The transmission lets the engine down quite a bit in our opinion, but not by enough to be absolutely terrible. The driving force behind the CX-3 is good when you appreciate it for what it was made to do, which is to zip up and down city streets to get to work or make a quick run to the grocery store.
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.
The naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter in the CX-3 is more frugal than you'd expect and outshines its main competitors in terms of mileage figures. The FWD-equipped CX-3 has EPA estimated figures of 29/34/31 mpg city/highway/combined, enough for it to be superior to both of the engines in the Kona and the one found in the HR-V. Opting for an AWD-equipped CX-3 means that you'll have to sacrifice some frugality, as this model has EPA estimates of 27/32/29 mpg. You can expect just over 390 miles of range on a full tank with FWD, and around 345 miles in a CX-3 with AWD - FWD cars have a 12.7-gallon fuel tank, while AWD versions have an 11.9-gallon unit.
The interior is where the CX-3 starts to cause trouble for more expensive crossovers. After a glance at the price tag, you'll start mentally preparing yourself for hard plastics and obvious evidence of a discount somewhere, but Mazda has expertly put the cabin together with soft-touch materials and high-quality upholstery. Infotainment is simple and laid out well, and can be accessed via simple touch or a well-placed rotary dial, a setup similar to what's used in more premium crossovers. Space is abundant in the front of the CX-3, but six-footers should exercise caution if they're considering the back.
Seating in the CX-3 is a mixed bag. While the front of the car is an absolute delight thanks to ample space and six-way adjustable seating for the driver, the rear isn't fit for the three adults it claims to be able to seat. Front passengers will enjoy excellent support and comfort from the seats, and though the rear may be significantly cramped, those who do manage to sit in the back will find seats of the same caliber. The crossover is best suited for four adults, and the main thing that six-footers will struggle with in the back is legroom. Two children will feel right at home in the back, making this a viable option for the small family.
The three trim levels offered by Mazda in 2019 allowed for leather upholstery options, but the sole trim offered for 2020 comes standard with black cloth upholstery. While cloth isn't appealing to everyone, the material used in the CX-3 is durable and soft, making it more than manageable for daily use. The bad news is that if you're a "leather or nothing" shopper, there aren't any additionally available materials to choose from. A pro for the CX-3 is that Mazda chucked soft-touch garb into the cabin with abandon, making the limited upholstery that much less of a downfall and components like the center console and armrests are padded. Overall, the interior materials used are impressive for this price point.
It's the trunk that suffers most as a result of the CX-3's tighter dimensions, and the crossover falls behind rivals in this area. The Mazda has 17.8 cubic feet of space to work with when all of the seats are up. This is slightly less than what the Hyundai Kona's 19.2 cubic foot trunk can manage, and the Honda HR-V leaves the CX-3 for dead with a cavernous 24.3 cubes. You'll be able to manage the weekly groceries and a gym bag, and the trunk will be able to cart a single traveler's luggage to the airport. If you find yourself having to help a friend move to a new apartment, you'll have 42.7 cubic feet of total cargo space with the seats folded flat.
Small-item storage is decent enough, but not anything to write home about. Storage spaces in the doors are so small that they remind us of the fake pockets on skinny jeans, but the center console makes room for a purse or a smartphone or two, and cup holders can only be found in the front.
Given that the CX-3 has only one trim to make a good impression, it comes laden with a good list of standard-fitted conveniences. The driver gains access to the cabin via keyless entry and push-button start gets the crossover going. A six-way adjustable driver's seat joins the list along with a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, automatic climate control, and a 12V power outlet. Yet another benefit of having only one model is that Mazda has now made the i-Activsense safety suite standard on the Sport. As usual, a rearview camera, cruise control, dynamic stability control, and blind-spot monitoring are on the list. Newly added features include hill launch assist, rear cross-traffic alert, smart brake support with collision warning, pedestrian monitoring, and lane departure warning.
The CX-3 hasn't changed much since last year, but one of the notable improvements for this year's model is the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, now allowing for full smartphone integration. A seven-inch touchscreen allows for this along with Bluetooth streaming and AM/FM radio. The Mazda Connect infotainment system enables voice command and various internet radio integration options. If sentimental tendencies mean you're still using your iPod from 2009, an aux input is included as well as one USB port. A six-speaker sound system is standard and, surprisingly, pushes out audio with clarity that not many six-setups can manage.
No recalls have been issued for the 2020 CX-3, and both the 2019 and 2018 models remain unaffected, too. This speaks to the reliability of the compact Japanese crossover.In the unlikely event of any mechanical issues, Mazda offers a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty followed by a powertrain and corrosion warranty valid for five years or 60,000 miles. Roadside assistance is also standard for three years or 36,000 miles.
Here's a category in which we can sing the CX-3's praises, and rightly so. The crossover has managed to keep a firm grip on the IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ award for five years in a row, making it safer than both the Honda HR-V and the Hyundai Kona, which misses out on the coveted '+' designation. The organization awarded the Mazda CX-3 ratings of Good in all required tests, naturally. The NHTSA's review of the Mazda CX-3 also noted its excellent safety rating, earning it five stars for overall safety. However. there is a safety concern for side barrier and rear passenger crash tests in certain conditions.
There's a reason that the CX-3 has the most prestigious award for safety to brag about, and this is further improved on by the newly standard driver-assist features. Six airbags include front, side, and curtain airbags, and a rearview camera is standard. The Sport boasts all the features it once had, plus the ones that were previously standard exclusively on upper trim levels. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, smart city braking support, and cruise control are once again factory fitted. Newly added features are inclusive of lane departure warning, pedestrian monitoring, smart brake support with collision warning, and hill launch assist.
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.
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.
The number of Mazda CX-3 models has been reduced from three to one for 2020. However, two configurations are available - either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. The subcompact crossover plays host to a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission to row the gears.
The CX-3 Sport has a good amount of convenience features that include 16-inch wheels, keyless entry, push-button start, and a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel. A six-way manually adjustable driver's seat is also included, followed by automatic climate control and a 12V power outlet. A seven-inch touchscreen enables full smartphone integration including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth streaming, one USB port, and an aux input. A six-speaker sound system is standard.
Impressive safety features boasted by the CX-3 are inclusive of a rearview camera, cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic-alert. Lane departure warning is also standard along with hill launch assist, smart brake support with collision warning and pedestrian monitoring.
Strangely, not many additional packages are available for the CX-3. This is probably due to the fact that most features that were additionally available on last year's model are now standard on the sole trim of the lineup. There are a few standalone options however, and these include the rear parking sensors for $500 and front and rear bumper trim package for $525 for some extra exterior style. A frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror is available for $325 and this also adds a Homelink system.
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.
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