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The 2020 Mazda CX-3: Is It Fated To Die?

We review the 2020 Mazda CX-3 and wonder about its future. Does it have one? Maybe…

The arrival of the CX-3 in the Mazda lineup for the 2016 model-year was an expected event. The fledgling sub-compact SUV segment was then absorbing quantities of new products, and the Japanese automaker was just joining the fray. What was more surprising was the model’s format.

The new CX-3 slotted in below the CX-5 – no surprise there. But Mazda gave it dimensions that placed in between the Mazda2 and the Mazda3, which led many to wonder about the actual difference between the newbie and the 3, in particular. Other than the former getting available AWD, not then possible with the 3, it offered consumers pretty much the same thing as the latter’s hatchback version.

Any difference in cargo space, for instance, was negligible. When seated inside, you’d have been hard-pressed to tell one from the other.

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See our Review of the 2020 Mazda CX-30.

2020 Mazda CX-3, front
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, front

Despite that, the product proved popular. Its cute format, the all-wheel drive and the attractive price point all played in its favour. The first generation was, for Mazda, a big success. Today, however, this CX-3 is reaching the end of its life-cycle, and the future is cloudy.

Is it condemned to go away, though? What could Mazda do with it?

Undeniable appeal
Despite the wrinkles showing on the model, the CX-3 remains popular, because it has undeniable appeal and meets the needs of many consumers. There’s the price, as mentioned. The bidding starts at under $21,000, and you can get AWD starting at under $25,000; Mazda has things pegged right here. Consumers do need to be careful about over-spending, for instance on the GT. At over $31,000, the model is no longer a bargain.

2020 Mazda CX-3, interior
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, interior

And so restraint is in order. Buyers must properly identify their needs to guide them in making the right choice. Know, for example, that with the GX base model, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and Bluetooth, the essential elements when it comes to connectivity. To get heated seats and steering wheel, you do have to move up to the GS. This version, which also comes with all-wheel drive, will set you back between $25,000 and $26,000.

If safety is your priority, you’ll have to climb another notch on the trim ladder to the very top, at which you point you get a host of drive assist functions.

Keep in mind that with the base model, set at $21,045, you’ll be getting a manual gearbox, and no possibility of AWD. An extra $1,300 will give you the automatic transmission, however.

2020 Mazda CX-3, second row
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, second row

Just enough
Under the hood, Mazda places only the one engine: a 2.0L 4-cylinder good for 148 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. Power is acceptable here, but only just. The slightest aggression on the accelerator turns the CX-3 into an angry, squawking little mouse, and you’ll want to plan your passing and merging manoeuvres with care.

The two transmissions, manual and automatic, each have 6 gears and do competent work - other than inducing the afore-mentioned squawking.
 
Noise aside, they do contribute to a positive driving experience, which is one of the strengths of the CX-3 in relation to its competitors. Everything is relative, of course. This little Mazda mouse is no sports car.

Put another way, the experience of driving this thing is reflective of its feature list and price range, both based on the principle of compromise. And for the majority of buyers in this segment, that’s fair enough.

2020 Mazda CX-3, profile
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, profile

The future? Does it have one?
While the CX-3 still holds appeal and fulfills its mandate, it is, as we pointed out, aging. And now that Mazda has rolled out the slightly larger CX-30, many are predicting that the little mouse could disappear, as soon as the end of this year. That’s certainly possible, but it might be wise not to get ahead of ourselves. For now, Mazda has given exactly zero indication it plans to jettison the model to make room for the CX-30.

In fact, look to what’s happening at other automakers, and you might reach a different conclusion. If Hyundai can find room in its lineup for both the Kona and the Venue, why not Mazda with its CX-3 and CX-30? Right now, public thirst for small SUVs is such that manufacturers are tripping over themselves to accommodate them.

That said, Mazda will have to revisit the CX-3, and do it fairly quickly. Every year the current version gets creakier, and frankly, right now it’s pretty hard to differentiate a CX-3 from a CX-30 from a CX-5 from 50 paces away. If you’re going to sell products that resemble one another, they have to be, well, more different.

2020 Mazda CX-3, three-quarters rear
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, three-quarters rear

It’s also worth keeping in mind that, ultimately, the future of the CX-3 is in the hands not of Mazda but of consumers. If sales of the model, renewed or not, continue to be strong alongside those of the CX-30, both models will remain in the catalogue.

For the moment, anyone looking to Mazda for clues as to the direction it’s planning to take its little SUV in is doing so in vain. Radio silence from the manufacturer. Time – and future sales – will tell.

Conclusion
If you're thinking of getting a CX-3, you won't be making a bad choice; but know that for about $3,000 more, you can get your hands on a more-modern, more-spacious model in the CX-30. Then there'S the Mazda3, now with all-wheel drive. i

At that point, which one you choose will be a matter of preference.

2020 Mazda CX-3, three-quarters front
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, three-quarters front

We like

Appealing exterior design
Positive driving experience
Availability of all-wheel drive
Affordable (except for the top-end model)

We like less

It's aging
Slightly anemic engine
Expensive top-end model
Not much cargo space

The competition

Buick Encore
Ford EcoSport
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Kia Niro
Mitsubishi RVR
Nissan Kicks
Subaru Crosstrek
Toyota C-HR

2020 Mazda CX-3, on the road
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, on the road
2020 Mazda CX-3, headlight
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, headlight
2020 Mazda CX-3, taillight
Photo: Mazda
2020 Mazda CX-3, taillight