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2019 Mazda CX-3 Review: An "old" favourite under pressure

The mighty mouse
Along with Toyota’s C-HR, now in its second year of existence, the little Mazda CX-3 has always conjured up for me, with its cute tapered front end and back wheels set far back on the fat end of the chassis, the image of a big mechanical mouse. One of the earliest examples of the subcompact crossover species (it’s all of three years old!), it remains a particular favourite of Canadian motorists. Its qualities are undeniable, even if its tiny dimensions can pose a challenge when you’re lugging more than a wheel of cheese around.

For 2019, Mazda has more or less preserved that mouse-like exterior intact. The front grille has gotten a mild update, but that’s about it. Where the bigger changes have been brought is inside, mainly in terms of improved tech and some upgrades in the performance department.

We get the same 4-cylinder SKYACTIV-G engine as before, though slightly tweaked for a couple more horsepower. Some work has been done as well to reduce internal friction in the engine and improve fuel efficiency, with a 6.2% jump in low-end torque one of the results.

The angry mosquito
What this does is improve acceleration off the line, though the CX-3 is still more mouse than mighty when you’re pushing things on the highway. In both situations, you encounter what I found to be the single biggest annoyance the 2019 CX-3 inflicts on you: that engine, when pushed at all hard, whether to accelerate from a stop or to try to get a move on in the passing lane, screams. But not like a crazy banshee or anything like that, more like a small, angry mosquito. This association popped into my head the first time I pulled the CX-3 away from a stop with purpose, and it stayed with me through the entire week I drove it.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

If you can keep your thoughts away from that ticked-off insect, though, you’ll find the handling of the CX-3 to be of the usual standard set by Mazda. Which is to say, excellent. Mazda’s G-Vectoring has a lot to do with that, as it distributes load between the two sets of wheels to help keep the car stable. I drove the GT model, on which all-wheel drive comes standard. Steering is crisp and road grip is excellent even when pushing the car through tight bends on winding country roads.

The aforementioned engine is twinned with a 6-speed automatic transmission, with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel for when you want to be a real live driver. To that end, you can also switch to Sport drive mode, but I found it held each of the lower gears far too long and just riled up that mosquito all the more, so I gave up on it before too long.

Inside the mouse
Remember, this is a mouse. This means you don’t benefit from a surplus of room in the cabin, either for your legs or your head or your luggage. That said, the driver’s position is perfectly comfortable, space adequate, and the front passenger has nothing to complain about either, really. For 2019 an armrest has been added in between the two front seats, along with an electronic parking brake, so you get some more storage space at your disposal. But where you pay the price for those sleek exterior contours is in the back row, as well as in the trunk.

Headroom in particular is problematic for back-row passengers who are of medium height or more. It’s alright for short urban drives, but anything longer might make for squawking. As for the rear cargo space (which offers all of 408 litres), it passed the hockey bag test, but only because hockey bags are scrunchable. Put a couple of big hard-case suitcases in back, and you’ll have to stick that wheel of cheese on a passenger’s lap.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

That said, people shopping in this segment know what they’re getting, and they’re willing to compromise in that area for what they get in return, which is great fuel economy, driveability, ease of parking in the urban environment, etc., etc.

Another impact of the exterior design with its sloping roof and all, is that visibility out the back is not great for the driver. This is made worse when rear passengers lift up their headrests more than the lowest setting. But here again, this is an element common to models in the subcompact and even compact segments that opt for sleeker, sportier lines and better aerodynamics. You can’t have it both ways…

Tech
The layout of the controls for the driver are straightforward and easy to use. I love the turn-dial for controlling the infotainment system; it greatly helps reduce driver distraction. Mazda has chosen not to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, though, which seems more and more aberrant in this day and age. Two years ago, maybe, but now this should really be there.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Space – and engine sound - complaints aside, once you’re ensconced within it, the drive offered by the 2019 CX-3 is one of the best you’ll find in its segment, as mentioned above. Nimble and responsive, it’s perfectly at ease in city traffic but also quite agile when attacking curves on winding roads out in the country. Now if only you could get that angry mosquito out of your mind…

The main competitors for the 2019 Mazda CX-3, pending other new 2019 model-year arrivals, are the Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR, Buick Encore and Ford EcoSport, and of course the popular newcomer, the Hyundai Kona.

Base price for the 2019 CX-3 is $20,796. Our tester was a fully loaded GT edition that came with a much heftier $30,795 price tag. This version comes with all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights and advanced keyless entry. Interior add-ons for this trim include leather-trimmed seating, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, premium 10-speaker Bose audio system, navigation system and a traffic sign recognition system for the head-up display.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

All of that’s great, but it’s a big jump in price to go from the GX base model to the GT. The mid-level GS might be decent compromise, but it’s still a fair amount higher in price than the GX, and all-wheel drive remains just an option with it.

Pluses
Really nice-looking little crossover
Great handling, nimble and agile
Decent initial acceleration
Stingy on fuel

Minuses
Precious little cargo space
Whiny engine
Short on horses
No Apple Carplay/Android Auto

Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: Mazda
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Photo: D.Boshouwers