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Mazda CX-3 2020 review: Maxx Sport FWD

The CX-3 Maxx Sport is now available from $26,490 drive-away.

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Urban score

4/5

At one point in the past few weeks I was testing two cars at the same time: one was a big, hardcore seven-seat SUV and the other was a Mazda CX-3. Both were sitting out the front of my flat in Sydney’s Inner West but do you know which was my go-to car just about every day?

Yep, the Mazda CX-3. See, I live in the city and as much as I love tough, go-anywhere trucks I didn’t really want to take the hardcore seven-seater when I was just going to the shops, or doing the preschool drop off, or anywhere I needed to park. The tiny Mazda SUV was just easier to drive because it was smaller.

So, is that it for the urban review of the CX-3 Maxx Sport, then? Small = good urban car? Case closed? Let’s hit the showers? Not so fast, there. Here’s what you should know, plus a few things I learned about the CX-3 Maxx Sport when it came to stay with me.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

There are five grades in the Mazda CX-3 range and the Maxx Sport sits a rung above the entry-point into that line-up with a list price of $24,650. That’s for the front-wheel drive version with an automatic transmission, so if you want all-wheel drive you’ll pay another $4K.

If your CX-3 is going to spend the vast majority of its time performing urban duties, the front-wheel drive version (as tested) is the way to go. 

The Maxx Sport doesn’t sit very high in the range, but don’t worry, it has plenty of features. Besides, by stepping up to higher grade you’ll start paying quite a lot of money for pretty much the same car and get stuff you really don’t need.

If you’re going to spend $5K more, you may as well buy the larger CX-30 SUV and get more car for your money.

Coming standard are auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, a leather steering wheel and gear knob, climate control, sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, a 7.0-inch touch screen, a digital radio, a six-speaker stereo and fabric seats. There’s also some great advanced safety tech you can read about below.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing here, but you can expect them to be added to the CX-3 in late 2020.

If you’re looking for a model comparison, also check out the Honda HR-V VTi and the Hyundai Kona Go, for about the same money.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Mazda CX-3’s name could trick you into thinking it was the same size as a Mazda3 hatch, but it’s a lot smaller and really the SUV version of the tiny Mazda2 and shares that car’s platform.

It’s longer than the Mazda2 and being an SUV you sit higher and have more ground clearance, as well.

The dimensions show the CX-3 to be 4275mm long, 1765mm wide and 1535mm tall.  

The CX-3 is 4275mm long, 1765mm wide and 1535mm tall.   The CX-3 is 4275mm long, 1765mm wide and 1535mm tall.  

That makes it easy to park, but it could be too small for you inside. You can read about the practicality below.

Mazda knows how to make a good-looking car regardless of its size and the little CX-3 has a similar face with the long nose and broad grille, along with the flowing lines and curves of the rest of the Mazda family.

Mazda knows how to make a good-looking car regardless of its size. Mazda knows how to make a good-looking car regardless of its size.

You can pick a Maxx Sport from the higher grades because it doesn’t get small garnishes such the silver trim along the side skirts in the STouring, and it has smaller 16-inch alloy wheels, but at least it doesn’t have hub caps like base grade.

The black plastic side skirts might not have silver linings, but they’re chunky enough to stop other car doors from dinging your doors, and those wheel guards are made of the same stuff. So, if you nudge a wall it’s not going to be an expensive-to-fix metal-on-concrete scrape or start to rust if you leave it.

The black plastic side skirts are chunky enough to stop other car doors from dinging your doors. The black plastic side skirts are chunky enough to stop other car doors from dinging your doors.

It’s just hard-wearing, rubbery plastic and so is the front lip, which often bumps into gutters. That dodgem car style of protection is great for the city.

Mazda is probably the best of the affordable brands at making an interior look and feel premium. Even though there are fabric seats, they don’t feel cheap and neither does anything else in there, from the air vents to the steering wheel, it’s a stylish cabin with a great fit and finish.

How practical is the space inside?

Okay, I reckon the editor of CarsGuide enjoys seeing me test little cars because I’m built like Big Bird and I’m kind of the worst case scenario test for cabin space, you know – if I fit into it, then pretty much anyone will.

Well, even though I’m 1.9m (6'3") tall, with a 2.0m wingspan,  and the CX-3 is only just over 1.7m wide it doesn’t feel like I’m sitting in one of those rides outside a shopping centre when I’m driving. Nope, up front the space is good, with plenty of elbow-, leg-, and headroom.

The front the space is good, with plenty of elbow-, leg-, and headroom. The front the space is good, with plenty of elbow-, leg-, and headroom.

It’s the back seats which are tight. I can’t sit behind my driving position. And to prove it’s not just because I have 110cm long legs (yes, I measured them), my wife had to move her front passenger seat all the way forward to accommodate my five-year-old son in his car seat behind her.

The back seat space is tight. The back seat space is tight.

Okay, he’s pretty lanky, too. But trust me, the CX-3 is much better suited to somebody who’s not going to have people in the back all the time.

If you’re thinking about using the CX-3 as an Uber or a ride share car you’ll be unlikely to get many five-star ratings from your cramped clients.

The boot is tiny at 264 litres. The boot is tiny at 264 litres.

They’ll also have to leave their luggage at home because the boot is tiny at 264 litres. I tried to fit the CarsGuide pram in, but I almost had to tie a red rag to it because it was hanging out the back - take a look at the images.

The CarsGuide pram didn't quite fit in the boot. The CarsGuide pram didn't quite fit in the boot.

On the bright side, the CX-3 is a hatch and that means you can fold those rear seats down, take out the cargo cover and you’ve got way more cargo capacity.

Still we managed to fit our week’s shopping in there and it was just big enough to get our scooters in for trips to the park.

Cabin storage is good, though, with four cupholders (two in the rear and two up front), decent-sized bottle holders in the doors, a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat and a hidey hole in front of the shifter.

The centre console storage area has a clever design that lets you change the space inside, although, because it’s not fully covered I was a bit hesitant to leave valuables in there. Living in the city, cars are broken into if you leave a $2 coin in plain view.

Back seat passengers will feel like they’ve been forgotten again, with the lack of air vents there, and they won’t find a USB port either (the only USB port is in the front).

Urban folks like me who want wireless charging will be disappointed. The USB ports aren’t the new Type C ones either, and that meant I had to hunt around for an old cable to plug in my iPhone 11.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

There’s only one engine in the Mazda CX-3 range – the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and it makes 110kW/195Nm.

Some bigger cars have engines which make less grunt and the larger Mazda3 has the same 2.0-litre, so for a small car the CX-3 has more than enough mumbo.

The CX-3 Maxx Sport has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and it makes 110kW/195Nm. The CX-3 Maxx Sport has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and it makes 110kW/195Nm.

The transmission is a six-speed auto, a real automatic, not a CVT or a DSG, so there’s no roll-back on hills and good acceleration without any drone.

The engine/transmission combo in the CX-3 is a great one. The only issue is, you’ll have to shovel it more fuel than you think. Read about that below.

How much fuel does it consume?

Mazda says if you were to stick to just urban driving the front-wheel drive CX-3  should use 7.7L/100km. That’s pretty thirsty for a little car and in my own testing, just driving around town, the trip computer was always hovering around the mid-sevens.

Over a combination of open and urban roads Mazda says fuel economy is better at 6.3L/100km. I did a 25km stint on the motorway after a week of urban driving and that dropped the average fuel consumption from the mid-sevens to 6.0L/100km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Mazda CX-3 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015.

Even the Maxx Sport grade comes equipped with great advanced safety tech. There’s AEB which works forwards at speeds between four-80km/h and in reverse at two-eight km/h car park speeds, blind spot warning, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and rear cross traffic alert.

A space saver spare wheel is under the boot floor. A space saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.

For child seats there are three top tether points and two ISOFIX points across the second row. 

A space saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.

What's it like to drive around town?

People will honk at you. The wing mirrors will take getting used to. There are no front parking sensors and the reversing camera picture isn’t great. But apart from those things, the CX-3 Maxx Sport is great to drive in the city.

The wing mirrors will take getting used to. The wing mirrors will take getting used to.

Great because the engine is gruntier than it needs to be, and the transmission is smooth in slow traffic, the combination delivering good acceleration when you need to move quickly.

Then there’s the dynamics. The CX-3 is nimble and has good body control, and nobody in my family complained about the ride comfort (and they do, if it’s not good).

Steering is excellent. You’ll feel connected, and the turning circle isn’t bad at 10.6m. Finally, the car's small size makes it easy to park, dodge and weave in the concrete jungle I call home.

The CX-3 is nimble and has good body control. The CX-3 is nimble and has good body control.

Now about the honking. The CX-3 is a little car and it’s odd how other motorists treat small car drivers.

The last time somebody honked at me in the big off-roader I was testing was… never. As for the CX-3, the last time was 10 minutes ago, out the front of my house, while stationery. I kid you not.

The good news is, you’re in an SUV and not something as small as a Mazda2. So, not only does that give you a slightly elevated ride height, but there’s still somebody smaller that you can honk at.

The wing mirrors are a Mazda thing. You’ll notice when you use them that the reflection seems magnified, like Hubble Space telescope magnified. I’m not a fan, but it’s not unsafe and I became more used to it over the week.

The lack of front parking sensors isn’t a biggie with a car this small, but the CX-3 does have quite a long beak and I it was hard sometimes to tell where it ended when parking.

And last, the reversing camera. The picture isn’t great, and I found it almost useless. Luckily, parking sensors are better for maneuvering into a space. Plus, there’s AEB that works while reversing and rear cross traffic alert.

Seriously if you actually reverse into something in the CX-3, you’ve probably achieved the impossible.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The CX-3 is covered by Mazda’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.  

Servicing is recommended annually or every 10,000km with the first service capped at $330, then $390, then back to $330, alternating like that all the way through to the fifth.

The Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport is an excellent choice for an urban car because it’s small size makes it easy to park and maneuver in tight spaces. It’s fun to drive, with an engine that’s got plenty of oomph for around town or even on the open road, and its safety tech is excellent for the city. But you’ll have to make a few compromises. The CX-3’s boot is small, the rear seats have limited legroom, and you might find it will use more fuel than you’d expect from a little car.

So, as a daily driver and as an urban car the CX-3 Maxx Sport scores well.

Is the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport the best car for the city, or is there better? Tell us what you think in the comments.

$26,650

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Urban score

4/5