Mazda CX-3 review & buyer's guide


Smallest Mazda SUV is up against the Subaru XV and Hyundai Kona - but the real philosophical competition is a small car. Time to decide which kind of conveyance suits you best

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The Mazda CX-3 is one of the smallest SUVs on the market. Funny thing is, it looks bigger in the photos - so you might get a shock the first time you see it in the flesh. It's tiny - in fact, it's built off the Mazda2 platform

Skip down to my earlier launch review & video >>

Mazda CX-3 is actually a development of the Mazda2 >> platform, with the 2.0-litre engine from the Mazda3 (and CX-5) for motivation, so it goes quite well. There is also a great 1.8-litre diesel with good fuel economy (the vehicle was launched in the first half of 2015 with a smaller 1.5-litre diesel).

Download the exclusive, 22-page 2019 Mazda CX-3 Australian press kit >>

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CX-3 plus two 'must-drive' direct competitors

See also:
My Subaru XV review >> (Brilliantly equipped and practical.)
My Hyundai Kona review >> (Exceptional performance from the turbo 1.6 petrol version.)

This is a tiny SUV, but it's built really well. And it has a few quirks (such as no salient room for luggage if all the seats are in use). The CX-3 looks great but probably isn't as good value as a Mazda3, Subaru Impreza or Hyundai i30 in the context of overall practicality, for most buyers, dollar for dollar.

If you have your heart set on an SUV but you really don't want to - literally - step up into the larger SUV league then the Mazda CX-3 certainly is worth a look. Especially if you need a little more ground clearance than a car, or you've got a dodgy hip/knee/back, etc.

Check out the CX-3's bigger brother, the Mazda CX-5 >> 

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  • Great alternative to both a car and a big SUV, for anyone with a mobility issue who is sick of climbing up/down to access their current vehicle
  • CX-3 is a real point of difference from other, larger SUVs - and more polished than direct competitors
  • Both engines do a great job in this small package
  • 1.8 diesel is amazingly efficient
  • Mazda's recent shift to 5yr/unlimited kilometre warranty puts them back in the game against competitors like Hyundai
  • Great packaging and ergonomics - except for luggage room (as there isn't any unless you fold the rear seats)
  • Excellent dynamics
  • CX-3 Akari packs a ton of standard equipment for about the same price as a Mazda3 SP25 Astina
  • August 2018 updates added some equipment and boosted interior refinement with things like electronic parking brake and redesigned console


  • Space saver spare tyre is unsuitable for long-distance Australian driving
  • CX-3's i-Stop system (automatic engine shutdown and re-start) detracts from overall refinement and saves bugger-all fuel
  • It's only 265mm shorter than a CX-5, and much less practical as an SUV
  • In the context of carrying four people and anything more than cut lunches all round, it's too small
  • Great styling, but hardly any luggage room with all seats occupied, and rear-seat vision for passengers is very limited
  • Lower spec 2WD models are merely pumped-up Mazda2s - and the Mazda2 is unbelievably better value provided you don't need the slightly greater elevation
  • 2WD diesel isn't a happy combination - even though one is available. Too much low-rpm power overwhelms the front end too easily, and the wheels start to spin

Compact SUV sales, 2017

Five compact SUVs managed to sell more than 10,000 units in Australia in 2017
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Mazda CX-3 is very safe. ANCAP's tests awarded it five stars and a cracking good score of 36.44 out of a possible 37 (98.5%) when it was tested in 2015. All regions on the dummies were awarded 'good' or 'acceptable', and the whiplash rating was also 'good'.

Mazda CX-3 crash test.png

Mazda CX-3 is not perfect, however: There are no chest-protecting side airbags for the second row (but there are head-protecting curtains). Nor are there knee-protecting airbags for the front occupants. There's no adaptive cruise control, and features like auto headlamps, auto-dipping high beam, daytime running lights and lane departure warning system are not available on the base model but are available higher up in the range.

See more on CX-3 safety testing >> by ANCAP or download the full ANCAP CX-3 crash test technical report >>


Power: 111 kW @ 6000 rpm
Torque 195 Nm @ 2800 rpm
Economy: 6.7 L/100km

Power: 85 kW @ 4000 rpm
Torque 270 Nm @ 1600-2600 rpm
Economy: 5.1 L/100km

Transmission: 6 sp auto

(or 6 sp manual on 2WD Neo Sport)

Manufactured: Japan
Length: 4275 mm
Width: 1765 mm
Height: 1550 mm
Kerb weight: 1193-1368 kg
(model dependent)
Maximum tow capacity: 1200 kg
Seating Capacity: Five

Warranty: 5 years / unlimited kilometres
Service interval: 12 months or 10,000 km

(whichever comes first)
Roadside assist: N/A
Spare wheel: Space-saver

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Updates for 2019

The 2019 update debuted at the end of August 2018. Here are the highlights

  • Reverse camera and electric parking brake are now standard across the range
  • New grille and tail lamps
  • Centre console gets a major redesign, allowed by the electric park brake, including a padded armrest
  • Range-topping Akari gets new 360°-view monitor and adaptive cruise control with 'stop & go' functionality
  • New 1.8-litre diesel engine delivers 10 per cent more power

Inside, 2019 Mazda CX-3 has been given a substantial makeover with a revised centre console design accommodating the newly added electric parking brake on all model grades.

The new parking brake allowed Mazda's interior designers to move the twirly Command Controller forward, for easier reach. A folding padded lid has been fitted to the console, doubling as a central armrest for driver and front passenger.

In the rear, in Maxx Sport grade and above, the folding rear armrest adds two cupholders.

Mazda says it has added urethane foam with higher damping to the front seat cushions to deliver improved ride comfort, and seat upholstery has been changed to full leather on the high grade (sTouring and Akari) models. sTouring and Akari also get an automatic anti-glare interior rear vision mirror, and new 18-inch wheels with a bright finish that Mazda claims better absorbs high frequency road noise and vibration.

A reversing camera is now applied to all grades, joining a comprehensive suite of standard safety (crash avoidance) features including automatic emergency braking (forward and reverse) and emergency brake assistance (EBA).

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Mazda also says CX-3 has had the suspension and steering tweaked. The alleged upgrades to the petrol engine are minimal - peak power is up from 110kW to 111kW at the same revs, while peak torque is up from 192Nm to 195Nm - again at the same revs. This is not the kind of thing you'll ever feel...

Note these comments about the 2019 model range re-jig if you proceed down the page to my review based on the launch of the CX-3 in March 2015. This is essentially still the same vehicle, but the modifications to the range noted above have been applied. They also changed 'Neo' to 'Neo Sport'.


Neo Sport

  • 16-inch steel wheels with 215/60 tyres
  • Halogen headlamps
  • Power wing mirrors
  • 7-inch infotainment screen (MZD connect - meaning no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto)
  • 6-speaker audio
  • Bluetooth
  • Electric park brake
  • Multi-function 'Commander Control' dial
  • Pushbutton engine start
  • Reversing camera
  • Automatic emergency braking

Maxx Sport

  • 16-inch alloy wheels
  • Auto on/off for headlamps
  • Rain sensing wipers
  • Rear seat centre armrest
  • Leather trim steering wheel and shifter
  • Climate air conditioning
  • GPS sat-nav
  • Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert


  • 18-inch alloy wheels with 215/50 tyres
  • Auto fold power mirrors (body colour)
  • LED daytime running lamps
  • LED headlamps and tail lamps
  • Head-up display
  • Auto dimming rear-vision mirror
  • Proximity key
  • Driver attention alert
  • Front parking sensors
  • Traffic sign recognition


  • Power sunroof
  • Heated front seats with two memory positions (driver) and 10-way power adjustment (driver)
  •  Leather trim (either black or white)
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • 360-degree view monitor
  • Adaptive headlamps (turn with the steering wheel)
  • Lane departure warning

Model Range

Of the four model grades, diesel is unavailable in the entry-level Neo Sport. All-wheel drive is unavailable in Neo Sport either.

It only costs $1500 to step up from Neo Sport to Maxx Sport, and frankly I'd be doing that. (If you're not a beancounter looking at buying a corporate or rental fleet of CX-3s, Neo Sport is a nasty non-starter in my view).

It's another $3250 to step up to sTouring - and that's probably the best value in the range. It's another $5240 to spring for Akari - and it's packed with the nice-to-haves, but it's a lot to pay for a compact SUV.

An auto transmission adds $2000 over the manual (where available).

Diesel adds about $3000.

It's $3000 for Akari diesel over the cost of Akari petrol AWD auto. However, the split is only $2500 when you do the same comparison with sTouring. And when you compare diesel 2WD Maxx Sport auto with the same thing in petrol, the split is also $2500.  I have no idea why it costs $500 more to go from petrol to diesel in Akari spec. 

Diesel is auto-only, but, perversely, Maxx Sport diesels are front-drive while sTouring and Akari diesels are AWD.

Manufacturer's list pricing

Front drive (2WD) petrol models:

  • Neo Sport: $23,990 (man.) or $25,990 (auto)

  • Maxx Sport: $25,490 (man.) or $27,490 (auto)
  • sTouring: $28,740 (man.) or $30,740 (auto)
  • Akari: $33,990 (man.) or $35,990 (auto)

All-wheel drive (AWD) petrol models:

  • Neo Sport: Not available

  • Maxx Sport: $29,490 (auto only)
  • sTouring: $32,740 (auto only)
  • Akari: $37,490 (auto only)

Diesel AWD models:

  • Neo Sport: Not available

  • Maxx Sport: $29,990 (auto only)
  • sTouring: $35,240 (auto only)
  • Akari: $40,490 (auto only)


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    The Mazda CX-3 was a thermobaric bomb in 2015 - in so far as its competitors in the SUV segment were concerned. Suzuki, Holden, Subaru and Nissan must have been so thrilled to see such a strong new entrant enter the market. With the CX-3, Mazda is hoping to seduce 12,000 buyers every year away from the the S-Cross, the Trax, the XV and the Qashqai.

    In fact, sales were a runaway success. (This report might also help if you are in the market for a late-model used CX-3.)


    The Mazda CX-3 CX-3 features all the SKYACTIV fuel-saving stuff from Mazda2, Mazda3, Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5. Mazda has done an outstanding job on technology and fuel efficiency since the Global Financial Crisis, and they’ve done it while many other leading carmakers have been asleep at the wheel.

    Fuel economy of the Mazda CX-3 is excellent - officially rated at 6.1-6.7 litres/100km for the petrol and 4.8-5.1 litres/100km for the 1.5 diesel. But this obsession with fuel-saving is not all good news. See my comments on i-Stop, below.

    More on the official fuel numbers - and why cars don't generally manage to deliver them in this report on official fuel consumption figures >>


    CX-3 features Mazda's so-called KODO ‘soul of motion’ design. Mazda says KODO promotes - quote - “a sense of oneness between the car and driver”. Like most forms of corporate masturbation, this something best left in the boardroom. Doing it in public, expecting outsiders to understand, is undignified. 'Soul of Motion' … 'Sense of oneness' … it's just a car. Quite a nice looking one, as it happens. But still: just a car.

    The Mazda CX-3 is what happens when you put the Mazda CX-5 in a tumble drier without reading the instructions. Or else it’s a kind of automotive attempt at fois gras, from force-feeding a Mazda2… The Mazda CX-3 is only slightly taller and longer than Mazda2. So it’s a tiny SUV.

    Predictably, the Mazda CX-3 is shorter and lower than a Mazda CX-5 - but this really is splitting hairs. The dimensional differences are not that great. The biggest difference between the Mazda2, Mazda CX-3 and Mazda CX-5 is the filthy lucre you’ll need to acquire one.

    If you can squeeze into a Mazda CX-3 instead of a Mazda CX-5 you’ll save between $7000 and $13,000. If you step up from a Mazda2, that will cost you between $5000 and $16,000 more. The Mazda CX-3 is pretty much line-ball on pricing against Mazda3, even though it’s actually the Mazda CX-5 that shares more common ground mechanically with the Mazda3.


    In the Mazda CX-3 range there are two engines: a 2.0-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel (this has been upgraded to 1.8 for 2019). As you’d expect, more peak power from the petrol, but more low-rpm power from the diesel. No surprises there.

    A Mazda CX-3 with a 2.0-litre petrol engine is going to be quicker in a straight line than a Mazda CX-5 - even with the 2.5-litre engine. The Mazda CX-3 a better peak power-to-weight ratio. But the diesel domain is different - 56 per cent more low-rpm power for the Mazda CX-5's 2.2, in line with its additional displacement.

    Diesel Mazda CX-5 is clearly in front of the diesel Mazda CX-3.

    If you buy the diesel Mazda CX-3 you’ll need a run on the highway every fortnight or so to prevent its exhaust particle filter from making like a 30-year smoker’s lungs. So if you are locked in to urban-only operation, buy the petrol Mazda CX-3. Otherwise, the diesel does feel stronger in the mid-rpm range. More on petrol versus diesel here >>

    Model range

    Mazda has a pretty straightforward desktop app to build and price your CX-3 >>

    Car companies make model ranges notoriously complex, so let’s crack the kooky code of what you can and can’t have in your new Mazda CX-3. There are four model grades. From poverty to opulence: Mazda CX-3 Neo, Mazda CX-3 Maxx, Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari. (Akari means ‘light’ or ‘glimmer’ in Japanese.)

    There are front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive Mazda CX-3s. The fine print in the Mazda CX-3 KODO ‘Soul of Motion’ spirit of oneness corporate wanking pre-nup agreement says: No all-wheel drive in the entry-level Mazda CX-3 Neo, and no diesel in the Mazda CX-3 Neo.

    You can have front drive across the whole range in petrol, but front drive is only available with diesel in the Mazda CX-3 Maxx. All-wheel drive petrol is on offer in Mazda CX-3 Maxx, Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari, but all-wheel drive diesel is in Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari only.

    The Mazda CX-3 petrol comes with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto, but the Mazda CX-3 manual is front-drive only. The Mazda CX-3 auto costs $2000 - and the Mazda CX-3 diesel is a $2400 extra. Mazda CX-3 diesels are all automatic. And the Mazda CX-3 auto is a conventional planetary gearbox - not a CVT or the even more hateful and potentially problematic dual-clutch transmission.


    The Mazda CX-3 is not perfect, and while it's my job to jab its flaws mercilessly with a pointy stick (and also having a bit of fun with the ludicrous marketing concepts getting awfully lost in translation) you should be aware that this is a very impressive compact SUV. Whatever other vehicles you might be considering purchasing, make sure you test drive the Mazda CX-3.

    Mazda is way ahead of most competing brands, and if I were you, I would be looking very hard at the all-wheel-drive, petrol Mazda CX-3 Maxx. That vehicle is just sensational value, for under $30,000 - and it has proper, intuitively understood instruments, the MZD Connect seven-inch screen.


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