The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.5
The Mazda CX-3 is stylish and well-equipped, and it’s also one of the more entertaining cars of its type to drive. However, it’s also expensive to buy and not practical enough, so before you get one, make sure you prioritise style and fun above all else.
Reasons to buy
- Entertaining handling
- Diesel engine is smooth, perky and efficient
- Looks good inside and out
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
Style is the whole reason people buy small SUVs, so any car in this class simply has to deliver in this respect. The Mazda CX-3 certainly cuts a different shape to most of its rivals, with plenty of curvy creases in the body and a ‘floating roof’ effect achieved with gloss-black rear pillars. Overall, the styling is very reminiscent of the Mazda 2 supermini with which it shares its underpinnings, but with a bulkier, jacked-up treatment. All models get smart alloy wheels and twin exhausts as standard, but stepping up from SE to SE-L trim earns you LED foglamps and rear privacy glass, while range-topping Sport Nav trim adds bigger wheels, LED headlamps and chromed side sills.
What's the interior like?
The CX-3’s cabin feels solidly made and looks good, even if many of the surfaces aren’t as appealing to the fingertips as they are to the eyes. Then again, not many cars in the small SUV class are particularly impressive for quality, so among its peers, the CX-3 feels like a fairly posh product. The driving position has lots of adjustment, there’s a good view out in all directions and the standard touch-screen infotainment system is reasonably easy to use.
How practical is it?
The whole point of cars like this is to combine style with practicality, and the CX-3 simply doesn’t play the family car role as well as many of its rivals. The rear seats are rather tight on space, particularly legroom, and the cabin is way too narrow to squeeze three in the back. The high rear window line also means that kids won’t be able to see much out of the windows, and sitting back there feels rather dark and gloomy. Boot space isn’t too bad, but it’s only moderate for the class and it gets smaller if you go for the Sport Nav: the subwoofer for its posh stereo eats into the space. However, you do get a handy false floor to level off the loadbay when you drop the split-folding rear seats, which go pretty much flat.
What's it like to drive?
If you’re after a small SUV that’s good fun to drive, the CX-3 could well be the car you’ve been waiting for. Whether you go for front- or four-wheel drive (both are available), the CX-3 delivers plenty of grip. What’s more, the steering is sharp and has a nice, meaty weighting, while the body control stays impressively tight in all situations. The taut suspension does mean that the ride is a little on the jiggly side, so it’s not as cosseting as a Renault Captur, but it never gets to the point where you’ll feel uncomfortable. Unless, that is, you go for a Sport Nav version. It has 18-inch wheels rather than the 16s you get on the SE and SE-L, and these cause the ride to deteriorate to a point where some drivers will start to complain. Also, the petrol versions aren’t as fun as the diesels, because they don’t steer as well. There’s a big dead spot around the straight ahead, which means they don’t react quickly enough to your inputs on the wheel. On all versions of the CX-3, refinement leaves a little to be desired, because there’s a lot of road noise to be endured, even at only moderate speeds.
How powerful is it?
Mazda reckons most CX-3s will be sold with petrol engines and there are two to choose from, both 2.0-litre units with either 118bhp or 148bhp. The former is a fairly keen performer, with decent pull provided throughout the rev range, but it never really delivers the punch you get from the smaller-capacity turbocharged engines used in most rivals. The latter feels a little keener, but still doesn’t feel as nippy as its prodigious power output suggests. The diesel engine, meanwhile, is the complete polar opposite of the petrols. It’s a 1.5 litre unit with a modest 103bhp, but it delivers a genuinely surprising turn of speed. And, with the grunt being accessible throughout most of the rev range, it’s an easy and relaxing companion when you’re not in so much of a hurry. The crisp gearshift and weighty, positive-feeling pedals also lend a slightly sporty feel. All engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a six-speed automatic can also be specified with the diesel and lower-powered petrol. It slushes through the gears fairly swiftly and it keeps things smooth.
How much will it cost me?
Look at the CX-3’s list prices, and they may well have your eyes watering. This car costs significantly more to buy than the vast majority of its rivals, and although it comes very well equipped to compensate, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether this is kit you’ll actually want or need. You won’t get much of a discount when you buy, either, and resale values are likely to be merely fair-to-middling. The petrol engines are competitive for efficiency rather than being particularly impressive, but the diesel, with its figures of 70mpg and 105g/km, is up among the class best.
How reliable is it?
This is one area in which Mazda ownership shouldn’t worry you in the slightest. The brand consistently posts solid performances in pretty much every reliability survey going, and Warranty Direct’s manufacturer rankings are just one example. There’s very little reliability data available on the CX-3 itself, but the Mazda 2 supermini has traditionally been a very strong performer in the Reliability Index, which bodes well for the CX-3.
How safe is it?
All versions of the CX-3 come with a decent amount of safety kit, including six airbags, stability control, a hill holder and tyre pressure monitoring. If you go for SE-L or Sport Nav trims, you’ll also get an autonomous braking system and lane departure warning as standard. The car has been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but like the Mazda 2 - with which the CX-3 shares its platform - it disappointingly only scored four out of the available five stars.
How much equipment do I get?
The kit you get as standard on the CX-3 is very generous indeed, as well it should be when the car costs so much more than its rivals. Even entry-level SE cars come with air-conditioning, cruise control, four powered windows, and a touch-screen infotainment system that incorporates DAB radio, Bluetooth and various connected apps. SE-L models, meanwhile, add climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, while Sport Nav trim adds navigation (obviously, and nav can also be added to the other two trims as an option), keyless entry, part-leather trim, LED headlamps, a reversing camera, a head-up display and a posher stereo.
Because you want a car that delivers all the style of any other small SUV, but you enjoy your driving as well. You’ll have to sacrifice some practicality and comfort for the CX-3’s smart handling, but that’s a sacrifice many buyers will be prepared to make.