The fun-to-drive 2019 Mazda CX-3 offers sharp handling, competitive fuel economy, a slick design and, for the new model year, more standard advanced safety features. But it also comes with cramped rear quarters, a finicky infotainment system, and a dearth of cargo space behind the rear seats.

Best Value

A relative newbie to the world of subcompact crossovers having made its debut in 2016, starting prices for the 2019 Mazda CX-3 ring in at $21,365 ($975 destination fee included) for a front-wheel-drive Sport model, and can top out at over $29,000 for an all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model finished in optional Soul Red Mica and equipped with the Premium Package.

Changes for 2019 include slightly more horsepower, improved EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers, a revised front grille, a standard rearview camera, an electronic parking brake, a redesigned center console with an armrest and more storage, larger seats with vibration-absorbing urethane foam, a rear center armrest with built-in cupholders, and full leather seats on the Grand Touring trim only.

The entry-level Sport model is well equipped with a feature list that includes 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless push-button start, cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen, an electronic parking brake with auto-hold, and hill start assist.

Standard active safety features include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and low-speed (under 19 mph) automatic emergency braking. Mazda's I-Activesense Package, which contains all speed automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning, is optional on Sport and Touring models, and standard on the Grand Touring.

We'd opt for the Touring trim that adds heated outside mirrors, automatic headlights, larger 18-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, advanced keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, and easier-to-clean leatherette seat trim – at an additional cost of just $2,085.

Our tester was a range-topping Grand Touring model with nearly all the options and priced at a premium for this segment. On top its additional standard features (moonroof, bright exterior trim, adaptive front lighting and automatic high beams, LED headlights, taillights, fog lights and daytime running lights, paddle shifters, leather seat trim, a head-up display, navigation, Bose sound system, HD and satellite radio, all speed automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a rear cargo cover), it also included Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), Rear Bumper Guard ($100), Door Sill Trim Plates ($100), and the Premium Package ($710, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-way power driver seat with power lumbar and memory, a heated steering wheel, and traffic sign recognition). The MSRP, including destination, was $29,625, which also overlaps the larger and quieter CX-5 Touring model.

This is how we'd build our ideal 2019 CX-3:

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-3 Touring
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 148 hp / 146 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 29 City / 34 Hwy
  • Options: Touring I-Activsense Package ($1,000, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive front lighting, LED headlights and taillights, head-up display)
  • Base Price: $23,450 (including a $975 destination fee)
  • Best Value Price: $24,450

Performance

The 2.0-liter normally-aspirated four-cylinder engine is well balanced and mated to a traditional six-speed automatic – a refreshing change in a class that frequently features joyless continuously variable transmissions. Power is adequate, although not particularly overwhelming, and the pairing shines best at highway speeds and on the Grand Touring model that's equipped with paddle shifters.

Steering and handling are spot on, with plenty of feedback through the steering wheel and even better control than last year courtesy of the addition of Mazda's G-Vectoring Control system that dabs the brakes a bit to shift weight forward for a tighter line in cornering. The brakes are also very good and easy to modulate, with a nice initial bite to the pads and excellent feedback through the pedal. Fuel economy numbers are also solid – and improved for 2019 – with an EPA-estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 31 combined on front-wheel-drive models. With all-wheel drive, those figures drop to 27/32/29 mpg (city/highway/combined).

At the same time, the engine struggles at lower speeds in around-town driving where the lack of power is most apparent. The ride, tuned for handling, is also stiffer than rivals and can feel bumpy over potholes and larger road imperfections, while the paddle shifters – which help wring out the most from the busy engine – aren't offered on either Sport or Touring trims.

Style

Not as visually arresting as either the CX-5 or CX-9, the CX-3's taught, creased sheet metal still translates the design language of the larger vehicles into a shape that isn't overly complicated or fussy and, next to rivals like Toyota's CH-R, drives home the point that busier isn't better.

It begins up front with a smaller version of the brand's signature shield-shape grille – the lower portion of which is outlined by a thin chrome ring that traces its way upward to the narrow headlight enclosure that it bisects. The flanks are much simpler, with aggressive wheel arches, a deep character line just above the rocker (which is trimmed in chrome on Grand Touring models), and a pair of upper character lines. A simple-looking rear fascia features a body-colored upper spoiler, a pair of narrow, horizontal taillights, a flat black lower valance, and a pair of chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

The body is wrapped around an interior that isn't quite as lush as its larger stablemates, but still consists of a class-above mix of good materials and soft-touch elements. Front seat occupants are treated to comfortable seats – even in the base Sport model – and excellent front and side outward vision. Mazda added more sound-deadening material this year and it shows, especially in around-town driving where the interior is noticeably quieter than last year.

New standard safety features this year also add to the CX-3's appeal. The seven-inch touchscreen, along with the list of surprisingly generous standard features found even on the base model, is impressive, while folding the back seats reveals 44 cubic feet of cargo space.

At the same time, back seat passengers won't appreciate the limited head room and leg room. Cargo room with the rear seats up is just 12.4 cubic feet, while the curved roofline and small rear window limit visibility out the back and rear three-quarters. In addition, the infotainment system can be distracting, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available yet (Mazda notes that these features may become available at a future date), while it took a great deal of patience – with very little room to spare – to load a 52cm road bike with the rear seats folded.

The Best and Worst Things

Despite Mazda being known for crafting some of the most fun cars to drive, this small crossover was a pleasant surprise. Although lacking in straight-line acceleration, zipping through the twisty stuff and even maneuvering through tight city streets is a pleasure.

In addition to a paltry 12.4 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, the scant 35 inches of rear leg room is totally inadequate on long trips for anyone other than small children.

Right For? Wrong For?

With slick handling, a beautifully styled and class-above interior, and a value priced Sport model, the 2019 CX-3 should appeal to value-oriented singles and empty-nesters.

Large families will find the limited rear seat space and the lack of cargo room impossible to overcome.

The Bottom Line

Despite cramped rear quarters, a finicky infotainment system, and a dearth of rear seat room and cargo space, the 2019 Mazda CX-3's good looks, class-above interior, solid handling, and competitive fuel economy make it a top choice in its class.