2021 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD – The Smallest Adventure

2021 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD

2021 Mazda CX-3

2021 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD may not be the newest entry in the subcompact SUV segment, but it has been heavily updated throughout the years. It is no surprise that SUVs and Crossovers have a big market share, and it is also applicable for Mazda. Mazda currently has 4 different crossovers, CX-9, CX-5, CX-30 and CX-3. Although the model names can be confusing for some people, CX-3 is the smallest entry in Mazda’s SUV lineup.

The current generation CX-3 is actually the first generation, which is released in 2016. In its first year of production, Mazda won the 2016 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year. Like the other Mazda models, it is made in Japan and it shares the platform with Mazda 2. It has been refreshed in 2018 and Mazda added more features every year. Let’s see how the 2021 Mazda CX-3 performs after 6 years.

Exterior and Interior


Hard to believe this is a 7-year-old platform, but it still looks fresh

Like the other Mazda models, the 2021 Mazda CX-3 has a traditional Mazda design in every angle. It is the best-looking subcompact crossover even this design is almost 7 years old. It comes with a big front grille that goes through the front headlights, and nice body lines go from the hood all the way back to the rear doors.

The rear design looks very attractive as the rest of the car

Like the front design, the rear end also looks uniquely Mazda. It has nice attractive body lines coming from the front, big taillights, big logo in the middle. As it is a subcompact crossover, it has unpainted parts all around the car, which makes it look more rugged. It comes with 100% dual exhaust tips, which makes the car look more sporty and we appreciate the fact that Mazda uses real dual exhaust tips even in their smallest entry.

Although you get more hard plastics compared to CX-5, it has a lot of common parts used in other Mazda models

Although the interior of the CX-3 hasn’t changed since it is released in 2016, it still doesn’t look too old. There are some parts that look old, like the small infotainment screen, but for the price range, I think this is totally acceptable. You also would not find a lot of soft-touch plastics like the other Mazda models, as this is a budget small platform. The overall layout is pretty easy and everything has physical buttons.

2021 Mazda CX-3 still uses traditional shifter column and media/infotainment buttons are placed in the center console

Probably the biggest reason why it sells less than its bigger entries like the CX-30 and CX-5 is the overall interior space. As soon as you sit in the rear seat, you realize it is not a crossover for bigger families or adults in the rear. It has a 35 inch rear legroom space, and when the seats are all the way back, there is not enough space for an adult. There is no problem in terms of overall headroom space, which is surprising for this size of a vehicle.

Rear legroom is not the strongest selling point of CX-3

Like the rear seats, CX-3 does not have large cargo accommodation. It has 17.8 cubic feet (504 lt) of cargo space behind the rear seats, which can go up to 44.5 cubic feet (1260 lt) if the rear seats are down. Also, it does not come with 40/20/40 split rear seats like the CX-5. If your priority is a cargo and rear space, you should consider CX-30 or CX-5, but CX-3 is definitely good for small families or daily driving.

As this is a subcompact SUV, it does not have a lot of cargo space

Engine and Drivetrain

2021 Mazda CX-3 comes with only one engine and two different transmission options. It comes with a 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine that produces 148 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. There is one automatic transmission available, which is a torque converted 6-speed and used in other Mazda models. You can get the manual transmission, but it is available only in base trim.

2021 Mazda CX-3 has only one engine option, which is a 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine that makes 148 horsepower

In today’s standards, 148 horsepower may not sound impressive, but the Skyactiv-G engine is tuned mostly for low-end torque, and it is quite peppy at lower speeds. Due to its overall size and weight, it has great fuel economy numbers. Our average was 7.5L / 100 km, which is quite impressive for an All-Wheel Drive vehicle.

Driving Impressions and Features

Although it is a pretty old platform, there are good things to mention. Overall space may not be the strongest selling point of the CX-3, because it is focused more on driving experience rather than practicality. There are important things that need to be noted by the other manufacturers. First and foremost, it has a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission that is extremely rare in this segment. The transmission feels great, maybe not as smooth as CVT, but definitely a solid platform that is used in many other Mazda models.

2021 Mazda CX-3 may not be the largest entry, but definitely a great option for smaller families

Unlike many other entries, it comes with paddle shifters that you can choose the right gear for your driving style, it is quite impressive that it has paddle shifters, considering many SUVs do not come with it, especially for this price range. Another “sporty” feature that CX-3 has is the RPM gauge that is located in the middle, with a digital speedometer on the side.

That sportiness is also the same in terms of suspension tune, it is definitely on the stiffer side which you feel over the big bumps. That doesn’t mean it is uncomfortable, but Mazda prioritizes the driving dynamics while still having a good level of comfort. Also, bigger rims that come with GT trim doesn’t help absorbing road imperfections, but you need to choose either better looks or a better ride in this case.

The suspension tune is a perfect match with the overall characteristics of the CX-3

As mentioned, 148 horsepower is not impressive by any means, and it can be sluggish at highway speeds. The Skyactiv-G engine has impressive torque at the low RPM but it dies down quite a bit at higher RPMs. This engine does not like revving too much, as it won’t go over 6500 RPM. The most usable torque is under 4000 RPM, where you use it the most and it makes sense to focus on low and midrange for daily driving.

RPM gauge is located in the center, which makes it look very sporty

Although I enjoyed driving the CX-3 as a daily driver, there are some things that feel you are on a budget platform. Actually, the tire and road noise isn’t too bad, but there is an excessive engine noise that gets into the cabin. If you drive in the city, it should not be a big deal, but when you are on the highway and constantly revving over 3000 RPM, you easily hear the engine noise and this should have been improved after 7 years.

CX-3 has the older infotainment system but it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Feature-wise, it is not bad at all. Though our tester is the top trim called “GT”, it comes with pretty neat features such as electric powered seats with memory function, adaptive cruise, head-up display, heated steering wheel and so on. Mazda decided not to update the infotainment system like the rest of their model lineup, so this one gets the old infotainment system but it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  Like the other Mazda models, you can’t use a touchscreen while the car is moving, so you have to use the buttons and rotating knob which can sometimes be annoying.

Pricing and the Verdict

Our expectations were not as high as other bigger Mazda models, since this is an entry-level crossover that is focused more on price-sensitive smaller families or individuals. As expected, there are some flaws that show it is a budget platform, such as the engine noise, suspension refinement, or older infotainment platform but those are acceptable considering the starting price is just above the $20,000 mark. There are some decent features that are surprisingly available even in the most affordable model in Mazda’s 2021 lineup, including adaptive cruise, memory seats and so on, as long as you are okay with paying the premium.

2021 Mazda CX-3 is a great subcompact SUV if you are prioritizing driving dynamics and build quality

2021 Mazda CX-3 may not use the newest technology or best drivetrain option, it is still a great option if you are looking for a reliable crossover that can also offer great features and driving dynamics. If you prioritize bigger interior or cargo space, this may not be the most suitable option, but you can always step up to CX-30 or CX-5 if you need more space. 2021 Mazda CX-3 starts at $21,450 CAD and our tester (GT AWD) is priced at $33,331 with the standard All Wheel Drive.

The biggest question is: Is it worth spending almost $35.000 for a subcompact SUV? This is not a specific problem for the 2021 Mazda CX-3, but for all subcompact crossovers. For a similar price range, you can get a mid-trim CX-30 or CX-5 which seems like a better value. The answer is, you need to decide whether you need more features from your daily driver, or need more space for family hauling.

For pricing and equipment details of our tester, please see the window sticker below:


For more details, please visit www.mazda.ca

Article and photos by Dan Gunay