Mazda's never been pegged as a behemoth-sized Pacific-rim automaker, but its nimble stature allows pinpoint focus to shine upon its lineup of attainable, fun-to-drive products.
No pickup trucks or large, bulky truck-based sport utilities, instead, competitively priced, fuel-friendly internal combustion sedans (Mazda3, Mazda6) and car-based crossovers with light-weight uni-body underpinnings (CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9) dominate the lineup. The unlikely halo vehicle sparking brand recognition remains the low-slung MX-5 Miata two-seat roadster.
Don't equate this week's tester, the CX-3, with a lackluster drive experience because of its subcompact stature. Mazda maximizes subcompact thrills with lessons learned from 25 years of MX-5 Miata tweaking. Mazda debuted CX-3 in the 2016 model year, a time when other rivals also predicted an emerging upswing for subcompact crossover sales.
Handling remains excellent and responsive delivering a nimble ride, thanks in part to G-Vectoring control, added in 2018, adjusting power delivery during cornering maneuvers. With 6.1-inches of ground clearance, CX-3 rides closer to the ground than most sedans, providing a connection with the road. A well-tuned, lightweight chassis also contributes to effective cornering and handling.
At 168.3 inches in length, CX3 measures in about two-inches shorter than Honda's own recently introduced HR-V subcompact crossover.
Three CX-3 trim levels return in 2019: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, all three standard with front-wheel drive. Optional all-wheel drive adds $1,400. New this year; side blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts, two high-tech radar enhanced safety features come standard across all trims.
These highly effective, easy-to-grasp nuances help prevent undesired fender benders by highlighting what driver's sometimes can't visually detect. When backing from a tight parking spot, cross traffic alert identifies cars in motion perpendicular to parked vehicles, and emits an audio warning.
All CX-3 trims feature a spunky 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 148 horsepower (two more than last year and five more than Honda's HR-V) and born out of Mazda's first-generation SkyActiv architecture. It's identical to the engine found under hood of the 2019 Miata MX-5. Unlike the MX-5 Miata which offers a six-speed manual transmission, CX-3 suffices with a six-speed automatic transmission in all trims.
SkyActiv tweaks Mazda's internal combustion engine with a higher air-fuel volume compression ratio teaming with refined transmissions. Most conventional gas engines rely upon a static 10:1 cylinder compression ratio. SkyActiv ups the ante to 12:1 utilizing regular 87-octane, generating extra get-up-and-go low-end torque. Higher-priced performance vehicles often times require premium fuel to achieve such ratios.
Mazda's next-generation, 2019 compact Mazda3, introduced last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show, features the second-generation of this architecture dubbed SkyActiv-X, which Mazda plans to roll out to all products during subsequent model redesigns.
Currently Mazda offers no gas-electric hybrids or plug-in electric vehicles, but set a goal to partially electrify all of its vehicles by 2030.
All CX-3 trims get an updated front grille while Grand-Touring models enjoy a new LED bejeweled tail light design. The grille's chrome bordering gets stretched above the circular headlights. Chrome accents in upper trims frame windows, accenting the blackened middle B and C pillars. Window frame bottoms take a wave approach from one end to the other, rather than a straight-across line formation.
With the manual hatch raised, enough head clearance awaits those six-feet or shorter, impressive sub-compact-sized crossover.
Earlier this year, Mazda announced a joint assembly plant venture with Toyota, Japan's largest automaker. A Huntsville, Alabama groundbreaking took place in November celebrating the symbolic start of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA Inc. Vehicle assembly begins in 2021 with Toyota building compact Corolla sedans, and Mazda promising a yet-to-be-named crossover.
Our Grand Touring tester included a $27,145 starting price ending at $29,625 after factoring in $595 for new-in-2019 Soul Red Crystal paint and $710 for a premium package including five-way adjustable power driver seat with lumbar support, heated steering wheel and traffic sign recognition. Non-factory-installed extras included $100 for rear bumper guards, $100 for door sill trim plates and $975 for destination charge. A base Sport starts at $21,385.
Grand Touring adds as standard fare: power moon roof, steering column heads-up display panel, adaptive (moving) LED headlights, LED fog lights and on-board navigation.
Inside, HVAC settings all activate via old-school, extremely user-friendly dials. A trio of decent-sized tactile twist orbs each serves a unique function: fan speed, temperature and direction.
Another dominant visual element resides on the dashboard; a seven-inch multi-function color screen, hinting of a miniature, flat-screen TV. It's not built into the center dash, but extends up from the center dashboard's downward-sloping top.
This flat panel interacts with "Mazda Connect" sound/infotainment; a system shared with most other Mazda products. Volume and station select dials reside far from the non-touch screen, located between front bucket seats. A thin chrome twist knob summons sound while a wider circular chrome knob adjusts station selections through a push-down motion. Three quick select iconed push buttons in front of the larger dial summon navigation, sound and home. Extra time may be needed to master this layout.
With Christmas lurking, Mazda should whisper in Santa's ear about Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both ease Smartphone interaction with the in-vehicle screen and would be a welcome present to CX-3.
To Mazda Connect's left, a chrome tab allows driver's to choose between two drive modes, normal and sport. New in 2019, an electronic parking brake, replaces a manual pull-type version, opening up additional storage space between front buckets, which receive upgrades with additional back support from high-density, vibration-absorbing polyurethane foam. Our Grand Touring tester included newly available full-leather seating surfaces.
The standard push-button start button locates on the dash, but direct access gets blocked by the three-point steering wheel and the turn signal stalk, which doubles as the operation center for front and rear windshield wipers.
The instrument panel consists of a center, deep-set gauge with an analog tachometer surrounding the outer edge and digital speedometer window set in the middle. Attached, wing-like extensions, also deep-set, includes constant readouts (no multi-panel design) listing odometer miles, current transmission gear, horizontal, bar-type fuel gauge and outside temperature.
The CX-3's diminutive dimensions create a relatively cozy row two best left for two riders, although press-releases from Mazda support a trio.
Fuel tank capacity for all-wheel drive models check in at a modest 11.9 gallons, a bit less than front-drive offerings with 12.7-gallon capacity. All-wheel drive fuel economy numbers also check in a bit less than front-drive variants, but still above average when taken as a whole. All-wheel drive CX-3's average 27 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway. Add two miles better in each category if purchasing front-drive offerings.
Through November of 2018, sales of Mazda CX-3 totaled 15,755, a 6.6 percent increase from the same 11-month period in 2017. By comparison, the CX-5 mid-size Mazda crossover (9.6 inches longer than CX-3), scored 136,881 unit sales through the first 11 months, easily qualifying CX-5 as Mazda's best-selling product in the U.S.
At A Glance
2019 Mazda CX-3
Price as Tested: $29,625
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder
Length: 168.3 inches
Width: 69.6 inches
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Fuel Economy City/Highway: 27 mpg/ 32 mpg
Curb Weight: 2,952 pounds
Powertrain warranty: Five year/60,000 miles