Mazda’s stylish small crossover facing some surprising competition
THE GOOD
  • Styling
  • Interior finishes
  • Sporty handling
THE BAD
  • Tiny cargo capacity
  • Buzzy engine
  • Tepid power
2020 Mazda CX-3 GT Review

The existence of the 2020 Mazda CX-3 in the Canadian lineup is a bit perplexing. Having a subcompact crossover SUV isn’t the issue – this is a hot market segment – but with Mazda’s recent big news revolving around the CX-30 subcompact crossover, it makes one wonder why the brand needs two very similar models.

The CX-3 remains a good-looking and fun-to-drive machine, but is it still relevant?

Styling: 8/10

The smallest SUVs on the market more often than not resemble cartoony versions of their larger siblings, with stubby, awkward proportions. The Mazda CX-3, however, manages to strike a balance between its size and styling. The family design language translates very well to the CX-3, particularly in GT trim with its sharp, angular shapes arcing over handsome 18-inch wheels. While I secretly wish every Mazda came only in the company’s stunning Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, the Ceramic Metallic on my tester contrasts nicely against the black trim (though it has a tendency to blend into the background during dreary winter days).

Inside, the top-line GT trim is impressively well finished. The faux-suede trim on the dash is a particularly nice touch that makes the CX-3 look more premium than an entry-level SUV should.

The CX-3 is the small SUV for fashion-forward buyers with an appreciation for stylish design.

Comfort: 6.5/10

The leather-covered seats are perforated for warm-weather breathability, and the upholstery itself is nicely textured to feel sufficiently premium. The seats themselves are reasonably supportive without being constricting, though more under-thigh cushion length would be appreciated by all but the shortest of buyers.

Headroom is tight both front and back in the CX-3, and both shoulder and legroom are not what one would call generous in the backseat. Still, within the category, the Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona offer even less legroom than the Mazda.

The rear seats’ headrests proved to be particularly uncomfortable for my 10-year-old son, who found that even when set to their lowest position, the headrests still pushed his head forward awkwardly, and they wouldn’t raise high enough to be out of the way without being removed.

Plus, those rear headrests don’t do any favours with the already limited rear and rear three-quarter outward visibility either.

Features: 7.5/10

In addition to the pleasingly luxurious materials used throughout the cabin, the CX-3 GT is also decently equipped with a power sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, and a seven-speaker Bose sound system, with on-board navigation and satellite radio. There’s also keyless entry, though it feels a generation old, utilizing a black wart on each of the front door handles instead of a touch receptor on the underside of the door pulls.

Adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go functionality is also standard equipment in the CX-3 GT.

User Friendliness: 7/10

Happily, the 2020 CX-3 includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as Mazda joins the majority of carmakers who realize it’s easier to offer the functionality people are accustomed to rather than forcing less useful home-baked systems. That said, Mazda still utilizes a rotary knob controller and a handful of buttons between the front two seats to operate its infotainment system. The smallish seven-inch screen does offer touch functionality, but it’s not as responsive as the better systems out there, and the graphics aren’t as crisp or contemporary as those offered by some competitors.

Driving Feel: 7.5/10

Mazda’s CX-3 has been an enthusiasts’ favourite within the segment due to its frisky driving manners. That continues for 2020 with the little Mazda being a fun machine to tackle backroad corners. Being fitted with a set of new Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires did little to dull the sharp steering, and the short wheelbase helps give the CX-3 a nimble feel. The CX-3’s all-wheel drive system helps direct the power where it’s best utilized, even when traction is compromised with snow.

Mazda claims that a lot of this engaging driving feel comes from its G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system, which works in concert with the engine to direct power and torque to different wheels at different times to affect load transfer and improve responsiveness.

The CX-3’s compact dimensions also make it easy to zip around the city, which is where most of these tiny utes are likely to spend most of their lives.

Power: 6/10

Unfortunately, the CX-3’s 2.0L four-cylinder engine doesn’t live up to the chassis’ capabilities. With a modest 148 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, the Mazda isn’t exactly uncompetitive with other subcompact SUVs like the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, or Subaru Crosstrek, but when compared to the turbocharged Jeep Renegade or Hyundai Kona, the CX-3 feels weak-kneed.

Adding to the frustration with the CX-3’s engine is the amount of noise and vibration it produces given the small amount of thrust that accompanies it. Mazda’s own 2.5L SkyActiv-G four-cylinder is available in the new CX-30 and should rectify both of these issues.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

Many of the CX-3’s competitors utilize continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) to help maximize their fuel efficiency at the expense of driving feel. Mazda has worked hard to build a reputation around producing driver-focused vehicles, and the six-speed automatic (with paddle shifters) is a more engaging transmission.

Despite this, the CX-3 is still decidedly fuel-thrifty, faring better than the front-wheel-drive-only C-HR, and only slightly behind the larger, all-wheel-drive Subaru Crosstrek.

The Mazda’s miniscule 45-litre fuel tank means refills are quick and relatively painless, but they happen more frequently than they will with most competitors. Regular unleaded is all that’s required here.

Practicality: 6.5/10

With subcompact sizing, the amount of usable space in a crossover like this is always going to be a concern, but competitive models like Honda’s HR-V put functionality over form and make for a surprisingly capacious vehicle. The CX-3 is a far more fashionable choice, but considering its cramped rear-seat space and surprisingly shallow cargo hold, the little Mazda offers far less practicality than even a more affordable compact hatchback like the company’s excellent Mazda3 Sport.

Mazda claims the CX-3 will contain 408 L of stuff under its hatchback, and if the split-folding rear seats are dropped, that amount jumps to 1,484 L. Those dimensions increase slightly in the GX and GS trims that don’t give up the under-floor space to a subwoofer as the GT does.

Safety: 8/10

The CX-3 GT has the usual passive safety structure and airbags expected in modern cars, but it’s also very well equipped with active safety, too. Forward obstruction and pedestrian detection, and automated braking are included, as are LED headlights with automatic high-beam control, blind-spot monitoring and distance recognition support system. While the CX-3 does not have lane-keep assist, it does have a lane-departure warning that’s so hyper-active I switched it off and left it that way.

It should be noted that the suite of active safety features is not available on lower-trim CX-3s.

Value: 6.5/10

Given how attractive the CX-3 is inside and out, how fun it is to drive, and how well equipped the GT model is, its $31,000 starting price seems like a pretty decent value – and it is. The trouble is Mazda’s own upcoming CX-30 GS with optional all-wheel drive and luxury package provides almost everything the CX-3 GT has, but also improves upon some of the smaller Mazda’s key flaws. A fully loaded Hyundai Kona exceeds the CX-3 GT in almost every appreciable measure too, yet costs less than $1,000 more.

The Verdict

Mazda’s CX-3 remains a solid offering in the sub-compact SUV category for buyers looking for a car that puts more focus on fashion and fun than practicality. However, shoppers who are seeking more space and power for not much more money would do well to cross the showroom and look at a CX-30.

Mazda’s stylish small crossover facing some surprising competition 6/1/2020 6:28:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $31,045
Peak Horsepower 148 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 146 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm   Destination Fee $1,950
Fuel Economy 8.6/7.4/8.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $33,295
Cargo Space 108 / 1,484 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$200 – Ceramic Metallic paint, $200