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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

2019 Mazda CX-3 First Test: Fun-Sized Urbanite

“Is it an SUV or a car?” That’s the first question you’ll get from people who notice the refreshed 2019 Mazda CX-3’s svelte exterior. As with many subcompact crossovers, the CX-3 is essentially a hatchback with body cladding and a suspension that’s been raised ever so slightly. Mazda’s rugged city dweller puts style and fun at the forefront, making it the driving enthusiast’s choice in its segment. Refreshed for 2019 with a revised suspension and steering, a small horsepower increase, and redesigned seats, Mazda has refined the CX-3 to expand the little crossover’s appeal to more consumers.

Agile handling is a CX-3 hallmark; its precise steering, superb body control, and buttoned-down suspension make it a joy to drive on your favorite winding road or darting around in the urban jungle. However, at the track, the CX-3’s undefeatable stability control system frustrated road test editor Chris Walton; the system kept cutting power during the figure-eight test unless he straightened the steering wheel. The six-speed automatic also denied downshifts when a foot was on the accelerator. Despite the intrusive electronic nannies, the 2019 CX-3 finished the figure eight in 27.6 seconds with a 0.60 g average and generated 0.84 g of lateral acceleration on the skidpad. The CX-3’s suspension veers toward the stiff side, but the changes made for 2019 have improved overall ride quality by minimizing the impacts felt by occupants. However, the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrekare still softer sprung and more comfortable over unmaintained surfaces.

Mazda’s 148-hp 2.0-liter I-4 is adequate for the 2,888-pound CX-3. Credit the responsive six-speed auto for extracting the most out of the four-banger’s output, preventing it from feeling languid when passing, merging, and climbing steep grades. Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana found it easy to launch the CX-3, enabling our front-drive tester to hit 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds at 84.8 mph. All-wheel-drive-equipped models are slightly slower, and only the Hyundai Kona with its optional turbo engine is quicker than the CX-3. Walton and Ayapana also complimented the CX-3’s strong brakes, which allowed it to stop from 60 mph in 118 feet. Front-end dive is minimal and well-controlled for a crossover.

Mazda’s interiors continue to punch above their segment; nearly everything you interact with is of high quality, from the padded surfaces to the harder door panel plastics. Even the infotainment system’s buttons operate with a reassuring feel, and the knobs make a satisfying click every time you turn them. The new front seats hold in you in place during enthusiastic driving yet remain comfortable on the daily grind. Interior space, however, is at a premium, with cramped rear seats and one of the smallest cargo areas in its class even with the rear seats folded and the false cargo floor removed. Storage for small items is also limited with only three useful cubbies in the center console, two of which double as near-useless cupholders. The Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Subaru Crosstrek all offer more space for people and gear thanks to their superior interior packaging. Despite the added sound deadening for 2019, the CX-3’s cabin still gets excessively loud; there’s plenty of road and wind noise on the highway, and during passing maneuvers, the engine gets thrashy the higher it revs.

The Mazda Connect interface is best used with the knob because the 7.0-inch touchscreen is slow to respond and locks out when the vehicle is in motion. Functions like media, communications, and navigation require you to go through a few submenus to get to what you need, and voice commands take one too many steps to do simple tasks like making a call. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are bundled as a dealer-installed accessory, and our tester did not have it installed. The seven-speaker Bose audio system is mediocre; it sounds muddled at low volumes and lacks the crispness of the unit found in the Nissan Kicks. FCA’s Uconnect and Hyundai/Kia’s Blue Link/UVO interfaces remain the best multimedia systems available because of their user-friendliness and quick response times.

As long as your active lifestyle excludes bulky equipment, going off-road, and more than two passengers (driver included), the CX-3 will serve you well. Its agility and size make it the ideal city and back-road companion, and its 29/34 mpg city/highway (27/32 mpg with all-wheel drive) EPA rating places it near the top of its class for fuel economy. The Mazda is one of the oldest crossovers in its class, but age has been good to the CX-3; it remains among the most stylish and engaging vehicles in a segment that continues to grow at a rapid pace.

2019 Mazda CX-3 (Grand Touring FWD)
VEHICLE LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE2.0L/148-hp/146-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)2,888 lb (61/39%)
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT168.3 x 69.6 x 60.9 in
0-60 MPH8.2 sec
QUARTER MILE16.3 sec @ 84.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH118 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY116/99 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB0.62 lb/mile

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