One spirited drive behind the wheel of the CX-3 will have even the keenest of enthusiasts singing its praises. We’ve come to expect playful driving dynamics, eager powertrains, and driver-focused interiors from Mazda—it’s the zoom-zoom brand, after all—and this subcompact crossover doesn’t disappoint. Once its practicality is under the microscope, however, the CX-3’s shine starts to fade. It’s small. Shoppers who prioritize cargo space and room for passengers would be better served by many of the CX-3’s rivals, or even a Mazda 3 hatchback. That said, the CX-3 is on our short list of great crossovers, even if it’s solely for its corner-carving expertise and its fun-loving character.
What’s New for 2018?
Mazda made low-speed automated emergency braking standard across the CX-3 lineup—and it upped the CX-3’s price slightly. Mazda also introduced the company’s G-Vectoring Control system, meant to reduce engine torque imperceptibly as the CX-3 enters a corner to help improve cornering stability; this new system is accompanied by a tweaked suspension. To reduce cabin noise, Mazda added thicker window glass, extra sound-deadening materials, and revised door seals. The mid-level Touring model now comes standard with automatic headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and automatic climate control. The top-spec Grand Touring model benefits from an improved full-color head-up display. The Grand Touring’s i-Activsense safety package has been renamed the Premium package; it retains the active safety features—high-speed automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlamps—but gains a power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory settings, a heated steering wheel, and traffic-sign recognition.
Pricing is in 2018 dollars:
- CX-3 Sport: $21,085
- CX-3 Touring: $23,170
- CX-3 Grand Touring: $26,140
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The CX-3’s 2.0-liter inline-four is unchanged for 2018, as is the six-speed automatic transmission. Beneath the CX-3’s long snout sits that 146-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s not the most potent four-cylinder in this segment—that title belongs to the Kia Soul Exclaim’s 1.6-liter turbo—but our all-wheel-drive Grand Touring tester went from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. The engine itself sounds coarse, particularly at high speeds, but its rev-happy nature adds a raciness its rivals lack. The CX-3 is joyous on a curvy back road and feels eager once the engine’s singing. Braking performance could be better, and so could ride refinement on rougher pavement, but the latter is the price paid for a sporty suspension. The CX-3 clings to the Mazda brand’s sporting ethos and is the most athletic offering in this class. Its fun-to-drive character comprises a lively chassis, well-controlled body roll, and masterful suspension tuning that’s firm but not too firm. It all adds up to a control-enhancing predictability that makes the CX-3 easy to drive quickly.
EPA fuel-economy testing and reporting procedures have changed over time. For the latest numbers on current and older vehicles, visit the EPA’s website and select Find & Compare Cars.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The CX-3’s well-built and impressively detailed cabin feels upscale, especially in the top-spec Grand Touring trim, and its comfortable and straightforward driving position makes it easy to settle in for a drive. Rear-passenger space is limited, though, which reduces its practicality as a people hauler. Fans of simplicity will appreciate the CX-3’s cabin. Mazda has chosen textured plastics, soft leather, and bright chrome detailing. The climate system’s three large rotary knobs are among the few controls on the dashboard. Most operations are managed through the 7.0-inch color infotainment display. While there are no power seat adjustments, the driving position, again, is fantastic, and all controls are readily accessible. The front cupholder location—underneath the optional center armrest—is a singular misstep. As with its passenger space, the CX-3 is stingy when it comes to cargo room. In both of our storage tests, it fell at or near the bottom of the pack.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Mazda’s infotainment software is as intuitive as they come, and its combination of touch and rotary-knob commands provides users with options for how they interface with the system. Unfortunately, the system lacks the most up-to-date features, such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, and its response time is slow. All CX-3s come standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system perched atop the contoured dashboard. A rotary-knob controller is on the center console to prevent screen smudging and to eliminate the need to reach forward to operate the system while driving. A head-up display flips up from the top of the instrument panel on Grand Touring models and provides information such as speed and navigation.
Safety Features and Crash-Test Ratings
Some older vehicles are still eligible for coverage under a manufacturer’s Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program. For more information, visit our guide to every manufacturer’s CPO program.