The CX-3 enters the fray at a time when its competition have already had time to size up the market and are already a couple of iterations in. But Mazda’s newfound bravado and brand recognition has imbued them with undeniable style and a set of unique markers that the others, despite their head start, can’t quite match. Question is, can the their debut effort catch up and overtake?
The world has already embraced the compact crossover, and the CX-3 is dropped into the crosshairs of established players such as the Honda HR-V, Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, Ford EcoSport, and Peugeot 2008. Its success, then, largely depends on how deftly it can merge the typical issues compact crossover buyers are looking to solve - practicality, interior versatility - with a fun driving experience.
With the CX-3 being essentially a beefier jacked-up Mazda2, a light and agile on-road demeanour should follow naturally. At least, more naturally than it would if you were expecting it to behave more like a downsized CX-5.
It’s also priced quite aggressively when contrasted against its immediate rivals, offering a competitive list of standard equipment that can swing some buyers. However, climb up the model grades and you’ll find the CX-3 can command a higher ceiling price to have all the bells and whistles.
The CX-3 builds on Mazda’s Kodo design language, with a look that fits neatly between the cute lines of the Mazda2 and the sharpened details of the new MX-5. - CarsGuide
Just as the CX-3 arrives to combat an established set of rivals, it has quite luckily managed to benefit from the experience gained from Mazda having already iteratively refined its Kodo design language.
Strong character lines and a chiseled but curvaceous shape set it apart from the more rounded offerings out there and results in what is arguably the best looking baby crossover in this burgeoning space, with a clear uniformity with other Mazdas and exterior flair that cleverly masks its size. There’s all the creases and contours we’ve come to expect that have manifestly become more intricate with each new car Mazda outs with the Kodo philosophy.
There’s just a 40mm difference in ride height from the Mazda2 and shares the same 2,570mm wheelbase but even side-by-side the CX-3 immediately has more presence, even looking sportier than the objectively lighter and nimbler hatch.
The cladding that’s festooned along the lower perimeter of the crossover might look purposeful but shouldn’t be enough to signal it as being off-road capable, even with the four-wheel drive variant chosen. To help remind you that the CX-3’s wheelhouse is much more urban, there is the intricate 16-inch wheels in the mid-tier Maxx and 18-inch alloys in the higher-specified sTouring and Akari.
Engine and Drivetrain
“..both the 1.5-litre diesel and 2.0-litre petrol engines remain settled and hushed, while wind and road noise are well suppressed.” - Carbuyer
The range kicks off with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol that develops 109kW and 197Nm from Mazda’s SkyActiv-G range. It’s a familiar motor also seeing use in the larger CX-5 and Mazda3, but detuned in this instance.
Still, it’s enough to keep up with its rivals and is a keen performer especially at low to moderate speeds. It would be a better match for the slick six-speed manual but the deficit in convenience means most will select the six-speed automatic, in which case, unless the Sport mode is engaged, has a tendency to pick taller gears to save fuel.
Then we arrive at the 1.5-litre SkyActiv-D, a turbodiesel four-cylinder that outputs a meagre 77kW but can summon 270Nm of torque from 1,600rpm which makes for stronger roll-on performance over the larger but non-turbocharged petrol - mind you. In a combined cycle, Mazda claims 5.1-litres/100km for the diesel over petrol’s 6.7-litres/100km. It’s quite a refined unit too, settling into a quiet burble at idle, providing smooth acceleration and is only mildly louder under load.
Front-drive versions of the CX-3 will serve urban dwellers more than adequately, especially when accompanied with the crossover’s predictable dynamics. Those who must have all-wheel drive will naturally need to pay more for power to also be sent rearward, no doubt aiding in very wet weather or the occasional venturing off the asphalt, and all variants save for the base Neo do get the option to be all-wheel driven.
“…while headroom is fine, fitting three adults in will be a real squeeze, not helped by the big lump in the middle of the floor.” - Telegraph Cars
The interior also benefits from Mazda’s recent talent windfall, with the Japanese brand managing to include premium levels of finish and build into a relatively affordable package, and continuing with the CX-3. It’s also reasonably stylish and plush inside, if somewhat minimal, but does offer many commodious storage options.
The range-topping CX-3 Akari stands out as easily being the most posh crossover among its peers, with its contrasting leather dual-tone interior, comfortable seats, piano black and aluminium accents, and electric sunroof.
Anyone who’s familiar with the Mazda2’s cabin will instantly have déjà vu stepping into the CX-3, sharing the simple dash layout, instrument cluster, and switchgear. Expected, given just how closely related these two are, though a little more differentiation would have been appreciated.
But where the CX-3 stumbles is in interior space and packaging, the added height over the 2 hatch doesn’t equate to an appreciable increase in roominess. Leg room for second row passengers is marginally better and headroom, due to its more stylishly sloping roofline and the fact that the rear seats are placed higher than those up front, it’s the same case for rear headroom.
It isn’t bad, to be sure, but competitors like the Honda HR-V really shows up Mazda’s weaknesses and occasionally mismatched priorities. Expecting the CX-3 to be more suited to carrying passengers than the Mazda2 hatch is reasonable, but you might be left wanting.
The extra length does mean a healthier amount of cargo space with 350-litres with the seats upright (or 264-litres with the tonneau cover left on), and the higher lift is aided by a flat load lip and a boot floor is refreshingly free of bulges and odd obstructions. With the second row folded down (and they do lie flat) though, capacity jumps to 1,260-litres. There’s even an underfloor storage bay.
Behind The Wheel
“…it’s arguably the most involving baby SUV on the market when it comes to have fun through the bends.” - CarAdvice
Being a Mazda, there’s a tacit expectation that it will boast some enjoyable dynamics, and matching its sporty exterior, it delivers on this front as well. Setting it apart from its competitors is the very well judged driving position that, more so than others, really does leave you forgetting that you’re in a crossover.
This translates to the drive as well, where the class disparity between it and the Mazda2 is the most blurred. It feels like a small, nimble hatch, albeit a little taller, with good body control around curves and undulations and handles road imperfections without being the least bit unsettled. Though, the trade off is the relatively firm edge to the ride, more so in the sTouring and Akari versions with their 18-inch wheels.
Mated to the 6-speed manual, the 2.0-litre petrol engine cements the illusion of being in a sporty hatch than a somewhat more practical crossover. Steering has enough weight and resistance at speed but light around town and alert to quick inputs. If you’re looking for one of the best handling crossover in its class, look no further.
Safety and Technology
“All versions of the CX-3 come with a decent amount of safety kit,” - AutoTrader
All CX-3 grades (except the Neo), like other new Mazdas, feature the MZD Connect infotainment system that handles all media and navigation functions, controllable via the 7-inch tablet-style touchscreen or the more intuitive rotary dial behind the gear lever. It’s one of the best overall in-car systems on the market because of its dual input method.
ANCAP awards the CX-3 with a 5-star safety rating and it comes standard with 6 airbags, ISOFIX mounting points, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera on all grades except the base Neo, as well as the mandated electronic stability control.
An optional Safety Pack adds even more potentially life saving tech, including autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, though these features in addition to a lane departure warning system are included in the top-spec CX-3 Akari.
Mazda might be one the latter automakers to really capitalise on the compact crossover boom, but their first swing at this burgeoning market is a winner - being a fun to drive, stylish inside and out, furnished with lots of standard equipment, well-built, and most of all, desirable.
It may fall short in some areas like full-on practicality and neither does it have the roomiest interior, but the combination of its strengths should make rivals manufacturers take pause to reorient their own offerings.
To some, the baby jacked-up Mazda might be on the expensive side, particularly for the higher variants, but considering the amount of value the CX-3 brings to the table, it deserves a consideration from any buyer on the prowl at this corner of the market.
Motoring - 80/100 - “If you’re after a real SUV feel, you’re going to have to step up to a larger offering from Mazda. But if you’re hunting personality, rather than practically, the CX-3 has plenty.”
Telegraph Cars - 7/10 - “While very good in certain areas, the Mazda CX-3 would need to be either bit cheaper or more spacious to secure a higher score.”
CarAdvice - 8/10 - “It isn’t as practical as some other more spacious and thoughtful baby high-riders, but for buyers who don’t need to use the back seat or boot often, it’s a sturdy option well worth considering.”
CarsGuide - 4.5/5 - “It may not be the roomiest, so it’s not a total slam dunk, but it packs an endearing combination of value, drive experience and design that should win it many, many friends.”
EVO - 4/5 - “…in a class not known for deft handlers or cars with the ability put a smile on your face, Mazda’s compact crossover still has the entertainment value.”
AutoTrader - 3.5/5 - “The Mazda CX-3 is stylish and well-equipped, and it’s also one of the more entertaining cars of its type to drive. However, it’s also expensive to buy and not practical enough,”