Mazda CX-3 review
The Mazda CX-3 is one of the sportiest small SUVs on sale but its rather cramped back seats and fairly thirsty petrol engines mean it’ll always be a slightly left-field choice.
What's not so good
Mazda CX-3: what would you like to read next?
If you’re looking for a small family car that’s easy to see out of, a doddle to drive yet still good fun on a twisty road, then the Mazda CX-3 is for you. It’s based on the Mazda 2, but its jacked-up body and slightly roomier cabin mean it’s more a match for the likes of the Citroen C3 Aircross, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke.
From the outside, however, it doesn’t look quite as dramatic as the look-at-me Juke and customisable C3 Aircross. Sure, its wide grille and narrow headlights look pretty aggressive and those creases on the doors look sportier than the Citroen’s bulbous waistline, but it lacks the visual pizzazz a small SUV needs to stand out on the school run.
It’s a similar story inside, where the Mazda CX-3’s smart, simple interior doesn’t look anywhere near as exciting as the Citroen’s cabin. That being said, everything’s a doddle to use – including the standard 7-inch touchscreen – and the round air vents and huge central rev counter make you feel a bit like you’re sitting in a sports car on stilts.
Less like a jacked-up sports car, though, is the fact the CX-3 comes with four doors and back seats. Admittedly, adults will feel more cramped in the back than in the likes of the Citroen C3 Aircross. The Mazda CX-3’s boot isn’t quite as spacious as the Citroen’s either, but you’ll still be able to carry a few suitcases or a bulky baby buggy and some soft bags.
The CX-3 feels a bit like a Mazda 2 that’s wearing stilts – its cabin is almost identical and it’s just as fun to drive but it’s ever so slightly more practical
What the Mazda CX-3 loses out to other small SUVs in terms of practicality, it claws back by being genuinely fun to drive. Its raised body and large windows make it dead easy to nip through traffic and the direct steering and slightly firm suspension means it’ll handle twisty roads with ease.
Hit a pothole at speed, however, and the Mazda struggles to hold its composure, sending an unpleasant thud through the cabin. At least it cruises comfortably on the motorway – especially if you pick an economical diesel model – but the cushier Citroen is the more relaxing to drive for long periods.
If pottering around town is more your thing, there’s a pair of petrol engines to choose from and you can get an automatic gearbox instead of the standard manual to help take the sting out of long traffic jams.
You can also get the Mazda CX-3 with a decent amount of safety kit to put your mind at ease, including automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning – just the thing if your commute takes in busy motorways.
That being said, many cheaper alternatives come with just as much equipment, but few can match the fun-to-drive Mazda CX-3 when you fancy taking the scenic route home.
Check out the latest Mazda CX-3 deals or read on for our detailed interior and specifications review sections.
The Mazda CX-3’s boot is fairly spacious and the cabin has plenty of smaller storage spaces, but you’ll really struggle to carry three adults in the back
Unless your friends are as flexible as Houdini, you’ll have to stick to carrying just two passengers in the back – the CX-3’s back seats are some of the most cramped you'll find in any SUV
The Mazda CX-3’s tall body means it has more ground clearance than most small family cars. As a result, it’s easier to climb into and its raised roofline means there’s lots of headroom in both the front and back seats.
The front seats themselves are pretty supportive and there’s plenty of adjustment to help you get comfortable, even if you’re tall. Sadly, you can’t get adjustable lumbar support – to help prevent backache on long journeys – on any Mazda CX-3.
Jump in the back seats and you’ll find them much more cramped than those in the front. Passengers over six-foot tall will really struggle for legroom and carrying three abreast will be a very tight squeeze. There’s just about enough space for three kids to get reasonably comfortable and the wide-opening rear doors make it fairly easy to climb in and out but a Peugeot 2008 or Skoda Kamiq will be a much better bet if you regularly carry a few passengers.
Thankfully, fitting a child seat is easy. The Isofix anchor points are slightly hidden behind the seat padding, but there’s plenty of room to lift in a forward-facing seat and the CX-3’s raised ride height means you won’t have to stoop down too far to strap in a child.
There’s plenty of space in all four door bins for a medium-sized bottle and the Mazda CX-3’s glovebox is reasonably roomy, too. The cupholders in the centre console are a little small but they won’t have too much trouble holding a regular-sized coffee cup.
There’s a small storage tray with a USB port for charging your smartphone under the dashboard too, but you don’t get a folding armrest or cupholders for the back seats.
The Mazda CX-3 has 350 litres of bootspace with all five seats in place. That’s about the same as you can fit in a Nissan Juke but significantly less than the Renault Captur and cavernous Citroen C3 Aircross can manage. There’s still just enough room to squeeze in a baby stroller and some soft bags but the tall boot lip makes loading heavy or bulky items a real pain.
There’s some storage under the height-adjustable boot floor and a few tether points to stop small items rolling around but the Mazda CX-3 doesn’t have any clever shopping hooks or netted cubbies like you get in a Peugeot 2008.
You can fold the back seats down in a two-way (60:40) split using the catches beside the headrests so you can carry long luggage in the boot and a passenger in the back at once.
With the seats folded – and the adjustable boot floor in its raised position – you’ll have access to a 1,260-litre load bay. That’s a little more than you get in a Renault Captur but it still lags behind the 1,400 litres you get in a Peugeot 2008. That said, it’s just about big enough to carry a bike (with one wheel removed) and its mostly flat floor makes it fairly easy to slide heavy boxes up behind the front seats.
The Mazda CX-3 proves that small SUVs don’t have to be boring to drive. It’s no sports car, but it’s a real hoot on a twisty back road
The Mazda CX-3 makes up for its slightly bumpy ride with grin-inducing handling that makes it miles more fun to drive than most humdrum family SUVs
You can get the Mazda CX-3 with one diesel and two petrol engines. Four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox are also available if you’re happy to pay a little extra.
Pick the 121hp 2.0-litre petrol model with two-wheel drive if you do lots of city driving. It’s not quite as perky as the more powerful 150hp version but it’s cheaper to buy and quieter than the 115hp 1.8-litre diesel. Mazda claims it’ll return more than 42mpg – a figure you should be able to match in normal driving conditions.
You’ll want to consider the 1.8-litre diesel unit if you spend more time on the motorway. It isn’t quite as smooth as the two petrol engines at slow speeds but it quickly settles into a quiet cruise on fast roads. It’s much more economical than the petrol models, too – it’ll return more than 55mpg in real-world conditions and can keep up with fast-moving traffic without too much fuss.
The most powerful 150hp 2.0-litre petrol model comes with four-wheel drive as standard. This helps to maximise grip in slippery conditions – handy if you plan to tow a trailer or live somewhere prone to icy winter weather.
You can get a six-speed automatic gearbox on 1.5-litre diesel and 121hp 2.0-litre petrol models. It helps make long journeys and heavy traffic a little more bearable but doesn’t feel quite as sporty as the manual version and blunts fuel economy slightly.
The Mazda CX-3’s large windows and raised ride height mean it’s easier to see out of than the Mazda 2 on which it’s based. The pillars between the windscreen and doors don’t create any particularly large blindspots at junctions but its small rear windscreen can make parking a bit tricky. At least mid-range models get rear parking sensors as standard while top-spec Sport Nav versions come with a reversing camera, too.
All the CX-3’s controls are light and easy to use which makes threading it through tight city streets a breeze. Its suspension is a little stiffer than in the likes of the Citroen C3 Aircross but it soaks up imperfections in rutted roads reasonably well.
Hit a pothole at speed, however, and you’ll feel an unpleasant jolt through the Mazda’s cabin – especially in top-spec Sport Nav cars with their larger 18-inch alloy wheels. Stick to an SE, SE Nav or SE-L Nav model and bumps in the road will be slightly less noticeable and you’ll hear a touch less tyre noise at motorway speeds.
The trade-off for the Mazda CX-3’s slightly firm suspension is just how agile it feels when you find yourself on an empty country road – it’s one of the most entertaining small SUVs on sale. It’s certainly no MX-5 sportscar but it feels light and nimble – like a spritely hatchback rather than a tall SUV.
In terms of safety kit, the Mazda CX-3 comes with an adjustable speed limiter as standard and mid-range models come with lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking while top-spec versions can be had with blind-spot warning if you’re happy to pay a little extra.
The Mazda CX 3’s central rev counter and circular air vents give the interior a sporty feel you don’t get in most small SUVs. Sadly, though, plenty of cheap-feeling plastics spoil the show