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Inside the 2021 Mazda CX-3: A Small But Mighty SUV

6 minute read

By Devon Taylor

The subcompact 2021 Mazda CX-3 is the smallest SUV in the company’s line-up. However, you might not realize just how small the CX-3 is, given its upscale cabin, cool exterior styling, and the fact that this SUV is extremely fun to drive. The CX-3 should also appeal to those who prefer a traditional sedan. That’s because its seating height is very similar to that found in the Mazda 3.

A 146-horsepower four-cylinder engine makes the newest CX-3 lively. The optional all-wheel drive function kicks the experience up a notch, too. While cargo and passenger space are somewhat constrained compared to larger SUVs, you can probably look past that issue if you’re shopping for a smaller SUV. If that sounds like you, the CX-3 is a peppy and well-designed SUV for you to consider.

Exterior Styling

When it comes to exterior styling, Mazda has made no real changes to the CX-3 for 2021. The CX-3 basically looks exactly as it was in 2020. Hopefully, Mazda will provide some exterior adjustments or enhancements for the 2022 model. For now, you’ll have to be content with a CX-3 that continues to impress aesthetically.

The lack of change isn’t exactly a bad thing, though. The sleek, angular appearance that features an elongated hood and oversized wheel wells still wraps the CX-3 in a classy package.

Source: Mazda

Engine and Performance

Under the CX-3’s hood sits a 2.0-liter, 146-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It can this SUV from 0-to-60 mph in 8.1 seconds when driven in all-wheel-drive. The engine has been knocked by some critics for being “loud” and “coarse.”

That said, the CX-3 boasts one of the most powerful engines in its class. That loud engine makes the CX-3 among the most fun-to-drive subcompact SUVs on the market today. It has a springy chassis, well-controlled body roll, and the suspension has been labeled “masterful.” It all combines for a swift and easy to drive SUV.

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Trimlines and Prices

The Mazda CX-3 comes in just two trims — Sport and Sport AWD. No bonus points for guessing the main difference between the two trims.

Sport

Standard features on the base CX-3 model include a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, automatic climate control, automated emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, a heads-up display, and lane departure warning. It starts at $21,965.

Source: Mazda

Sports AWD

As the name implies, the only difference with the more expensive trim is adding AWD. The cost jumps up to $23,140 — a fairly small price to pay for all-wheel drive capability. It does drop the fuel efficiency slightly, but that’s to be expected.

Both models seat five people, although full-sized adults may feel a bit cramped in the back seat. The cabin itself was well-received, with reviewers praising the simple design and quality materials.

Source: Mazda

Interior

As mentioned earlier, the CX-3’s well constructed cabin feels completely upscale. Its comfortable and straightforward driving position makes it easy to settle into for an extended drive. It’s true that the rear passenger space and cargo area are limited, which reduces its practicality to a degree. Nevertheless, if you appreciate simplicity, you’ll love the CX-3’s cabin.

The engineers at Mazda have chosen textured plastics, soft leather, and bright chrome detailing to make the interior of this SUV feel modern and luxurious. As with its rear passenger space, the CX-3 cargo room is limited. Behind its back seat, three carry-on suitcases can be squeezed in. A total of 12 carry-on bags can be crammed in the cargo space with the rear seats folded down. If you routinely pack a lot into your car for soccer practice or camping trips, you might need to shop for something larger. However, the CX-3 is a great SUV for anyone who doesn’t need all that extra room.

Source: Mazda

Technology

When it comes to technology and safety features, the CX-3 comes with a standard seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included. A rotary-knob controller is on the center console to prevent screen smudging. It also eliminates the need to reach forward to operate the system while driving.

A head-up display is included and provides information such as speed and navigation to the driver. Additional technology packages include an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, rear parking sensors, and upgraded interior accent lighting.

Source: Mazda

Safety

Safety conscious consumers will be happy to hear that the CX-3 has earned excellent crash-test ratings. It received a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It was also dubbed a “Top Safety Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The CX-3 comes standard with automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, some of the more recent advanced safety features aren’t included here — even as an extra option. Then again, this is a brand new SUV for under $25,000, so you can’t expect it to have every single bell and whistle on the market.

Source: Mazda

Warranty Coverage

Mazda’s warranty coverage is comparable to most of its competitors. The standard warranty includes coverage for three years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain warranty is good for five years or 60,000 miles.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Mazda CX-3 does not come with any complimentary scheduled maintenance. Overall, the CX-3’s warranty coverage is adequate, but nothing that blows us away.

Source: Mazda

Fuel Economy

The CX-3 impresses with its overall fuel efficiency. The standard front-wheel drive model’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated driving range is 29 MPG when driven in the city and 34 MPG on the highway.

That puts the CX-3 near the top of its class. The optional all-wheel drive model sees those numbers predictable drop a bit, to 27 city MPG and 32 highway MPG.

Source: Mazda

The Good

There’s plenty to love about the CX-3, especially now that you can likely find a slightly used model for less than the retail starting price. Mazda is one of the most reliable auto brands, so this compact SUV provides plenty of bang for your buck.

Source: Mazda

The Not-So-Good

Unfortunately, Mazda has somewhat abandoned the CX-3 in 2022. Even the 2021 model didn’t receive any real improvements over previous models, as Mazda had already decided to wind down production. That means that the price stayed very attractive, but some critics felt the 2021 model was basically phoned in by Mazda before they retired the model altogether.

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The Last Word

Aside from its limited interior space, there’s not much to criticize the 2021 CX-3 for. The subcompact SUV delivers on nearly all fronts. From its engine performance and its tech, to the safety features and its exceptional fuel efficiency. All of that for a super competitive price. The newest CX-3 is likely to appeal to anyone who wants a fun, responsive, and stylish SUV.

On the other hand, if you’re concerned about shuttling your large family around, you might want to consider these other SUV options. Competitively priced and good on gas, the CX-3 is a segment leader in many key areas. Mazda has done well with this latest version of its smallest SUV.

Source: Mazda

Devon Taylor

Managing Editor

Devon is an experienced writer and a father of three young children. He's simultaneously trying to build college funds and plan for an eventual retirement. He's been in online publishing since 2013 and has a degree from the University of Guelph. In his free time, he loves fanatically following the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, running, camping with his family, and playing video games.

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