2019 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring – Review By Ben Lewis

No big shock here, small CUV/Crossover/SUV’s are all the rage. Not only a nice, city-friendly- sized version of larger SUV’s, with their low prices, enhanced fuel efficiency, and utility, they’re knocking the stuffing out of the small car segment as well.

And now Mazda is going after the affordable sports car. Which is pretty interesting. With the Miata, they pretty much own the affordable sports car segment. But the 2019 Mazda CX-3 looks like they’re going after one of their own.

So, it’s a sports car?

Well, it looks like one. It certainly comes from the same family of the Miata – sharp, creased lines, aggressive sporty looks, and tight dimensions with muscle. Kind of like a gymnast. One of the nicest proofs of Mazda’s “Kodo” design theory, a Japanese aesthetic that emphasizes strength through form and proportions.

Like all Mazda’s we’ve seen lately, the CX-3 is moving a bit upscale. For 2019, the CX changes are subtle, with a new grille, new chrome accents, piano black accents on the side pillars and fog light bezels.

There’s also handsome new-design 18” alloy wheels with multifaceted spoke design, and new design rear LED taillights. Most noticeable was the new Soul Red Crystal premium paint that really stands out. We got many compliments on the color. It all adds up to a vehicle that remains one of the most handsome and exciting in its class – no small thing, considering you’ve got stylish new competitors like the Hyundai Kona and Toyota C-HR.

So, it’s a luxury car?

The interior follows what we’ve seen in every refreshed Mazda – a concerted effort to move upscale. On our Grand Touring tester, we enjoyed full-leather seating surfaces –  a first for the model. They work nicely with the redesigned front seats that are wider, plumped up with a high-density vibration absorbing foam that feels supportive in a very Audi-like way.

Enhancing the good feelings, our tester had the Premium Package, which includes an 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, memory, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror and traffic sign recognition. A bargain at $710.

Another item on our tester we’ve noticed on other Mazdas, a suede-like material running the length of the dash that looks great and feels soft to the touch.

There’s a redesigned center console that features a new electronic parking brake to open up space, relocated cupholders and added storage in the center console. In a smaller vehicle like the CX-3, little things add up to large improvements.

Outside of those changes, it’s familiar, well-designed, Mazda fare. The 7-inch info-tainment screen is easy to see, and accessed by a very luxurious-looking rotary knob on the center console, with a smaller volume knob next to it. The instruments feel very Miata, with a large 8,000 rpm tachometer with inset digital speedo sitting dead center, and two smaller digital displays on the sides serving up supplemental information.

On our Grand Touring, there was also a heads-up display – projected on a small plastic screen that rises from the top of the dash. A little gimmicky, perhaps, but it does great stuff, especially when you’re using the adaptive cruise control and it lets you know range, set speed, actual speed, etc. We were also truly impressed with its ability to read road signs – not only speed limits, but also stop signs – something extra helpful and unusual, even on these new systems. Technology is our friend.

While the best seats in the house are up front, those sitting in back get a little love too for 2019, with a new center armrest with built- in cupholders. They’ll need that love, though, because the legroom is very tight for adults – best for short trips only. Which is probably best, because the cargo area is also very tight. Dropping the rear seats gives a reasonable amount of room. But if cargo space – and rear passenger room – is a priority, you might want to look at the larger CX-5.

Zoom-zoom. Errr, Feel Alive

Okay, so Mazda, like most manufacturers has been shifting around their tag lines lately. What hasn’t changed is the brand’s dedication to a great driving experience. And here is where the CX-3 shines.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G, four-cylinder engine. On cold start, it has a serious throaty rasp that sounds Miata-sporty and puts a grin on your face. With 148 hp, and 146 lb-feet of torque, it’s not the most powerful in class – especially when some competitors come to the fight with turbo-power, but Mazda knows how to make invigorating engines, and the CX-3 loves to rev.

Our front-wheel-drive tester pulled hard – especially in Sport Mode – and shifts through the 6-speed automatic were crisp and quick. Heck, we easily were hitting 34 mpg on the freeway, too. This is having your cake and eating it, too.

Mazda also knows how to make vehicles handle, and here the CX-3 feels like a tall Miata, with great steering feel, thanks in part to G-Vectoring Control which uses engine timing to control chassis dynamics, leading to smoother, more accurate steering inputs.  Expert suspension tuning means lively handling with excellent grip, and a surprisingly smooth ride for a small vehicle. This is an SUV you live to chuck about the turns!

For those living in slippery climes, AWD is available as well.

While it feels like a sports car in CUV clothing, the CX-3 is really a family vehicle, and looks after you and yours as well. All CX-3 models now feature blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Our top of the line tester also enjoyed Mazda’s full suite of safety technologies, including Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Smart Brake Support, Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, and Adaptive Front-lighting System

Ready to Zoom on down and buy one?

That’s a good choice – the CX-3 is a great bang for the buck.

The CX-3 Sport starts at $21,790, and it has all the goodness you could ask for in the driving experience. The only giveaway to those in the know would be the 16-inch alloy wheels. All wheel drive is available on all CX-3 models for a reasonable $1,400.

The sweet spot in the line up would be the CX-3 Touring at $23,875. You get 18-inch alloys, heated mirrors and piano black trim outside, leatherette inside with keyless entry, auto climate control, auto on – off headlights, leather-wrapped wheel, and heated front seats – all the little stuff that makes for a much nicer long-term owner experience.

Our front wheel drive Grand Touring stepped up to $25,745, and added all the luxuries, from a moonroof, to LED lighting all around, leather seats, leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, navigation, Bose premium audio system, the full safety suite we mentioned above, and more. Adding in the Premium Package ($710), a few small items and destination ($975), and we totaled $28,225.

A comparably-priced FWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate comes in at $28,845, a Honda HR-V EX-L 2WD, $28,801. So, the Mazda will save you a little bit at purchase time.

The Mazda CX-3 is a great choice in the small SUV segment. Handsome, stylish, well-equipped and a great drive.

 And if you lust for a Miata, but need more space – this is as close as you can get!