REVIEW: Mazda CX-3 has substance and style

Mazda has been on a roll recently, thanks to the rave reviews the brand has been receiving from journalists and automotive experts around the globe.

Mazda’s formula is simple but effective: build better-looking vehicles that outperform the competition with world-class handling and performance. I think Mazda aimed at brands like Audi as an inspiration more than its direct competitors like Honda, in order to move its design and performance above and beyond the normal thresholds.

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This approach is evident in virtually all of its models, from the compact Mazda3 to the upscale Mazda CX-9. The Mazda CX-3 in particular, incorporates this “fun to drive” DNA to the max.

The Mazda CX-3 is a popular, smaller compact sports utility vehicle that has received a modest refresh for 2019. The changes include revisions to the powertrain and interior components, as well as shuffling of features and options. More specifically, revised front seats, electronic parking brake, and a few design touch-ups to the wheels, lights and grille round out the changes for this year.

Design

Mazda’s signature KODO “Soul of Motion” design can be seen throughout the CX-3 with the prominent refreshed front grille representing the KODO theme. Simple lines throughout are meant to express energy in motion and the CX-3 appears smooth and refined. The cabin is both comfortable and well designed, with excellent visibility and seat position control. The materials used in the CX-3 do not look or feel cheap, either. There is obvious attention to detail throughout, although there are very few small spaces available for stowage of personal items.

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Mazda CX-3 rear quarter. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

One thing to keep in mind: families and travellers with a lot of cargo may not enjoy the cramped backseat and limited space inside. There is only 1,484 litres of space with the rear seats folded down. The legroom is very limited for adult passengers sitting in the back. On top of that, the CX-3 has an elevated floor that makes it hard to load items inside the cargo areas.

Although a minor point, I also found the display interface for the electronics to be somewhat cumbersome, and the optional mini head up display that shows information on a small panel (on top of the dash) is awkward.

The Mazda Connect infotainment system is standard and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, but only on those vehicles produced after Sept. 1, 2018. The Infotainment system also features connectivity to Facebook, as well as streaming and satellite music platforms such as SiriusXM, Aha and Stitcher. Other standard features include Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rearview camera, Smart City Brake Support, and keyless entry. These are impressive standard features for a car that’s priced very reasonably.

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The cabin of the CX-3 is both comfortable and well designed, with excellent visibility and seat position control. Interior materials do not look or feel cheap, either. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

It is worth mentioning the amount of ground clearance for the Mazda CX-3 is minimal at 15.7 centimetres. Canadian drivers who live in areas with lots of snow coverage may want to keep this in mind. For the average Canadian consumer, however, Mazda has taken other things into consideration. The engine is insulated on the top and sealed on the bottom to protect from the elements and more effectively utilize heat in freezing temperatures. Zinc-coated steel plates are used in areas of the vehicle vulnerable to corrosion from a mixture of salt, gravel and ice.

Performance

Many owners have praised the CX-3 for its handling, saying that it is really fun to drive. The drive feel is peppy and sporty, with predictable handling around curves. This is in part due to Mazda’s G-vectoring control system that uses torque to spread load out between all wheels to reduce pitch and roll.

By subtly adjusting engine torque and shifting vehicle weight, the CX-3 is less “work” to drive. Mazda uses integrated dynamics to drive home the idea of “Jinba Ittai,” described by Mazda as “the feeling that the sense of oneness between a rider and his beloved horse is the ultimate bond.” Mazda has tried to recreate this feeling between car and driver through their Skyactiv technology.

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Big families might feel a little cramped by the CX-3’s relatively small cargo area and backseat. photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

The CX-3 is more fun to drive than most of its competitors, including the new Hyundai Kona and the Toyota CH-R. However, the slightly more expensive Subaru Crosstrek, the Honda HR-V and especially the Nissan Qashqai are all more refined and updated than the CX-3. Ultimately, though, buyers have to note that the larger and more expensive CX-5 is only a few thousand dollars more than the CX-3, and yet it provides substantially better performance and feel. I would rather buy a base CX-5 than the fully equipped CX-3, as the price points are quite close and because the CX-5 is simply a masterpiece.

The Mazda CX-3 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine that produces 148 horsepower and 146 foot-pounds of torque. Drivers have a choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Fuel economy is listed for city/highway driving as 8.8/7.0 litres/100 kilometres for manual transmission and 8.3/6.9 l/100 km for automatic.

Summary

For the buyer looking for an affordable compact SUV with lots of features, sporty handling, and a touch of luxury in the interior, the Mazda CX-3 may be just the ticket. The Mazda CX-3 comes in three trim levels: GX, GS and GT. The GX trim starts from a very affordable $21,045. The GS trim starts at $23,345 and includes heated front seats, door mirrors and steering wheel, rain-sensing front wipers, automatic air conditioning, and premium cloth seats. The top level GT starts from $31,045 and comes with i-Activ AWD, a Bose sound system, navigation system and keyless ignition. Overall, the CX-3 is a great buy.

editor@automotivepress.com

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