If the overall shape of a vehicle influences you more than how much of your stuff it can hold, then you might be an ideal candidate for the 2019 Mazda CX-3.
The automaker’s slick little runabout originally surfaced for the 2016 model year and wowed many converts who loved the styling. The car looked like a junior CX-5 utility vehicle, but with a much sportier shape. The prominent trapezoidal grille and flared fenders with darkened side cladding exuded the kind of ruggedness you don’t often see in this class.
The 2019 CX-3 — available now — has undergone a number of minor style and content changes.
The expressive nose has been tweaked and the taillights and wheels are also new. The cabin has been quieted with more sound insulation, and the front seats have been reshaped. The most noticeable change inside is an electronic-parking-brake toggle that replaces the previous hand brake. It means a more spacious floor console and redesigned armrest.
The rest of the interior is a model of user-friendliness, although there is no sweep dial to indicate speed. Instead, a digital readout is located within the large central rev counter. It’s flanked by fuel-level, trip-odometer and transmission-gear readouts.
A seven-inch screen for the infotainment, communications and optional navigation screen is mounted on the dashboard. Below that are three large dials for operating the heat/cool/ventilation system.
The cabin provides adequate room for front-seaters, but the same can’t be said for those in back. Although there’s a fold-down center armrest, it doesn’t make up for a serious shortage of legroom. The rear bench makes an ideal size for two or three kids, though. When the rear seat is folded (nearly flat), there’s room for some luggage or perhaps a couple of sets of golf clubs, but not much else.
Others in the CX-3’s group, notably the Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax, can tote considerably more stuff, but they don’t deliver the same driving fun. That’s where the CX-3 really shines. Likely the closest competitor in this arena is the Toyota C-HR.
All CX-3 models receive the SkyActiv treatment, which provides a sport-style suspension — retuned for 2019 — and steering. There’s also a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 148 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. The 2018 model made 146/144.
The 2.0 isn’t particularly spry and it is quite noisy at highway speeds. The one-and-only transmission is a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway.
The optional all-wheel-drive system adds Mazda’s proprietary G-Vectoring Control. It temporarily reduces engine torque as the vehicle enters a corner. That, in turn, Mazda says, increases g-forces over the front axle prior to braking. The result is added tire contact with the road and greater stability when turning.
At a starting price of $21,400, with destination charges, you might think the base CX-3 Sport is a stripped-down economy car, but it’s not. That fee gets you blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, push-button start and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-grade Touring adds climate control, heated outside mirrors, heated front seats with faux leather covers (upgraded from cloth) and 18-inch wheels.
The Grand Touring comes with leather seats, navigation, power moonroof, head-up information display and paddle shifters.
Options include a Bose-brand stereo, power-operated driver’s seat and a range of dynamic safety technology (part of Mazda’s i-ActivSense package) such as emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
Let’s cut right to it: The CX-3 is not the most practical vehicle in its class. For that, it needs more room. You’ll have to decide if the styling and sportiness can offset that, and the only way to know for sure is to take it for a drive. Judging by the CX-3’s popularity, you won’t need a long drive.
What you should know: 2019 Mazda CX-3
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive subcompact utility vehicle
Engine (h.p.): 2.0-liter DOHC I-4 (148)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Small utilities like the CX-3 are winning over large numbers of buyers who might otherwise have purchased a similar-sized sedan. They also tend to spend more for them by adding AWD and other extra-cost items.
Points: Exceptional styling that’s improved upon for 2019. • Interior revisions are both attractive and a bit more practical. • Standard four-cylinder engine could use more power, but is typical for this class. • Reasonably well-equipped base model is ahead of most competitors. • The most enjoyable to drive in the segment.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.); lane departure warning (opt.); pedestrian detection (opt.); adaptive headlights (opt.).
MPG: (city/hwy) 29/34 (FWD); Base price (incl. destination) $21,400
B Y C O M P A R I S O N
Base price: $20,700
Updated 2019 model has a 141-h.p. engine and spacious interior.
Base price: $22,000
A short wagon with modest power and a choppy ride, but good cargo capacity.
Base price: $19,900
Built-in-Italy small utility is surprisingly roomy. Stout 180-h.p. engine is optional.