Name game. Despite the introduction of the new Mazda CX-30, Mazda continues to offer the smaller and slightly more affordable CX-3. This might seem odd, especially if you focus on the nomenclature, but the CX-3 does retain its own appeal.
The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is cheaper, for one, and its smaller size might make it just a tad more manageable in the city. However, we doubt the 5-inch difference in length will be the distinction between a perfect parking maneuver and a love tap.
Too-similar names aside, the CX-3 is a typical compact crossover: a practical urban runabout that's thrifty at the pump and not expensive to buy. And in proper Mazda fashion, there's some verve to be found behind the wheel that's absent in most competitors.
Thrifty four-cylinder engine. Every CX-3 is equipped with the same powertrain: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's naturally aspirated (re: no turbocharger) and paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The combo is good for 148 horsepower, which proves to be adequate thanks to a curb weight of fewer than 3,000 pounds.
Don't mistake adequate for peppy, though. There's enough responsiveness to make stoplight takeoffs and highway passing drama-free exercises, but the pace is never much better than leisurely.
That said, such performance is about on par for this class of crossover. And though 0-60 mph takes at least eight seconds to accomplish, it actually remains one of the faster options in the segment. Others, such as the Ford Ecosport and Toyota C-HR, are even slower, taking 10 seconds or better to do the deed.
Higher trims include paddle shifters, but with this little power on tap, we can't imagine why anyone would be inspired to use them. The six-speed also shifts fine enough when left to its own devices, further negating the need for paddles.
Handling is CX-3's biggest asset. The firm suspension allows for entertaining cornering, yet it offers a smooth ride during more leisurely driving. The steering will goad you into playing around, though, thanks to its communicative rack and sharp response. It might look like a crossover, but there's the spirit of a sporty compact car within Mazda's little utility vehicle.
Cramped quarters. We'll come right out and say it: the CX-3 is small. Whatever room is here is simply not enough if you plan to use this crossover for hauling multiple friends and their stuff. Roominess lacks.
For proof, consider the cargo area, which offers just 17.8 cubic feet of space. Compared to other similarly-sized crossovers, this lags behind the Buick Encore (18.8 cubic feet), Hyundai Kona (19.2), Subaru Crosstrek (20.8), Honda HR-V (24.3), and Nissan Kicks (25.3).
Things don't get better in the back seat. On paper, there are 35 inches of rear legroom; in reality, things feel even tighter. Credit the sloping roofline and high beltline for making it feel as inhospitable as it is. However, there are worse choices: you could buy a C-HR with its 31.7 inches of legroom and feel like you were interred in a Gulag.
At least the front seat is comfortable and spacious enough, though there's not enough width to make it ever feel truly roomy. That's the nature of these small crossovers. But that isn't an excuse for poor space efficiency, and in that regard, the Mazda CX-3 just doesn't cut it.
Vs. the Mazda CX-30. Did you think we were going to get this far without a CX-30 comparison? It might seem trite to belittle one car by comparing it to its bigger, pricier sibling, but the fact remains that the slightly-pricier CX-30 is essentially the CX-3 minus all its shortcomings.
The CX-30 especially outclasses its little brother in cargo area and rear legroom. Cargo space for the CX-30 measures out to 20.2 cubic feet, while the rear-seat legroom in the CX-30 is 36.3 inches. That 1.3-inch legroom increase goes a long way – our editors found that a six-footer could sit behind himself comfortably in the CX-30, which was most certainly not the case with the CX-3.
Power and fuel economy also play a factor: the CX-30 has 186 horsepower out of its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Despite the added power, it doesn't sacrifice much at the pump, netting an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gallon combined. A CX-3 gets 31 mpg combined. Yes, that difference adds up over time, but is it worth the significant drawbacks in cargo space and passenger comfort?
And let's not forget the price. A CX-3 starts at $21,740. A CX-30? $22,945. That extra $1,205 buys more power, space, and comfort, not to mention more modern styling inside and out. All that is well worth the upcharge, in our opinion.
Final thoughts. The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is a good choice for the right buyer, but most people will be happier with something that offers more space than what the zippy little Mazda can offer. Of those buyers that value the performance the CX-3 delivers, most of them will be better off in the CX-30, which is equally at home on sinewy roads but offers more power to play with.
Where does that leave the CX-3? As a great option for those who don't care about space or rear-seat comfort, appreciate a good-handling road car and want the smallest, thriftiest crossover they can get. Drop any of those parameters, though, and there are better choices to be had, including Mazda's own CX-30.