With all the small subcompact crossovers on the market, how can you decide which one? Models like the Honda HR-V are great at hauling cargo, but if you want one that’s versatile and fun to drive, the Mazda CX-3 is hard to beat. While the CX-3’s small footprint means that it can carry less, the CX-3 is one of the sportiest in the subcompact crossover segment. For the 2019 model year, Mazda has addressed many of the CX-3’s shortcomings, which makes it feel more premium without losing the fun.
On the outside the 2019 Mazda CX-3 has been refreshed with a new grille, updated taillights and chrome and piano black accents. Top spec models also get new 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside the CX-3’s interior has been updated with a new center console and more comfortable front seats. Lastly under the hood the 2.0L four-cylinder has been retuned to provide more torque across its RPM range. The 2.0L engine now generates 148 horsepower and 146 lb-ft. of torque. The CX-3 is rated at 29/34 mpg with front-wheel drive or 27/32 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Even with the updates, what remains is a stylish exterior and a more athletic driving experience than you’ll get with most other small crossovers. Compared to models like the Jeep Renegade, the CX-3 actually looks and feels more like a hatchback than a regular crossover. It’s low slung exterior gives it a sportier look, but also limits the CX-3’s cargo space and comfort in the rear seat. The CX-3 is aimed more at buyers that want the versatility and slightly higher ride height that a crossover provides, but also want to have a little fun behind the wheel.
With only 6.1-inches of ground clearance, the CX-3 barely rides any higher than a traditional car, so if you need more ground clearance you’ll want to look at the Subaru Crosstrek or Jeep Renegade. But again, most buyers in this segment will rarely ever take their crossover off-road, which is one of the reasons that the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks aren’t even offered with all-wheel drive. Luckily you can check the all-wheel drive option with the CX-3.
On the road, the CX-3 hugs the road. The suspension did get a few tweaks for the 2019 model year, which makes the CX-3’s ride a bit less harsh than before, but it still keeps body roll in check. The steering feel in the CX-3 isn’t quite as good as you’ll get with the Mazda3, but it does still provide a bit more feedback than you might expect.
Floor it from a stop and the 2.0L engine quickly powers up and luckily the engine is mated to a quick shifting six-speed automatic rather than a CVT like many of its rivals. The 2.0L engine gives the CX-3 a zippy feel that again makes you feel like you’re driving a sporty hatchback rather than a crossover. The Grand Touring trim level also adds handy steering wheel paddle shifters if you want a bit more control over what gear you’re in and there’s also a Sport driving mode that makes the throttle and transmission more responsive.
The upgrades inside not only give the CX-3 a more premium feel, but also the new center console fixes one of our gripes with the original CX-3. The center console now has better storage space and a cupholder that you can access without having to flip up the center armrest, like before. If you want access to two cupholders, you still have to flip up the armrest.
The rear seat does have three seat belts, but it’s best for only two passengers and if they are over 6-feet tall, they won’t want to sit there for too long. The rear seat is more cramped than you’ll get with the HR-V with its shorter leg and headroom. Behind the rear seat there’s only 12.4 cubic feet of space, which is a lot less than you’ll get with the Mazda3 hatchback. With the rear seat down, the CX-3 has 44.5 cubic feet.
While Mazda did make the CX-3’s interior feel a bit more premium, its tech features feel a bit behind the times. Mazda has slowly been adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to its lineup, the 2019 CX-3 doesn’t get it. So for now the CX-3 offers a 7-inch infotainment system that feels a bit old. A head-up display is optional, which is a nice option, but it’s displayed on a pop-up panel that isn’t as sleek as systems that display the info directly on the windshield.
While the tech inside the CX-3 is a little dated, the CX-3 does offer some of the latest safety tech features that many of its rivals don’t. The CX-3 comes standard with Smart City Brake Support, which can automatically apply the brakes in an emergency situation between 2-18 mph. A blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert also comes standard. The optional $1,000 Sport i-Activsense Package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, adaptive headlights, LED headlights and taillights and a higher speed front collision warning system. If you choose the top spec Grand Touring trim level, all these safety systems are standard.
The 2019 Mazda CX-3 isn’t for everyone since its interior is a bit more cramped than some of its rivals, which is something that Mazda will reportedly fix with the next generation CX-3. But for now, the CX-3 is one of the more carlike options in the subcompact crossover segment. It places more of an emphasis on driving pleasure than you’d expect, that’s wrapped in a package that feels a class above the rest.
The 2019 Mazda CX-3 starts at $21,790.