- Stylish looks and a minimalist interior
- Fun to drive
- Available with four-wheel drive
Not so great
- Lacks the grunt of turbocharged alternatives
- Diesels are rare
- Not particularly spacious
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
"The Mazda CX-3 has a great cabin, looks the part and is fun to drive. Like most modern Mazdas, its engine line-up lets it down slightly, while it’s not as spacious inside as a Honda HR-V. Still, if you can live with these niggles, the CX-3’s a very sensible (and desirable) choice."
The Mazda CX-3 is a slightly left-field alternative to small crossover SUVs like the Nissan Juke, SEAT Arona and Renault Captur. It offers attractive looks and a classy interior, while it’s more fun to drive than most of the competition.
Like most cars in this class, the CX-3 is essentially a small hatchback (in this case, it's based on the Mazda 2) with an increased ride height and slightly more practical cabin. However, it’s not as versatile as some rivals, and you don’t sit particularly high either. So, well, what’s the point?
While it’s easy to be sceptical about the CX-3 (and, indeed, most small crossovers), there’s also an awful lot to like about it. The cabin feels modern and sporty, with lots of neat touches which make it feel more like an MX-5 than a Nissan Juke rival. If you hunt for them, you’ll find a few less-than-perfect finishes, but this reflects the CX-3’s position in the Mazda hierarchy. If you want more soft-touch finishes, you’d be better with the newer CX-30 or bigger CX-5.
The cabin feels pretty cramped in the rear, but there’s plenty of space in the front and the seats are comfortable enough for long journeys. With space for 350-litres of luggage, the CX-3 has a pretty average boot, although access is easy and you can always drop the rear seats if you need more space.
It feels pretty sporty to drive. The steering is pleasingly direct while it doesn’t lean too much in corners and there’s plenty of grip on offer. You can buy a four-wheel-drive version too, but that’s a bit pointless unless you live in the Highlands of Scotland with snowy winters. Honestly, we’d just buy a set of winter tyres if you’re concerned about snow or icy conditions.
The engine line-up is pretty typical of the Mazda range. Don’t expect the 2.0-litre petrol to offer hot hatch performance compared to the small turbocharged units used in rivals. Despite its big capacity, it produces just 120PS, and you’ll have to rev it really hard to keep up with day-to-day traffic. If you’re used to modern turbo alternatives with punchy performance from low revs, you might find the petrol Mazda CX-3 hard work.
The diesel engine is a better choice in some ways, but they’re relatively rare on the used market. And, unless you cover lots of motorway miles, you don’t really want a diesel. They can be less reliable as they get older and will attract dirty looks if you drive one in a town centre.
While the Mazda CX-3 has never sold in the same numbers as the Nissan Juke or Renault Captur, it was in production for five years and there are plenty on the used market. We’d look for a post-2018 model if budget allows as the CX-3 range was updated with revised suspension and fresh technology (such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay). You can recognise facelifted models as they’ll have a plus symbol in their trim level (e.g. SE-L Nav+).
On the inside
"The Mazda CX-3 has quite a stylish, minimalist interior which isn’t all that different from the one you’d find in the MX-5 sports car."
You sit lower down than in most crossover SUVs, which makes it feel sporty but won’t appeal to those looking for a Range-Rover-like seating position. The large, central rev counter is another sporty touch, while the seven-inch infotainment system is perched on top of the dash (which makes it easy to glance at during driving).
Although it is a touchscreen system, you’ll probably find it easier to control using the rotary dial down between the front seats. This is much less distracting than leaning forward and trying to use the touchscreen while on the move. It’s a decent system, with DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, while most also come with navigation. Later models come have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while Sport Nav+ trim level comes with a fancy Bose media system.
In terms of space, you’d be much better looking at a Renault Captur or Honda HR-V if you regularly carry passengers. There’s plenty of space in the front, but adults in the back will feel pretty hard done by. The boot isn’t as big as rivals, either.
"You won’t find any small, turbocharged engines in the CX-3 line-up. Mazda prefers to ‘right-size’ its engines, an approach which leads to realistic fuel economy figures and impressive reliability."
Most Mazda CX-3s are powered by a 120PS 2.0-litre petrol engine with front-wheel-drive. This is good news as, for most buyers, it’s the pick of the range - returning decent fuel economy and fairly punchy performance (although you’ll have to work it harder than the 1.0 TSI used in the SEAT Arona, for example). A more powerful version of this engine was offered, with 150PS and four-wheel drive. This is fine, but thirstier - we wouldn’t bother unless you really need a 4x4.
The diesel offering was initially a 1.5-litre diesel with 105PS (available with two- or four-wheel drive), which was replaced by a 115PS 1.8 in mid-2018 (front-wheel drive only).
You’ll find six-speed automatic and manual gearboxes on the market. Both are very good - the manual offers a slick change, while the auto transmission provides almost seamless gear changes without impacting fuel economy too much. Which one you opt for comes down to personal preference, really.
How Much Does It Cost To Run?
"Of course, the most frugal CX-3s are diesel-powered. The original 1.5-litre diesel returned an impressive 70.6mpg in 2WD guise with the manual gearbox, dropping to 60.1mpg with all-wheel drive. Choosing the auto drops this to 54.3mpg."
These figures are from the old NEDC fuel economy tests so might not be as achievable in the real world as the latest WLTP figures. You should be able to see around 58mpg from the two-wheel-drive CX-3 1.5 diesel with the manual gearbox. That’s pretty good. The later 1.8 diesel officially returns 54.3mpg under the latest WLTP fuel economy tests.
Most buyers will find the petrol models suit their needs better. The popular 120PS 2.0-litre petrol officially returns 42.9mpg (dropping to 39.2mpg with the auto gearbox), while the more powerful four-wheel-drive model officially achieves 38.2mpg (34.9mpg for the auto).
CX-3 models registered since April 2017 will be taxed at a flat rate of £150 a year after the first year. Earlier models will be taxed based on their CO2 emissions, so you could save money on car tax by buying an older CX-3.
Prices, Versions and Specification
"Early Mazda CX-3 models are available in SE, SE-L and Sport Nav grades."
Few people will find the entry-level SE lacking. Standard kit includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob and manual air conditioning. There’s cruise control and a seven-inch touchscreen media system with Bluetooth and DAB radio.
SE-L adds front LED fog lights, dusk-sensing lights and rear privacy glass. Rear parking sensors are standard, as well as heated front seats, climate control and rain-sensing front wipers. It also comes with some additional driving-assist features including a lane departure warning system and smart city brake support.
The top-spec Sport Nav comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior highlights as well as LED headlights and tail lights. There’s a reversing camera, while the interior gets half leatherette seats with red piping. Fancy.
There’s also a head-up display, keyless entry, and paddle shifters on automatic models. The media system now has navigation, while there’s also a premium Bose surround sound system with seven speakers.
In 2017, the SE and SE-L models became SE Nav and SE-L Nav meaning, as their names suggest, they gained navigation as standard. At the same time, a new top-spec GT Sport model arrived, adding 18-inch alloy wheels, bespoke exterior styling and leather upholstery.
In mid-2018, the CX-3 was updated. Standard kit remained pretty much the same, but the SE Nav, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav models were renamed SE Nav+, SE-L Nav+ and - you guessed it - Sport Nav+.
Is the Mazda CX-3 right for you?
If you want a stylish crossover SUV that’s great to drive, the Mazda CX-3 should be on your shortlist. The underpowered petrol engines won’t appeal to everyone, but they ought to be reliable and fairly cheap to run. We like its minimalist interior and equipment levels are generous, although some rivals are more spacious.
What’s the best Mazda CX-3 model/engine to choose?
Unless you cover a lot of miles or really need four-wheel drive, we’d recommend the standard 120PS 2.0-litre petrol engine. Mid-spec SE-L (and later SE-L Nav) models are popular and represent good value for money, so that’s probably what we’d be looking for.
What other cars are similar to the Mazda CX-3?
There are plenty of alternatives you could also consider. The Nissan Juke is a popular rival, although not everyone will like its bulbous looks. The Citroen C3 Aircross is a comfortable alternative, while the Renault Captur is a versatile choice. You could also consider the newer Volkswagen T-Cross and popular SEAT Arona, while the Honda HR-V is a dependable option. Also look at the Suzuki Vitara, too.
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
Reviews of similar cars
Quality checked, all cars less than 8 years old and warranty included