2020 Mazda CX-3 Review

Everything you need to know about the Mazda CX-3 small SUV including pricing, features and safety

2019 Mazda CX-3
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Equipment, fuel use, comfort, safety, styling
Not so much
  •   Small boot, no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay

What stands out?

The CX-3 is among the most engaging of small SUVs, coping happily with workaday duties but commanding an easy highway lope. Beautifully weighted steering contributes to fluid and secure handling. Mazda’s baby high-rider is more than a Mazda2 on stilts, with all-wheel drive available. autonomous emergency braking is standard.

What might bug me?

Squeezing stuff into the boot, which is one of the smallest of any SUV. For example, a pram might not fit unless you fold down one rear seat.

Having bought the only new Mazda model yet to be upgraded with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay smartphone pairing. The good news is you can have it added to the MZD infotainment system for about $500.

Driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.

What body styles are there?

Five-door wagon only.

The CX-3 is available in all-wheel drive, or front-wheel drive only.

All-wheel drive CX-3s use an on-demand system. They supply power to their front wheels all the time, and to their rear wheels if the front tyres are about to slip.

The CX-3 is classed as a small SUV, lower priced.

What features does every Mazda CX-3 have?

Infotainment system with touch screen and dial control, a sound system with an AM/FM/DAB+ (digital) radio, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, and at least four speakers.

Reversing camera and rear parking sensors, which help you judge how close you are to objects behind.

Cruise control, and air-conditioning.

Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, which has controls for the audio system, cruise control, and your phone (via Bluetooth). Height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

Windows tinted to reduce sun penetration.

Keyless entry/start and an electronic parking brake switch.

A space-saver spare tyre. (A maximum speed of 80km/h is recommended for these.)

Electric parking brake and Hill-launch assist, which helps you start from rest on a slope – by controlling the brakes automatically.

Electronic stability control, which helps you control skids. Every new car must have this feature.

Seat-belt reminders for all five seating positions.

Six airbags, and forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking, which Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support – a camera-based system that operates at suburban speeds. (For the placement of airbags, and more on CX-3 safety features, please open the Safety section below.)

Every Mazda CX-3 carries a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

There is now just one engine option in the CX-3 range, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that's very similar to the 2.0 petrol supplied with the Mazda3 small car. It is a smooth and strong engine, propelling the CX-3 in a lively - if not noisy - manner when worked very hard.

The 2.0 petrol consumes about 6.5 litres/100km on the official test. In real-world testing by Wheels magazine staff, a petrol-engined CX-3 sTouring AWD automatic recorded an average of 8.5 litres/100km over 4500km.

The petrol engine can be ordered in six-speed automatic form on all versions, and in 6-speed manual form on all front-wheel drive versions.

Mazda dropped the more economical 1.8-litre turbo-diesel engine in March 2020. It consumed about 5.0 litres/100km on the official test cycle (urban and country combined).

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly CX-3, the Neo Sport, has cloth-covered seats, 7.0-inch infotainment screen, six-speaker audio, rolls on 16-inch steel wheels, and has the equipment common to all CX-3s.

Spend more for the Maxx Sport and you get better looking aluminium alloy wheels, the option of all-wheel drive, and the option of diesel power.

The Maxx Sport has satellite navigation that’s an extra-cost option in the Neo Sport, climate-control air-conditioning that maintains a set temperature, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and two cup holders in the rear-centre armrest. And the Maxx Sport gains two rear-focused active safety aids: a Blind-spot monitor, and a Rear cross-traffic alert.

The CX-3 sTouring bumps the wheel size to 18 inches, using tyres of a lower profile for marginally more responsive steering and a racier look. It has fog-lamps, LED daytime visibility lamps, and LED headlamps – which are brighter and longer lasting than conventional lights.

There is a head-up instrument display, which lets you view the speedo and the road simultaneously, and Traffic sign recognition, which helps you keep track of speed limits, and driver attention alert that senses if your driving is erratic.

You can unlock and start the car while the key remains secure in a pocket or handbag. Wipers operate automatically when it rains, the rear-view mirror dims automatically, and you can choose Maztex fake-leather seat trim (or cloth).

The CX-3 Akari, offers a choice between black or white leather seats, and you can heat the front seats. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable and remembers your settings (so that you can restore them easily after a companion has driven the car). There is a power-opening, glass, sunroof. Adaptive headlamps dim automatically only those parts of the high beam that might dazzle oncoming traffic, maintaining extended vision to either side.

In addition to the active safety of less costly versions, the Akari has adaptive cruise control and lane departure alert that tells you if are drifting out of your lane or over the centre line, and a 360-degree surround view monitor to help you spot obstacles around your CX-3 when parking.

The Akari LE adds plush brown Nappa leather upholstery to the Akari trim with contrasting white stitching and other details.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

None of the all-wheel drive versions is available with a manual transmission – which could be a downside for keen drivers who like full control of gear selection. The manual gearbox on front-drive CX-3s is a delight to use, too.

The part leatherette Maztex trim available in the sTouring CX-3s is a type of vinyl, and is vastly inferior to the perforated real leather in the Akaris.

Of the eight available colours, six colours are available at no extra charge, with Soul Red Crystal Metallic and Machine Grey Metallic cost extra.

How comfortable is the Mazda CX-3?

Up front, seat comfort is comparable with any small SUV in this price range, while forward vision is impressive thanks to the fairly upright A-pillars at either end of the windscreen. The placement of the driver’s seat feels spot-on – high enough to command the road, yet low enough to still feel sporty and car-like.

The dashboard is similar to the Mazda2’s, which is no bad thing. The head-up display and colour touchscreen, where fitted, are good too.

The distance between front and rear axles is also the same as on the Mazda2 light car, so that the CX-3 is nippy to steer in the city. But the body is longer, meaning it is not quite as easy to squeeze into a parking spot.

In top-spec Akari guise, the CX-3 is a seriously luxe little tinker, complete with a sunroof, proper leather, selectively dimming LED headlamps, and a broad active-safety suite.

The Akari LE takes premium levels another step with higher quality Nappa leather.

What about safety in a CX-3?

Every CX-3 comes with the mandatory stability control, six airbags, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and autonomous emergency braking that works at suburban speeds and when reversing. It is a package designed to protect you in crashes, and to avoid rear-end collisions in traffic.

There are two airbags directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and curtain airbags that protect front and rear passengers’ heads in side impacts.

The auto braking uses camera-based sensors to scan the roadway ahead, and is effective at speeds below 80km/h. It recognises pedestrians, will warn you of a collision risk, and can apply the brakes automatically if you should fail to react to the warning. Its primary purpose is to prevent your crashing into a car ahead that has slowed or stopped unexpectedly, or to reduce the severity of an impact.

Ultrasonic sensors on the rear bumper can also trigger auto-braking at low speeds if you are about to reverse into something.

The CX-3 Maxx Sport adds rear-facing radar sensors that monitor blind spots near your rear corners, warning you of the presence of other vehicles should you indicate to change lanes. When you are reversing – say from a shopping centre parking space - these also warn you if another vehicle is about to cross your path.

The CX-3 sTouring gains two more safety related features: a Driver attention alert, and Traffic sign recognition. The former operates at highway speeds, keeping track of how you are driving and suggesting a break if it detects signs you are in danger of falling asleep. The latter seeks to recognise speed signs, and also uses satellite navigation mapping to keep track of speed limits. It displays what it takes to be the speed limit in force, and flashes a warning if you exceed it.

The Akari brings you in addition Adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go function that works in traffic jams, and Lane departure warning, alerting you if it predicts you are about to veer unintentionally into an adjacent lane on the highway – perhaps from distraction or fatigue. And its Adaptive LED headlights retain high-beam illumination of the roadside when dipping for oncoming traffic, helping you see where you are going in country driving at night.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Mazda CX-3 five stars for safety, its maximum, in September 2015.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Yes, and especially if you get an all-wheel drive version – provided you are satisfied with the very good auto gearbox.

All-wheel drive CX-3s feel better balanced in corners than their front-drive sisters, largely because they use a more sophisticated rear suspension design. The result is meatier, more consistent steering and an involving feel.

Front-drive CX-3s steer less crisply and naturally, with the versions powered by the heavier diesel engine feeling less satisfying than the petrol models. But they are still quite good.

All CX-3s feature Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which is designed to enhance front-end bite by adjusting engine output momentarily on turn-in.

The CX-3’s six-speed manual gearbox – available only with a petrol engine – is a ripper, shifting with fabulous precision and a beautifully oiled weightiness that makes it feel like it has come from a sports car. Combine that with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder’s lively enthusiasm and the superbly weighted steering and you have a baby SUV with panache.

All-wheel drive versions of the CX-3 are great on gravel roads, but are intended for these and slippery (or snowy) sealed roads only. The CX-3’s low ride-height, and road-oriented suspension and gearing, stop it early when the going gets rough.

How is life in the rear seats?

The CX-3’s rear seat is mounted quite high – theatre-style – giving passengers a decent view forward, though rather less over its rising hipline. The comfort of the seat itself is excellent. Rear seat passengers have marginally more leg room and knee clearance than they would have in a Mazda2.

The outer rear seats are fitted with ISOFIX anchors, for easy securing of compatible child-seats.

All CX-3 versions, apart from the Neo Sport, have two cup holders in the fold-down armrest.

How is it for carrying stuff?

Cargo space is again only slightly greater than in the Mazda2 light hatchback – 264 litres versus 250. So it will hold a stroller or a pair of suitcases, or lightweight camping gear for a couple. But for a week-long tour with two children, you would need to pack light – or invest in a roof pod.

The CX-3s can tow up to 1200kg (braked trailer).

Where does Mazda make the CX-3?

The Mazda CX-3 is made in Hiroshima, Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Standard active cruise control across the range, as with the Toyota C-HR, for example.

The ability to display apps from your smartphone on the touchscreen, and control them from there, via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Hyundai Kona, Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, and Suzuki S-Cross offer this, for example. There is a kit that lets you add this feature to the CX-3’s MZD infotainment system, which costs about $500.

A full-sized spare tyre, which could mean a flat interfered less with your road trip. This is rare in small SUVs, but the Trax offers one as an option.

More space in the back for carrying cargo, such as you would find in the versatile Honda HR-V.

If you're set on a Mazda, one way to overcome all these issues is to opt for the new and slightly bigger Mazda CX-30, which is based on the Mazda 3.

Other small SUVs you might consider include the Peugeot 2008, Mitsubishi ASX, and Jeep Renegade.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

While the Maxx Sport is a great little car for the money, this is one case where the most costly model offers compelling value. The Akari LE's cossetting, leather-trimmed cockpit, head-up display, very sophisticated LED headlamps, active safety equipment, and dynamically engaging all-wheel-drive chassis add up to a comprehensively appealing package. We would choose petrol power, but mainly for its small handling advantage: the diesel is an excellent touring engine.

Are there plans to update the CX-3 soon?

The Mazda CX-3 debuted in March 2015, with a significant update arriving in May 2017. This brought a revised suspension, standard city-speed auto braking (which is more broadly effective than the previously optional laser-based system), and on Maxx and sTouring versions additional active safety aids. The Akari gained power-adjustable front seats and adaptive headlamps.

In August 2018 Mazda changed the name of the Neo and Maxx to Neo Sport and Maxx Sport and added the top-spec Akari LE to the range. The MZD infotainment system with 7.0-inch screen and reversing monitor was added to the Neo Sport, making it standard across the range, while the Akari gained a 360-degree monitor and adaptive cruise control.

The diesel engine was also upgraded, with the 1.5-litre changed with a more powerful 1.8-litre version.

In December 2018 Mazda introduced the Akari LE to the top of the range, which added plush Nappa leather upholstery to the Akari spec.

The 1.8-litre diesel engine was dropped from the CX-3 range in March 2020.

Expect a new-generation CX-3 about 2021.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Equipment, fuel use, comfort, safety, styling
Not so much
  •   Small boot, no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay


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