In late 2014, Mazda revealed the new-to-market CX-3 – a small crossover intended to bring the brand’s latest fuel-saving and safety technology into a rapidly-growing segment.
The smallest utility vehicle in its lineup, the CX-3 was aimed at a shopper looking for the flexibility and capability of a crossover in a compact and maneuverable package. The small footprint and compact size made the CX-3 maneuverable and easy to drive, while car-like proportions and ride height enabled easy entry and exit while providing a closer-to-the-road driving position.
As a small crossover, the CX-3 doesn’t pack the cargo or passenger volume that some shoppers may be looking for – though those after flexible and thrifty operation from a light, small and maneuverable crossover with available all-wheel drive should give it a look.
Numerous trim grades were offered, and available content includes a touchscreen infotainment system, sunroof, heated seats, push-button start, LED headlights, upgraded audio, navigation, a head-up display panel, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, and plenty more, depending on the model selected.
A selection of Mazda’s safety features were also made available, depending on the model and packages selected.
Model grades include the base GX, mid-grade GS, and top-line GT.
All models run a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, with Mazda’s SkyActiv fuel-saving technology, enabling a thrifty 146-hp punch. Look for a six-speed automatic transmission and available – though not standard – all-wheel drive. Translation? If you’re set on a CX-3 with AWD, be sure the model you’re considering has it equipped.
What Owners Like
The CX-3 seems to have impressed owners on numerous aspects related to fuel economy, driving dynamics, maneuverability, all-weather confidence (especially on AWD-equipped models), and an upscale cabin and driving experience. Many owners appreciate the availability of up-level feature content and reasonable pricing, with the Bose audio system and heated seats listed commonly among favourite features.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include limited rear-seat legroom, limited cargo space, and ground clearance that’s best suited for use on the road more travelled. As the CX-3 is a compact model with car-like ride height, there are better options out there if you’re after off-road ground clearance.
Other gripes include the awkward placement of certain controls, and the lack of a covered centre console storage bin.
Here are some glowing owner reviews.
Pro Tip: Prevention is Key with Direct-injection
The engine in the CX-3 features a direct-injection fuel delivery system to improve performance and mileage. Owners are advised to consider a few simple steps to fend off the possible accumulation of intake valve gunk that’s often reported in this type of engine no matter the make and model as the vehicle ages.
These steps include religious adherence to oil change intervals using only factory-approved oils and filters, and strict use of a high-quality, top-rated fuel at every fill (at the octane level specified in the owner’s manual). Changing the CX-3’s spark plugs ahead of the service intervals outlined in the owner’s manual is worth consideration too; the earlier the better.
For maximum peace of mind, obtain full service records indicating that the previous owner(s) properly maintained the CX-3 you’re considering throughout its life.
Don’t waste your money trying to fend off valve gunk buildup with pour-in-tank fuel system additives, which won’t do much but burn a hole in your pocket.
Pro Tip: Consumables and Maintenance
Make some money-saving assumptions of any used CX-3 you’re considering. Approach any used unit assuming it needs new tires, new brakes, as well as a full servicing, fluid change, and tune-up until you have proof to the contrary. Seek this proof by carefully inspecting tires, brakes, and service records yourself, or by having the vehicle treated to an inspection by a Mazda technician before you buy.
Assuming that the seller would rather you, not they, foot the bill for upcoming repairs and replacements can save you money.
The Test Drive
Most CX-3 owners have not reported transmission troubles from their machines, though the owner’s community has some documented reports of automatic transmission problems. Slipping, lurching and slamming sensations when accelerating and shifting are a precursor to transmission trouble, which may require the transmission to be replaced.
It’s unlikely the CX-3 you’re considering is suffering from transmission trouble, but be sure to pay attention to it’s operation on your test drive. Any unwelcome harshness, slipping or other unwanted sensations are a good sign to have the vehicle assessed by a technician before you buy – or move on to another unit.
If you detect any transmission trouble after purchase of an in-warranty CX-3, have a dealer investigate and document the issue as soon as possible to expedite potential warranty claims.
Air Conditioner Problems
Be on the lookout for signs of trouble with the CX-3’s HVAC system, including poor or sporadic performance, a blinking light on the ‘AC’ button, or total system failure. Some owners have complained of poor performance from the AC system, as well as system failure. This could be caused by improper factory refrigerant levels or refrigerant leaks thanks to a bad batch of system components.
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Safety Systems Check
Some owners have reported malfunctions and quirky operation from various advanced safety features, with varying levels of success of them being solved by dealers. If you notice any warning lights or error messages relating to the CX-3’s advanced safety features on a test drive, be sure to have the vehicle inspected professionally before you buy.
Note that damage to the windshield or bumper, or poorly-repaired damage from a previous collision, can adversely affect the operation of certain safety systems. Some of these systems require recalibration at a dealer if the windshield or bumper is damaged or replaced. Finally, avoid a model with non-factory electronic accessories (for instance, remote start, lighting or stereo equipment), as these may indirectly cause problems with safety system operation.
According to the discussion in this post, some owners have reported problems with the CX-3’s tailgate, specifically around exterior latches that fail to open when requested. Confirm proper operation on your test drive, triple-checking that the tailgate can be opened and released from all available release buttons or latches. In some cases, a misaligned or failing latch is to blame. If you detect any problems, call them into your pricing negotiations, as new parts may be required to fix this potential issue.
Technical Service Bulletins (TSB’s)
Most automakers occasionally release service bulletins to dealers that include instructions and diagnostic procedures, with the goal of helping technicians more quickly and effectively remedy problems that some owners have reported commonly. You can find a partial list of those relating to the CX-3 here. These bulletins may help a technician quickly address problems with leaky shock absorbers, rust around the rear-view camera body and tailgate release latch, air conditioning system problems, and more.
Just two recalls have been announced for the CX-3, both affecting units from the 2016 model year. You can check if either of them apply to the vehicle you’re considering by looking up its VIN on Mazda’s website.
So far, the CX-3 looks like a solid used-vehicle purchase where reliability is concerned. Commonly reported problems seem relatively rare against total sales volumes, and most of these will be easy to detect on a test drive, or during a pre-purchase inspection at a Mazda dealer.
Crash Test Results
IIHS: Top Safety Pick +
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars