By Derek Price
Competition in the small crossover space is so hot right now that vehicles have to be like Mary Poppins to sell: practically perfect in every way.
The Mazda CX-3 has been Mary Poppins since it was introduced in 2016. There’s very little I would change about it if given a magic wand, seeing how it already drives, looks and feels more expensive than it actually is.
Fuel economy is fantastic, with my all-wheel-drive tester getting 32 mpg on the highway. It feels faster than most of its competitors, partially thanks to its well-sorted, six-speed automatic transmission that whips its CVT-carrying competitors into submission.
Most of all, the CX-3 feels like a premium product even though it’s priced for bargain hunters. Its handling is crisp and car-like, with very little body roll and a firm suspension that makes driving on winding roads a pleasure. Its cabin exudes an upscale feeling, too, both on the lower-level trims that don’t feel too basic and stripped down, and on the upper trims that add supple leather and tasteful design touches that would look at home in a luxury showroom.
Things get even better in 2019 as Mazda is adding a few minor changes that take its sophistication and practicality up a notch.
One is a small change that makes a big difference: an electronic parking brake.
Because Mazda added the electronic brake, which can be operated with a tiny button instead of a big handle, it freed up room for a new center console and armrest to create a lot more storage space. That’s important in a small car.
Redesigned front seats, new rear armrests with built-in cup holders, a new grille and fresh tail lights add up to a noticeable difference but aren’t revolutionary.
The same can be said of its engine, which gets a tiny boost in horsepower this year and is “retuned for refinement and efficiency,” Mazda says. The federal government concurs about efficiency, giving the front-wheel-drive CX-3 a combined fuel economy rating of 31 mpg. It’s rated for 29 mpg in city driving and 34 on the highway.
What’s not perfect about it? Cargo space and rear seat roominess are less than ideal. And, while I realize this is purely subjective, I’m not a fan of the plastic wheel arches that seem out of place on an otherwise beautifully sculpted body.
Pricing starts at $20,390 for the base Sport trim and ranges up to $27,145 for the Grand Touring with all-wheel drive.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2019 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD ($27,145). Options: Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), rear bumper guard ($100), door sill trim plates ($100), premium package ($710). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $29,625
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 168.3 in.
Width: 69.6 in.
Height: 60.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (148 hp, 146 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 32 highway
Why buy it?
The CX-3’s engine, transmission and suspension make it a joy to drive on winding roads, something rare in this segment. It feels more expensive than it is, both in design and driving refinement.