2020 Mazda CX-3

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
July 22, 2020

Buying tip

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 makes the most sense the less you spend, so stick with the Sport.

features & specs

Sport AWD
Sport FWD
27 city / 32 hwy
29 city / 34 hwy

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is stylish but impractical for a crossover SUV.

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is like an efficiency apartment that happens to be in a charming neighborhood. It’s a stylish, perky little crossover SUV that offers very little passenger and luggage space. If you’re thinking about one as a family car, think again. It's best considered as a two-seater with an expandable cargo bay, and the 2020 CX-3 earns a 5.7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

This year’s new CX-30 is, confusingly, larger and more powerful than the CX-3. We cover the 2020 CX-30 separately

The CX-3 lineup comes in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims, all of which are reasonably well equipped and powered by a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional, but the CX-3’s modest power output hardly overwhelms the front wheels in standard form. Crisp steering and a comfortable ride make for an unusually willing twisty road companion. The trim dimensions that make the CX-3 maneuverable in the city give it a cramped back seat and less trunk space than some convertibles, at least with the rear seat upright. Front-seat riders have comfortable seats and are surrounded by higher-end materials, though the infotainment system lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and its menu-intensive software is a constant frustration. 

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The CX-3 comes standard with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alert. A higher-speed automatic braking system with adaptive cruise control, active lane control and other active safety features is a reasonably priced option worth selecting. Crash-test scores have been good, though the headlights are dim in most trims. 

Fuel economy is a bright spot, making the CX-3 cheap to buy and inexpensive to run. As a value-oriented small crossover for those who would use a back seat for storage and pets and not humans, the CX-3 is a good choice.


2020 Mazda CX-3


The 2020 Mazda CX-3 looks like the tall hatchback that it is.

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 makes no effort to be a rugged off-roader. Its clean lines are cribbed from the last version of the automaker’s Mazda 3 hatchback, and they work well enough to earn the 2020 CX-3 at 7 out of 10.

The CX-3 has the same upright front end that we’ve come to like on other Mazdas, and careful attention to its sculpted body lines and intricate wheels gives it a pricier look than some of its comparatively downmarket rivals (we’re lookin’ at you, Ford EcoSport). Higher trims swap in 18-inch wheels that make a better show of the crossover’s shape, though be wary of their low-profile sidewalls. 

Inside, the CX-3's plain gauge cluster demonstrates that is the entry-level Mazda, though the overall design is cohesive and clean. The optional head-up display may tempt, but it’s less-than-legible and looks like an afterthought on the dash.

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2020 Mazda CX-3


Entertaining handling and reasonable grunt help elevate the 2020 Mazda CX-3 compared to other small crossovers.

Raised seating position aside, the 2020 Mazda CX-3 does a convincing impression of a compact hatchback. Its crisp steering pushes its performance to 6 out of 10. 

Mazda slots a 148-horsepower version of its 2.0-liter inline-4 under the CX-3’s hood and bolts up a 6-speed automatic transmission. Buyers need merely select between front- or all-wheel drive, while high-trim versions use paddle shifters. 

The 4-cylinder delivers adequate acceleration but it rumbles too much at low-speeds. Highway passing is acceptable thanks in part to the sub-3,000-pound curb weight in base trims. 

The CX-3 earns its chops in steering and suspension tuning. Retuning over the last few years has taken the edge out of bumps to provide for a more comfortable ride around town while retaining the crossover’s entertaining handling. Steering is sharp and engaging, more akin to a buttoned-down compact car than a high-riding ‘ute. 

Optional all-wheel drive adds some confidence in wet climates but doesn’t give the CX-3 anything resembling off-road credibility. The front-wheel-drive CX-3 handles the limited power provided by the inline-4 well enough that we’d strongly consider skipping all-wheel drive unless snow is a regular thing where you live.

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2020 Mazda CX-3

Comfort & Quality

Even for a small crossover, the 2020 Mazda CX-3 forces too many utility compromises.

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 rewards with its good handling, not its spacious interior. The rear seat is barely hospitable to adults, while cargo-hauling figures trail like-sized sedans and hatchbacks. We rate the 2020 CX-3 at just 3 out of 10, peeling back points for its dinky back seat and its minuscule cargo bay.

The CX-3 rides on a short 101-inch wheelbase that’s on the low end for a small crossover. Front-seat riders are treated to adequately comfortable thrones with decent adjustment for the driver but no lumbar adjustment except on the range-topping Grand Touring version. The second row offers up just 35 inches of leg room on paper, and arguably less in reality. The sloping roofline trims head room and pairs with a high belt line to make row two feel inhabitable for anyone taller than about 5-foot 5. 

Cargo space is laughably small, at least until you try to put a suitcase in. With the rear seat upright, the CX-3 can lug just 12.4 cubic feet, with a good portion of that above the window line. Fold the rear seats and that space grows to 44.5 cubes. 

The cabin may be cramped, but it is fairly well-finished. Soft materials on the dash and front door panels are a small step above what we expect at these price points, and the upholstery choices that range from standard cloth to synthetic leather to real hides punch above their weight class.

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2020 Mazda CX-3


Good collision-avoidance tech and above-average crash-test scores make the 2020 Mazda CX-3 a safe choice.

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 comes standard with features designed to prevent a collision at low speeds, which combines with good crash-test scores to help it earn a 7 out of 10 on our scale.

Last year, Mazda made automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alert standard fare across the CX-3 lineup. Full-speed automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and active lane control are available, while a head-up display can be had on the Grand Touring trim.

The NHTSA rated the CX-3 at five stars overall when it was last evaluated in 2018, at which time the feds noted that intrusion into the rear seat in the side-impact test was high enough to indicate a possible injury.

Independent testers at the IIHS rated the CX-3 a Top Safety Pick when fitted with the LED headlights exclusive to the Grand Touring. The halogen headlights on Sport and Touring trims rated “Poor.”


2020 Mazda CX-3


The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is light on features, so we’d stick with the reasonably-priced base Sport.

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is available in three trim levels that range from around $21,500 to nearly $30,000. That’s a wide range, and given its petite dimensions we would stick with the lowest-price version.

It's a 5 for features. What we give for a large touchscreen we take away for a fussy interface.

The CX-3 Sport leaves the factory with power features, cloth upholstery, alloy wheels, keyless ignition, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, plus basic collision-avoidance gear. 

A worthwhile option package adds full-speed automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a few other worthwhile bits. 

You could go all-in on the CX-3 Grand Touring for nearly $30,000, but we’re not swayed by its leather seats, power moonroof, Bose audio, head-up display, and 18-inch wheels. At that price point, Mazda’s own CX-5 is a far more compelling buy. 

The CX-3 is one of the few cars on the market without advanced Apple and Android smartphone compatibility. The automaker has been unusually slow to make Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available on its models, and that’s a shame since the built-in software is a menu-intensive chore to operate from the central control knob. The touchscreen is less distracting, but it doesn’t operate when the car is being driven.

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2020 Mazda CX-3

Fuel Economy

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 takes advantage of its modest power and light weight for good fuel economy.

Absent whiz-bang hybrid tech, the 2020 Mazda CX-3 earns its good fuel economy the old fashioned way. It’s a lightweight crossover and its small 4-cylinder engine doesn’t make a whole heap of power.

It’s not quick, but it’s frugal. Front-wheel-drive versions earn our 6 out of 10 with their 29 mpg city, 34 highway, 31 combined.

Opt for all-wheel drive and the CX-3 isn’t that much thirstier at 27/32/29 mpg. 

The CX-3 runs on regular unleaded fuel. 

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Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 3
Safety 7
Features 5
Fuel Economy 6
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