2018 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring Review

Driving enthusiasts need apply

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Excellent steering and handling, upscale-looking and feeling interior, fuel-sipping engine, attractive inside and out.
Negatives: Tight rear seat, small cargo area, slow infotainment system.
Bottom Line: The CX-3 is the crossover for the person who loves to drive but wants to sit just a little higher than they would in a hatchback. The CX-3 is a pleasure on just about any road, and the all-wheel drive gives it all-weather driving prowess. Shoppers looking for a spacious vehicle should look elsewhere. The CX-3 is cozy and tight inside but still comfy, thanks to excellent seats.
Mazda’s CX-3 burst onto the scene in 2016 to great fanfare from those seeking a fun-to-drive crossover. The model didn’t undergo changes for the 2017 model year, but Mazda has taken steps to keep the CX-3 at or near the top of the compact crossover segment for 2018. The company focused on improving the driving experience with the addition of its G-Vectoring Control system and reducing cabin noise by adding extra sound-deadening material and thicker glass. To see how the CX-3 stacks up to the ever-growing list of competitors we drove the model for a week. Read on for our full review.

Driving Experience



Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system’s influence is nearly imperceptible. We’d have to drive the 2017 model and the 2018 model back-to-back to really tell a difference. That being said, this is still the best subcompact crossover to drive out on the market right now.

Ride Quality: Smooth over gaps and bumps in the road. The suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps without feeling too soft.

Acceleration: The 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder moves the CX-3 along at a good clip. It feels quick, but it’s not especially fast. 0-60 times hover around eight seconds.

Braking: Strong and progressive with no dead spots in the pedal travel. We never had an issue stopping or slowing the vehicle.

Steering: The steering is well-calibrated and precise. Going into corners induces a smile, and you can always tell where the car is on the road.

Handling: The stiff chassis and fantastic suspension manage body roll with ease. The CX-3 feels lively on a curvy road. It’s genuinely fun and easy to drive.




The infotainment system offers Bluetooth connectivity, simple controls, and a simple, intuitive operation. However, competitors offer more robust systems that include features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, hench the lower score than previously reviewed Mazda vehicles. Also, Mazda still uses its cheap-looking head-up display screen that flips up when you turn the car on. We wish it would eliminate this system and go with a real head-up display or not include one at all.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch touchscreen offers good graphics and an easy-to-use interface. It has navigation, Bluetooth, Sirius XM, and some apps but lacks features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We noticed Mazda’s system is slower than other systems, too.

Controls: You can use the touchscreen, the rotary-knob controller, or steering-wheel buttons. All are easy to use.

Bluetooth Pairing: Pairing a phone was simple and easy. We experienced no issues.

Voice Call Quality: Calls were clear, and we experienced no issues with transmission.




Mazda’s Kodo design language is fantastic, and it works well on the CX-3’s body size. The model hasn’t changed much from a styling standpoint for 2018, and we’re not complaining.

Front: The front is dominated by Mazda’s corporate grille and attractive LED headlights and fog lamps. The grille isn’t as prominent as it is on the CX-5 and CX-9, but it’s still the most interesting part of the front.

Rear: Around the back of the CX-3, Mazda went with black rear pillars giving the vehicle a floating roof look from behind. We’re not huge fans of this, but this styling cue seems to be in vogue at the moment.

Profile: From the side, you can really see the curving lines down the front and rear fenders. The compact nature of the vehicle gives it a squat look, almost like its ready to pounce, which goes with the vehicle’s sporty nature.

Cabin: The cabin features an attractive black, red, and creamy off-white color scheme. Metal and chrome accents are used sparingly, keeping the cabin looking upscale. Mazda’s use of leather materials and its simplistic design looks classy.




The CX-3 isn’t spacious, but Mazda makes the most of the vehicle’s small cabin. We never felt uncomfortable, but our passengers mentioned that they would like more leg and hip room. This is less the CX-3’s fault and more about the subcompact crossover segment’s small dimensions.

Front Seats: The front seats offer plenty of legroom and are trimmed in soft leather and Mazda’s Lux Suede. The cushioning is supportive and bolstering keeps you in your seat during more spirited driving. Hip room was a little tight, and the footwell felt narrow.

Rear Seats: The rear seats offer supportive and comfortable padding as well as the same high-quality leather and Lux Suede material. Leg and headroom could be a little better, though.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): From an NVH perspective the CX-3 is great. There’s little wind or tire noise, and the car feels solid with no rattles vibrations. There is a bit of engine noise, especially when you get on the throttle, but we found that rather enjoyable.

Visibility: Forward and side visibility are excellent. The CX-3 does have some rear pillars on the thicker side. This makes for rather large blind spots. However, between the blind spot monitoring and the backup camera, we had no issues avoiding obstacles and other drivers.

Climate: The automatic climate control worked well. It cooled off or heated up the cabin as needed. Our vehicle also came equipped with heated seats and a heated steering wheel. The steering wheel only heated each side of the steering wheel and not all the way around.




The CX-3 is one of the safest little crossovers you can buy. It gets top marks in crash testing.

IIHS Rating: The IIHS has not rated the 2018 model year yet, but seeing as how the 2017 model was a 2017 Top Safety Pick+, we expect the 2018 model to do well.

NHTSA Rating: The NHTSA awarded the CX-3 five stars overall.

Standard Tech: The CX-3 comes with plenty of airbags and advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, Smart City Brake Support, rearview camera, tire-pressure monitoring, stability control, and traction control.

Optional Tech: We were not provided with a monroney for this vehicle, but we know our tester came with lane departure warning, radar cruise control, and traffic sign recognition.




This is the area where the CX-3 really comes up short. There’s limited storage inside the cabin, and the cargo area is smaller than we expected.

Storage Space: There’s only a small tray in front of the gear shifter, a small slot for your phone inside the armrest and a couple cup holders and door pockets. The main issues we had with the storage spaces pertain to ergonomics. With the armrest deployed, you can’t reach the cup holders, and with the armrest up you can’t reach your phone in the arm rest’s slot.

Cargo Room: With only 10.1 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place, the CX-3 has a smaller cargo area than its rivals.

Fuel Economy



The Mazda CX-3 is one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers out there. We experienced good fuel economy numbers that fell pretty close to the EPA estimates.

Observed: 29.4 mpg

Distance Driven: 226 miles

Driving Factors: We drove a mixture of highway and city miles in the CX-3, covering a more highway miles than city ones.




The Bose 7-speaker audio system provided clear and robust sound to all areas of the cabin. We found it more than adequate at both low and high volumes.

Final Thoughts

The CX-3 is a perfect vehicle for someone who wants something between Mazda’s CX-5 and the Mazda3. It’s small, sporty, fairly practical, and a lot of fun. Its competitors are more spacious and tech-savvy, but those are the CX-3's only real downfalls. Mazda is known for cars that drive well, and the CX-3 does that and more. If you love sporty hatchbacks but need something with all-wheel drive and a higher ride height, the CX-3 is an excellent choice.
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