The 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a nice car, but you should just buy a Mazda 3

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The 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a nice car, but you should just buy a Mazda 3

  • Like everything the Japanese automaker makes, Mazda’s CX-3 subcompact crossover is great to drive and a nice place to be.
  • Mazda offers a slew of luxury and technology features that make the CX-3 more livable, but that edges the price to nearly $30,000
  • While we enjoy the CX-3 in a vacuum, we’d much sooner recommend a Mazda 3 hatchback that offers even more value if you can live without all-wheel drive.

The Mazda CX-3 is fun to drive, comfortable and arguably the best looking vehicle in its class. But you probably shouldn’t buy one, as the Mazda 3 hatchback offers more value for your money with similar practicality.

The Good

There’s a lot to like about the Mazda CX-3.

The flowing, curvy side profile helps distract from the naturally-odd proportions of such a short, front-wheel drive vehicle. The windshield is nicely pulled back, saving the CX-3 from the stubby-hood syndrome that permeates the segment.

The cabin is also well-designed, with red and white leather mixing with the the Alcantara seat inserts. There are a few strange details — the lack of symmetry of the vents bugs me — but Mazda has mostly stuck with its standard interior design motif that more than lives up to the $29,615 as-tested price.

More importantly, Mazda kept the trademark driving dynamics. It’s not quite as good to drive as the company’s sedan offerings, but the CX-3 matches the CX-5 for easy handling in a crossover package.

Be aware that it functions more as a momentum car than a true sports offering. Power from the 2.0-liter engine is a modest 146 horsepower, so it’s best to hold onto speed through corners rather than have to muster it up again on the straights.

In more relaxed driving, the CX-3 is reasonably comfortable and well-damped. Competitors like the Toyota CH-R are slightly softer, but the CX-3 is a far cry from unpleasant.

The Bad

It's noisier than you might expect given that the Mazda approaches $30,000. That’s my biggest problem with the CX-3.

While our Grand Touring model came with everything you would conceivably want in a small crossover — automatic high beams, a heads-up display, blind-spot monitoring and more — there’s no ignoring that this is still a mainstream subcompact crossover.

The Mazda 3 I recently tested, with a bigger engine but a manual transmission, costs just $26,685. For that, you get similar equipment but better styling, even more impressive dynamics and similar interior room. You also get two separate engine options and the choice of a wonderful manual transmission.

The CX-3 had more minor annoyances than the company’s traditional hatchback. The center tunnel was the key irritation, as the armrest was placed as if it was specifically designed to get in the way of the infotainment controls and cup holders.

Finally, the only notable advantage the CX-3 has over the Mazda 3 is the all-wheel drive, but I’ve long argued that most buyers will never need all-wheel drive. $3,000 buys you an awful lot in snow tires and mounting fees, so the value proposition clearly tips towards the 3.

Final Thoughts

If you absolutely must have a subcompact crossover, the Mazda CX-3 is an excellent choice. The car is great to drive and I liked it. I just like the Mazda 3 better and I think you will, too.

Rating:

Exterior: 4

Interior: 3

Driving Experience: 4

Value: 2

Overall: 3

Price as configured: $29,615