One of the best-looking and most fun-to-drive subcompact crossovers gets another slight make-over.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Mazda already made some changes to the 2018 model of the CX-3, righting some of the wrongs. This year, the 2019 got some further updates and continues to improve.
Pricing: 2019 Mazda CX-3
Base price (GT AWD trim): $30,795
Options: $200 Ceramic Metallic paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $32,990
Simply put, the CX-3 is the best-looking small crossover on the market. In my humble opinion. Its proportions are awesome and it manages to look aggressive, cute and sporty all at the same time.
Visually, the 2019 update is very minor and takes a trained eye – or you can just let me tell you. The grilled and the tail lights received some updates and that’s about it. All the exterior lighting is LED, and it looks fantastic.
The beautiful 18-inch rims wear 215/50-sized rubber and have a stunning impact on an already attractive vehicle.
I have always felt this is one fine looking automobile, particularly in this top GT trim and I always enjoyed looking back at it when I parked it. It’s a beauty.
There are some minor changes inside too, including a revised dash design, improved centre console and some upholstery changes versus the 2018s. There’s also no more mechanical parking brake – it’s been replaced with an electronic one and it now has an auto-hold function.
I love the suede inserts on the dash and door panels. The deceptively simple and clean dash design worked well for me although there’s still plenty of hard plastic everywhere, reminding you that you’re in an entry-level model.
The heated steering wheel is a pleasure to drive with and the heated leather seats (the driver’s side is power-adjustable with memory settings) are very comfortable and supportive.
In the centre of the dash sits a 7-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled with the rotary HMI knob on the console – this is now easier to interact with because of the changes to the console, so that’s nice. It used to have a miniature wrist support which was awful. The somewhat nested user interface is getting a bit tired but it still works well enough. The system manages your phone, the excellent Bose audio system and navigation functions as well as plenty of vehicle settings. The centre console also get an armrest now – thank goodness!
Unfortunately, the two cupholders that have joined the party are horrible. I can’t believe this design got approved. They are two square bins. They are barely big enough to accommodate a phone standing up in them, and they’re quite far back – so not really great for that. They’re also quite deep and far back, which makes it difficult to retrieve items you’ve put there. Which brings me to the cupholder function. It requires you to fold out a flimsy bracket that acts as a brace to push the cup forward and keep it in place. But it doesn’t really work well, and if you have anything less than a large take-out cup, the bins are so deep, the cup is all but swallowed up by the cupholder and is really tough to get out. I know I’ve spent a lot of words describing these things, but since Mazda must have spent time designing these, I owe it to them to properly critique these disasters too.
I liked the controls for the automatic climate control system. There are plenty of drivers who prefer to manage their own climate control and this one makes it easy to set it on Auto and leave it, or to make quick adjustments using dials. It’s a smart set-up.
There’s a basic sunroof overhead and this upper trim comes with a very solid suite of driver assistance technology. There’s blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, a back-up camera, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, forward obstruction warning and city brake support. There’s also a heads-up display and traffic sign recognition.
Here is the biggest issue with the CX-3. Although it competes with the smallest crossovers on the market, the competition has it beat in real-world backseat space. There’s no way around this – the CX-3’s rear seat is about the tightest I’ve ever tested. Sitting behind my own driving position, my knees were jammed well into the back of the driver’s seat. I did have enough head room – I’m 5’10”. The middle position is nearly impossible for someone to use – it’s narrow and straddles a large floor tunnel.
This is a problem with the CX-3 – there’s not a lot of it. An angled, rubberized bin can be found at the base of the centre stack – where you’ll also find a 12V and two USB plugs. Unfortunately it’s too small to handle any current smartphone either length- or width-wise.
The trunk has a high load floor and at 408L, is quite usable. You can grow that to 1,484L with the rear seats folded down.
Under the Hood
No major changes here other than under the surface. The 2L inline-4 carries over with some updates that slightly impact low-end torque and fuel economy. It puts out 148 HP (at 6,000 RPM) and 146 lb.ft of torque (at 2,800 RPM). The transmission is still a 6-speed and it’s a front-wheel drive based all-wheel drive system sending the power to all four corners.
This is a light and efficient vehicle and Mazda rates it at 8.6/7.4 L/100 km city/hwy. We averaged 8 L/100 km.
As before, the driving experience behind the wheel of a CX-3 is quite rewarding. It’s not fast, but it’s responsive enough, and in Sport mode, it is quite a bit of fun. The transmission is smart and feels like it’s usually in the right gear – although I’d prefer to have a couple more of them to spread the power out a bit more. Gears can be shifted manually using paddles or the gear selector lever.
Handling is the best part of the CX-3’s character. The suspension set-up combined with excellent torque vectoring makes for a blast on the roads, where it absolutely holds its own and feels more like a small sports car than a tall hatchback. The ride is acceptable, but quite firm.
Mazda indicates they continued to make improvements in the noise and vibration department. Although it’s much improved over the early CX-3 models, it’s still not one of the quietest things on the road particularly at highway speeds.
Braking is perfectly fine, and visibility out of the CX-3 is decent. The exception is when the rear headrests are in use as they block a portion of your rear view.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was good and bad. She really liked the exterior styling and how it handled around town, but she said it felt pretty bare and plain inside.
I’ve always enjoyed driving the CX-3 but some of the compromises made it difficult to recommend, particularly in such a competitive segment. It is definitely one of, if not the most fun-to-drive subcompact crossovers on the road and it offers enough utility and comfort for most buyers unless you need the back seats on a regular basis. I want to love the CX-3 more than I do, because I really treasure the driving experience in it, but I’m not sure that’s enough to put it ahead of some of the new and incredibly well-done competitors in this category.
So if you’re shopping for this type of vehicle, you’ll also be looking at Toyota C-HR, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek and the new players – Hyundai Kona and Nissan’s Kicks and Qashqai.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mazda Canada.
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