Crossovers, as the name clearly implies, are mash-ups of a car and an SUV. On paper, the thought of combining the two designs might seem like a good idea, but rarely does it equate to something that looks or performs half affably in the real world. Just look at the Toyota C-HR. Yikes, with all due respect. Luckily, this isn’t an issue the 2019 Mazda CX-3 suffers from. The Japanese manufacture’s subcompact competitor is prominent, barely missing out on being gorgeous, and is quite the artiste.
With its subcompact size, the CX-3 is essentially a slightly taller and wider version of the outgoing-generation Mazda 3. In addition to being ever so slightly bigger than the Mazda 3, the CX-3 significantly offers all-wheel drive. The CX-3 isn’t a trendsetter, competing against the likes of the Hyundai Kona and Honda HR-V.
Just like other Mazda models, the CX-3 is available in Active, Dynamic, Individual and Individual Plus trims. With front-wheel drive, the CX-3 Active starts at R302 400. All-wheel drive (AWD) is available throughout the entire line-up. Our test vehicle was an Individual trim with FWD. With the incredible Titanium Flash Mica colour paint (and we like how it contrasts with the black body cladding), a few dealer-installed accessories, and the Premium Package, which adds niceties like an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and traffic sign recognition. In pictures, the CX-3 comes off as being a larger vehicle than it really is in person. In the flesh, it’s a curvy little thing that’s the perfect size.
Meanwhile, there are no surprises with the CX-3’s interior. The manufacturer’s simplistic yet upscale and refined cabin is a breath of fresh air as rivals move toward more cluttered designs. Everything is clearly labelled and positioned where you expect to find it. If you reach to turn up the heat, there’s a low chance of you missing the knob and accidentally landing on the one to get the air to blow on your face. Leather-trimmed sport seats are standard on the top two trims and really boost the CX-3’s upscale feel. The circular air vents and faux suede dashboard are a nice touch as well. I chat a bit more about this in my video review below.
While fit and finish are excellent, and material quality is well above what one would expect in a vehicle at this price point, the CX-3 feels enclosed on the inside. Its theatrical roofline severely eats into overall passenger space. The issue isn’t too bad in the front, because the passengers sit extremely low, but it’s a different story when you’re in the back. The rear seats offer just 94cm of headroom, and only 89cm of legroom. In other words, get behind someone of Papi’s height and your knees will rub sideways against the front seat.
Technology is one of the CX-3’s strong points, though it doesn’t offer an inclusive suite of advanced safety features like Toyota’s C-HR. Our test model comes with a government-mandated rearview camera, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support system as standard. Optional features on the Individual include lane departure warning, advanced Smarty City Brake Support with pedestrian detection, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go.
The little gem in the CX-3 isn’t its technology, it’s how easy the tech is to use. Every CX-3 comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen that is attached on top of the dashboard. Mazda places the controls for the infotainment system directly behind the shift knob, which is a fantastic location because your hand naturally gravitates there. Hard buttons are included for music, home, and navigation functions, while a rotary dial lets the front passengers scroll through the infotainment system’s menus. It’s a good thing the CX-3’s infotainment system is simple to use, which makes it even more of a award winning breeze when using Android Auto on it.
While the 7.0-inch touchscreen is a good size, the head-up display, while pleasant, provides an awe-inspiring amount of information on a tiny screen. It’s in charge of providing the car’s speed, lane departure warnings, information about the cruise control settings, turn-by-turn guidance, and blind spot monitoring warnings. That’s a lot of information packed into a tiny rectangle, and it becomes difficult to sort through what all the symbols means.
Mazda’s lane departure warning system deserves a mention. Instead of sounding an audible alert or sending vibrations through the steering wheel when the CX-3 drifts out of its lane, the software emits an alien-like sound through the speakers to warn the driver. It’s horrifying at first, and you’ll think something’s broken, but once you get used to it, it’s a much nicer form of feedback. A long-time champion of making cars that are fun to drive and enjoyable to live with on a daily basis, Mazda has made a crossover that shines at the former, but struggles with the latter.
The CX-3’s engine isn’t the reason you buy the car, but its driving dynamics sure are. Sprightly, agile, and full of life, the CX-3 feels more like a car than a crossover when pushed around. Zoom, zoom may be gone, but the CX-3 still knows how to get down. You won’t find this level of engagement in any of its rivals.
Mazda pushed the CX-3 too far in the direction of dynamism, and it forgot about the usability aspect. The CX-3 is unique in its segment because it handles much better than any of its rivals, and we like its user-friendly tech features, but motorists who try to stuff it with three friends and their gear for a weekend adventure will quickly discover its limitations.
While it has the looks of a crossover, the Mazda CX-3 isn’t quite sure what it wants to be – it’s clearly a car masquerading as something rugged. Despite having an attractive list of safety features, the compromise required to get those is a costly burden, especially for motorists that don’t live near a perfectly paved stretch of road that happens to be closed 24/7.
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