CX-3 Grand Touring Road Test
Mazda is known for building some quality machines. Just look at the styling and the interiors of the CX-9, the CX-5 and the Mazda6 to name a few.
So taking what is essentially a jacked up Mazda2 and adding all-wheel-drive and a few more niceties sounds like a bit of an ask, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but the 2019 Mazda CX-3 is a bit more than just that.
It’s a subcompact crossover that sells on both its badge and its styling. It also drives fairly well, but the real key is the price. It starts at $20,390, and rises through the ranks until you get to our test model – the Grand Touring.
The GT model isn’t the cheapest CX-3 you can buy, but at $25,745, there’s a lot of included equipment.
Open the doors and you’ll notice the leather seats, the Alcantara dash inserts, a moonroof, LED headlights with auto leveling, auto high-beam, LED fog lights, paddle shifters, a head-up display with speed and nav, satellite navigation, a Bose 7-speaker sound system, and HD Radio.
You’ll also get SiriusXM Satellite Radio with 4-month trial subscription, autonomous braking with collision warning and pedestrian detection, radar-based cruise control with stop & go function and lane departure warning.
Compared with a subcompact Euro, there aren’t any options boxes to tick, so the price is the price. And that’s a bonus for anyone signing up for a new car.
The build quality is certainly the same as other Mazdas – the CX-3 feels solidly put together. Sure, some of the materials are a little cheap (the dashtop, for example) but this is a fairly cheap car, and they do at least look the part.
But the parts where you touch everything – the steering wheel, seats, the elbow rest, the infotainment – it all feels high grade.
The space isn’t huge, though. Being a subcompact SUV will tell you that. And while Mazda says there’s seating for five, you’ll have to have three tiny kids across the back seat for that to be possible. Four adults? Well, that will be squeezy for the back two passengers, but it’s doable.
The cargo space is also below segment standards with 12.4 cubic feet available behind the rear seats and 44.5 cubic feet of space when you fold down the back seats.
That at least means there’s some room should you want to load some luggage in for a weekend getaway for two, or a week’s worth of shopping, but you won’t be picking up relatives from the airport in this little SUV.
So, it’s a bit small, but let’s flip that on its head for a moment. Who needs space, when all you’re doing is using it as a city runabout?
And really, that’s the reason the CX-3 sells – it’s diminutive size. It’s easy to park, easy to thread through traffic and with all-wheel-drive and raised ride height, will handle just about any weather conditions.
So how is it from day to day? We spent a week behind the wheel, and we found a few peculiarities.
Most subcompact SUVs are making use of turbocharging. This makes sense; it gives you more power and torque from a smaller capacity engine, thereby reducing fuel use.
Mazda has gone down a different road. It uses the term “SkyActive” to describe its efficiency initiatives, and basically, it uses a naturally aspirated engine and ups the compression to get the cleanest burn possible.
The automatic is also redesigned to shift a bit less fluidly, making gearchanges shorter, which uses less fuel.
All well and good on paper, but in practice, unless you have a feather-weight right foot, you’re never going to get anywhere near the 34mpg that Mazda claims.
Part of the reason is the CX-3’s power to weight ratio. Not that it’s overly heavy, at 2,952 lbs. But with only 148 bhp and 146 lb-ft of torque to get it moving, you need to accelerate fairly heavily to get it to go anywhere.
Compare that with the Hyundai Kona and its 1.6-litre turbocharged, 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque engine, also with all-wheel-drive and you can see the difference.
Mazda’s 2.0-litre engine is a nice enough unit and low revs, but put the boot in and it gets very buzzy and loud – certainly not befitting the semi-premium market it’s targeting.
Also, the range readout varies wildly depending on how you’ve driven previously. Have a few errands to run? Well, you may be driving quite enthusiastically and the range will drop.
But then take it easy after that and it takes a while for the range to catch up with your less eager driving style, so you start to panic thinking that you’ve only got a few miles left before it runs out of fuel.
Mazda happily states on its website that you’ll sip 34 miles per gallon. I’m not sure what world Mazda is doing the testing in, but in real world conditions, you’re looking at around 25-27 mpg.
The ride comfort is a little compromised by the beautiful 18-inch alloy wheels, which tend to make it feel a bit stiffer than it needs to be, but there’s no doubting it has tremendous grip.
Add to that the sharp steering and the CX-3’s handling is actually quite good. The all-wheel-drive system helps here, responding quickly when there’s a loss of grip.
In the wet, the AWD setup is almost predictive and off-road (yes, you can actually take the CX-3 off the bitumen) it allows you to keep powering on over soft sand without it burying itself.
The only issue we have with Mazda’s AWD system is the lack of a “lock” button, which would enable easier starts, unlike the current method of starting very gingerly and building speed once you’re on the move.
The Mazda CX-3 is a bewildering subcompact SUV. It is very good looking, drives quite well and is built very nicely. But there are some material choices which are sub-par, the engine needs to rev its head off to get going quickly, and when you do that you’re using a lot of fuel.
With the larger CX-5 now featuring turbocharging, the CX-3 should be next in line, and if it is, you’ll find there are a lot of reasons to put it at the head of your shopping list.
As it stands, though, it’s still a little too close to the Mazda2 to make it seem like a bargain. But if you want a stylish little machine that will handle most conditions and you don’t mind spending a few extra dollars on shapely metal, then the CX-3 may be the perfect machine for you.