2019 Mazda CX-3 Review

Fuel-sipping subcompact crossover with stylish looks

Editor’s Note: here’s our 2018 CX-3 review – not much is different but see for yourself.

If ever there was an argument against the current crop of hybrid vehicles, the 2019 Mazda CX-3 might be it.

Consider for a moment the CX-3 is US$6900 or C$9,000 less than a comparable hybrid from another brand, yet still delivers fuel economy that is only slightly less efficient than its hybrid rival. 

This is not to disparage hybrid technology. Far from it. The hybrids and electrics on the market now are important stepping stones to alternative fuels. The economic case is still a struggle to make, however.

Consider: if you can save around $7500 and still get fuel economy in the seven litres per 100 kilometre range (my average for a week was slightly better than that official average, actually), your car probably won’t last long enough to achieve cost parity. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 rear view driving on street in red

Subcompact Crossover in a Competitive Field

The CX-3 is Mazda’s entry in a growing segment, driven, it seems, by drivers who want the footprint of a small car but the slide-in, higher seating position of an SUV. Loosely based on the not-sold-here Mazda2, it is indeed small (read why Mazda isn’t importing the Mazda2 at The Truth About Cars here).

Competitors include the Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax and Ford Ecosport.

CX-3 on the Road

As a group, this is not the segment for those with much in the way of cargo requirements. These are handy, urban runabouts — that are still quite comfortable on the highway — with spirited handling and a fun-to-drive factor that will put a smile on your face. The CX-3 competes strongly in this segment.

It’s not to say cars such as the CX-3 are slow, but if you’re looking for a regular stoplight champion, look elsewhere.

Cargo

But much beyond a small grocery trip will have you folding the rear seats. If you’re taking four people on a trip, pack lightly. As an example of how compact is the cargo area, the CX-3 lacks rear handles to fold the rear seats, as in the larger CX-5. Why? Because you can easily reach the rear seats from the tailgate.

Performance and Handling

Like all the vehicles now in the Mazda lineup, the CX-3 employs Mazda’s Skyactiv philosophy. It goes beyond tweaks to engines, transmissions or aerodynamics and instead focuses on virtually every possibility to gain efficiency.

Chassis pieces are re-engineered from the beginning to provide the same strength with less weight. Exhaust routing, intake routing, gear selection, transmission design, seat construction — Mazda even hollows out bolt heads to save weight as long as it doesn’t compromise bolt strength — all comprise Skyactiv thinking.

2019 Mazda CX-3 in red front headlight on street

Dave Coleman, a senior Mazda engineer in the company’s Irvine, Calif., engineering centre, said the company has turned engineering on its head: Instead of making incremental improvements to current vehicles, engineers now start with the ideal, perfect concept. From that unobtainable ideal, they then work back until they have feasible designs.

No CVT Transmission or Regenerative Braking

It all comes together in very efficient, yet still very drivable, vehicles. What makes it even more impressive is Mazda does it without the current collection of tricks employed by other carmakers: There is no auto start-stop feature that kills idling but makes batteries and starters more expensive. The company’s engineers recoil in horror at the thought of using continuously variable transmissions, many of which completely deprive users of driving fun.

Where the CX-3 shines is in its combination of small-car handling and tall cabin. You get the commanding view of an SUV, yet the sprightly agility of a Mazda3.

There’s no regenerative braking — used in hybrids and some non-hybrid vehicles to recapture braking energy, but which again can rob cars of braking feel. Mazda experimented with this for a while, but abandoned what it called the iLoop system very quickly.

Lacks Power

It’s not all perfect, however. Only a couple of vehicles in its lineup — the Mazda6 and CX-9 with the 2.5-litre turbo engine — have what anyone would call breathtaking acceleration.

2019 Mazda CX-3 interior in black

Instead, Mazda has employed in its other vehicles the same thinking that drove the Miata, which has always achieved its driving fun not through brute horsepower but from its handling prowess and from being very light, which means it doesn’t have to slow down as much in corners.

It’s not to say cars such as the CX-3 are slow, but if you’re looking for a regular stoplight champion, look elsewhere.

Where the CX-3 shines is in its combination of small-car handling and tall cabin. You get the commanding view of an SUV, yet the sprightly agility of a Mazda3.

What others are saying about the 2019 CX-3:

The Mazda CX-3’s improvements for 2019 make it a much more likeable, safer and fun proposition – Driving.ca

It may not feature a laundry list of updates for its mid-life update, but adds enough subtle yet worthwhile features to warrant keeping it on your shopping list – CarAdvice

The 2019 model does not look much different except for a new grille insert and minor headlight and taillight changes. Not that the stylish small SUV was crying for design tinkering – Cars.com

2019 Mazda CX-3 Specs

  • Engine: 2.0-litre Skyactiv four-cylinder
  • Power: 148 hp @ 6,000 r.p.m.
  • Torque: 146 lb-ft. @ 2,800 r.p.m.
  • Layout: front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive
  • Transmission: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic (opt.)
  • Brakes: Four-wheel discs
  • Steering: Electric rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension: MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar (front); torsion beam with stabilizer bar (rear),
  • Fuel economy (l/100 km, city/highway): 8.8/7.0 (FWD manual); 8.3/6.9 (FWD, auto.); 8.6/7.4 (AWD, auto.)
  • Price: US$20,390 or C$20,795 starting MSRP

Learn more at CX-3 USA | CX-3 Canada

Kelly Taylor has been writing about cars since 2000. His favourite ride has been the Audi R8 from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, where he nearly traded the car for a Ford Ranger, a Greyhound Bus and the Blue Heron Gift Store in Kenora, Ont.