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2018 CX-3

Whereas the class directly above the CX-3 is largely based on midsize sedans, it, like most other compact CUVs, is based on a global subcompact platform—in this case, the Mazda2's architecture. The CX-3, then, is a dimensional ‘tweener.

You'll find the most prominent evidence of these roots in its wheelbase (101.2”) and its rear suspension (a torsion bar, rather than the Mazda3's larger, more sophisticated and heavier independent rear setup). As is typically the case in this segment, the CX-3 makes up in vertical space what it gives up in length. On paper, the CX-3's interior room is lesser than that of a Mazda3 5-Door's, but in the real world, it doesn't feel that way.

Recent changes

Mazda added more standard features to the CX-3 for the latest model year.


The CX-3's subcompact DNA is also apparent in its powertrain. There's only one engine option—a 2.0L SkyActiv four-cylinder making 146 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 146 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 RPM—and, in the U.S. at least, only one transmission. Buyers have their choice of front- or all-wheel-drive across all three trims (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) but power gets to the wheels by way of a six-speed automatic no matter what.

One of Mazda's primary goals for the CX-3 was best-in-class fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive models are good for 29 mpg in the city and 35 mpg highway; all-wheel-drive drops that to 27/32.

Inside and out

Mazda is no stranger to attractive exterior design (forget for a moment the Nagare era; in fact, Mazda would likely prefer that you did permanently) but impressive interiors are still new and interesting facets of Mazda's product philosophy. Despite its lower-tier positioning within the lineup, Mazda didn't skimp on the CX-3's interior. In fact, in many ways, it may be one of the automaker's most robust efforts.

One of the most significant visual centerpieces of an automotive interior is the seating surfaces, and Mazda hit a home-run here. Regardless of trim (cloth on Sport, leatherette on Touring and leatherette + leather on Grand Touring), the seats have a premium look and feel.

Mazda's new, high-mounted, seven-inch touchscreen is featured prominently here as it is elsewhere in the lineup. It's standard across all three trims, paving the way for one of Mazda's "killer-app” features: any CX-3, regardless of trim or initial build options, can be upgraded with factory navigation at the any dealership for a reasonable fee.

Mazda's signature headlight design flanks the corporate grille up front, giving the CX-3 that same "elephant without a trunk” face found on its big brother.

The CX-5's contrast-colored fender outlines also carried over, and while they convey a rugged, off-road-ready look on the midsize CUV, they tend to make the CX-3 look more hunkered-down and aggressive. Rather than making the arches look bigger, they tend to flatter the wheels, both shrinking the CX-3's external presence and giving it more of a wheels-at-the-corners look.

Mazda took the swept and aggressive styling one step further by blacking out the C-to-D pillar section, giving the CX-3 a look similar to that of Nissan's "floating roof” design on the Murano and Maxima. Here, it is intended to make what would otherwise be a very upright design look longer and lower.

The CX-3's list of exterior features isn't extensive, but the base 16” wheels can be upgraded to segment-topping 18” alloys if customers are so inclined (16” wheels are standard through the Touring trim; only GTs get the 18” multi-spokes) and touches such as brightwork on the lower body cladding are also available at higher trims.

Features and options

The CX-3's model structure follows many other vehicles in the Mazda lineup, with an emphasis placed on trim levels rather than packages and a-la-carte options. Like the rest of Mazda's people-movers, the CX-3's configurations are largely condensed into three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.

Standard features on the Sport model include 16” steel wheels, Bluetooth hands-free, push button start, cruise control and automatic, speed/transmission-sensitive locking. Other basic features include air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 6 speakers, USB charging (one outlet), hill start assist and a 6-way manually adjustable driver's seat.

Stepping up to the Touring model adds alloy wheels (still 16”), heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, leatherette seating surfaces, a leather wrapped shift knob and wheel, a front armrest and heated front seats. Safety upgrades include blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Grand Touring models are essentially loaded. Standard equipment on the GT includes 18” alloy wheels, a power moonroof, LED exterior lighting (front and rear) with adaptive front headlamps, navigation, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, upgraded Bose audio with HD Radio, wheel-mounted paddle shifters and Mazda's "active driving display” HUD.

Mazda Connect (Mazda's name for the infotainment suite) is also compatible with Aha, Pandora and Sticher straight out of the box. The CX-3 is also compatible with Mazda's new Mobile Start app, allowing drivers to remotely manipulate many features (including the ignition, as the name suggests) from their smartphones, however a subscription to the service is required.

Other noteworthy standard features include keyless entry, with advanced (hands-free) keyless entry available on Touring and Grand Touring models. Mazda's i-ActivSense safety suite is also available on Grand Touring models, bringing with it features such as lane departure warning and forward collision assist. Adaptive front lighting is also standard on the GT.

The CX-3's i-Activ all-wheel-drive is available on all three trim levels. All models also come with G-Vectoring Control.

Occupant safety

All CX-3 models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side-curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems, a tire-pressure monitoring system, plus smart city brake support. Mazda's i-ActivSense system is available on Grand Touring models, and features lane departure warning, cross-traffic monitoring, forward collision alert/assist and other safety upgrades.

Key competitors

The compact CUV segment seems to grow more crowded by the month. The CX-3's competition includes the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Honda HR-V.