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2021 Mazda CX-3 Review

The 2021 Mazda CX-3 is an agile crossover with quick acceleration and good fuel economy, but it lands in the middle of our subcompact SUV rankings because of its lack of rear passenger space and limited cargo hold.

Pros & Cons

  • Athletic handling
  • Punch acceleration
  • Upscale interior
  • Long list of standard safety features
  • Below-average predicted reliability rating
  • Snug rear seat
  • Engine struggles at highway speeds
  • Small cargo space

New for 2021

  • Night vision pedestrian detection now standard
  • Improved automatic LED headlights

Rankings & Research

The 2021 Mazda CX-3's #8 ranking is based on its score within the Subcompact SUVs category. Currently the Mazda CX-3 has a score of 7.3 out of 10, which is based on our evaluation of 29 pieces of research and data elements using various sources.

7.3

Overall

Scorecard

Critics' Rating: 8.2
Performance: 8.2
Interior: 5.2
Safety:
This rating isn’t available yet for the current model year. In the meantime, last year’s rating of 9.8 for safety is being used to calculate this vehicle’s overall score.
TBD
Reliability:
J.D. Power Ratings Logo

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Is the Mazda CX-3 a Good SUV?

Yes, the Mazda CX-3 is a good subcompact SUV. With its precise steering and punchy acceleration, this fuel-efficient Mazda SUV offers one of the most engaging rides in the class. It boasts an upscale cabin with high-end materials and features a generally user-friendly infotainment system. 

That said, this Mazda has some flaws worth noting. Passenger space is limited, especially in the second row, and the cargo hold is quite sparse, even for the class. To top it off, the CX-3 earns a below-average predicted reliability rating. 

Why You Can Trust Us: 29 Reviews Analyzed

We don’t base our car reviews on our personal opinions. Instead, we combine the findings of professional test drivers with data such as reliability ratings and safety scores to give you a complete overview of every vehicle we rank.

This 2021 review incorporates applicable research for all models in this generation, which launched for 2016.

U.S. News Best Cars has been ranking and reviewing vehicles since 2007, and our staff has more than 75 years of combined experience in the auto industry. To ensure our objectivity, we never accept expensive gifts from carmakers, and an outside firm manages the ads on our site.

Should I Buy the Mazda CX-3?

The CX-3 is worth considering when shopping for a subcompact SUV, especially if you place a priority on performance. It carries a lower starting price tag than many rivals and comes with a long list of standard active safety features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and night vision with pedestrian detection. This Mazda also comes with standard tech goodies like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

If you value passenger room or cargo space, you may want to skip this Mazda SUV, as it falls short in these areas. Less expensive and better-ranked rivals like the Kia Soul and Hyundai Kona offer larger cargo holds, much more spacious interiors, and above-average predicted reliability ratings. If you want these attributes plus a similarly engaging performance, consider the CX-3’s slightly more expensive Mazda stablemate, the CX-30.

Find a 2021 Mazda CX-3 for sale near you »

2020 vs. 2021 Mazda CX-3: What's the Difference?

The only notable change Mazda made to the 2021 CX-3 is an upgrade to the standard automatic emergency braking system, which now comes with night pedestrian detection. Also, the CX-3’s automatic LED headlights received effectual improvements.

Compare the 2020 and 2021 CX-3 »

Here are the key changes for the Mazda CX-3 over the last few years:

  • 2018: gained standard automatic emergency braking; retuned suspension; heated steering wheel and power-adjustable driver’s seat became available
  • 2019: updated exterior styling; slight horsepower increase; more driver assistance features became standard
  • 2020: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto added to standard features list; several previously optional driver safety features became standard
  • 2021: updated automatic emergency braking system and improved automatic LED headlights

If you're considering an older model, be sure to read our 2018 Mazda CX-3, 2019 Mazda CX-3, and 2020 Mazda CX-3 reviews to help make your decision. Also, check out our Best New Car Deals and Best New Car Lease Deals pages to learn about savings and discounts you can find on new vehicles.

How Much Does the Mazda CX-3 Cost?

The Mazda CX-3 starts at $20,640. That’s slightly below the average starting price of class rivals. Adding the brand’s i-Activ all-wheel-drive system bumps the price to $22,040.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Mazda dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Mazda deals page.

Mazda CX-3 Versus the Competition

Mazda CX-3 vs. Honda HR-V

The Honda HR-V and the CX-3 finish neck and neck in our subcompact SUV rankings. The HR-V provides class-leading cargo volume, ample legroom in both rows, and superb gas mileage. This Honda touts fairly sporty handling to boot. The CX-3, while not as cavernous as the HR-V, provides great gas mileage too, and it drives with much more agility. The Mazda also carries a longer list of standard tech and safety features, which includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Both small crossovers have underwhelming engines and similar starting prices, so deciding between them will likely come down to preference.

Compare the CX-3 and HR-V »

Mazda CX-3 vs. Mazda CX-30

The Mazda CX-30 and CX-3 are like cousins in the same grade at the same school in the same classroom. They’re very similar. Both offer spry handling and interiors that border on luxurious. However, there are important differences. The CX-30 edges out the CX-3 in a few areas, such as rear-seat legroom and engine horsepower (186 versus 148). It earns great safety ratings and carries a higher predicted reliability rating too. The slightly less expensive CX-3 comes with more standard features like automatic climate control, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. Between these two Mazda SUVs, we suggest you consider spending the extra money on the more well-rounded CX-30.

Compare the CX-3 and CX-30 »

Compare the CX-3, HR-V, and CX-30 »

CX-3 Interior: Quality but Quite Cramped

CX-3 Cargo Space

The CX-3 has 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind its second-row seats and 42.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. Those figures pale in comparison to cavernous subcompact SUV competitors like the Honda HR-V and Kia Soul.

How Many People Does the CX-3 Seat?

Up to five people can sit in this Mazda. The front seats, while snug, are comfortable with enough leg- and headroom for 6-footers to stretch out. But that’s the extent of the CX-3’s seating positives. The rear-seat legroom is in very short supply, and headroom is barely adequate. Most reviews claim rear-seat passengers will have to duck their heads to get in and out of the SUV. Ultimately, the rear is better left for children.

CX-3 and Child Car Seats

There are two complete sets of LATCH connectors for the rear outboard seats and a tether anchor for the rear middle seat. The tether anchors are easy to find, but it may be difficult to reach the lower anchors because they are set deeply in the seats.

CX-3 Interior Quality

This Mazda’s interior sports a look of modern luxury. The cabin’s build quality is superb and features high-end materials with many soft-touch points.

CX-3 Infotainment, Bluetooth, and Navigation

The CX-3 features the Mazda Connect Infotainment system. The interface is generally user-friendly, but some functions may require multiple steps. You can control the system by using the responsive touch screen or a rotary knob located on the center console.

  • Standard infotainment features: a 7-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a six-speaker stereo, voice recognition, and a USB port
  • Additional standard features: automatic climate control
  • Other available features: an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, and interior ambient lighting

For more information, read What Is Apple CarPlay? and What Is Android Auto?

Read more about interior »

CX-3 Performance: The Little Engine That Does

CX-3 Engine

The CX-3 comes standard with a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. While not overly powerful, the CX-3 manages to get up to speed without too much hassle. However, passing vehicles on the freeway will require every bit of power this engine has, and it will make some noise under heavy strain.

CX-3 Gas Mileage

This small Mazda earns some of the best mpg ratings in the subcompact SUV class. With its standard front-wheel drive, it gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. Opting for an all-wheel-drive model drops those estimates by 2 mpg each.

CX-3 Ride and Handling

The CX-3 boasts the most athletic handling in the class. Sharp, responsive steering coupled with strong brakes help this Mazda take corners with comfort and ease. That said, the suspension can feel somewhat stiff, and large road blemishes don’t go unnoticed when passing over them.

Read more about performance »

CX-3 Reliability

Is the Mazda CX-3 Reliable?

The 2021 Mazda CX-3 has a below-average predicted reliability rating of 2.5 out of five.

Mazda CX-3 Warranty

Mazda covers the CX-3 with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Read more about reliability »

CX-3 Safety

CX-3 Crash Test Results

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2021 Mazda CX-3 an overall safety rating of five out of five stars. The CX-3 received five stars in the frontal and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover evaluation. Notably, during side crash testing, the vehicle’s door panel struck the rear passenger-side occupant hard enough to possibly cause serious thoracic injury.

As of this writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not tested the 2021 Mazda CX-3.

CX-3 Safety Features

Standard advanced safety features:

  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Day and night pedestrian detection
  • Forward collision warning
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Rear cross traffic alert
  • Lane departure warning
  • Automatic high-beam headlights
  • Adaptive LED headlights
  • Rearview camera
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
  • Head-up display
  • Stop-and-go adaptive cruise control

Available advanced safety features:

  • Rear parking sensors

Read more about safety »

CX-3 Dimensions and Weight

The CX-3 is 14 feet long. Its curb weight ranges from 2,851 to 2,994 pounds.

Where Is the 2021 Mazda CX-3 Built?

Mazda builds the 2021 CX-3 in Japan.

Which Mazda CX-3 Model Is Right for Me?

The 2021 Mazda CX-3 only comes in a single trim: Sport. With the advent of its CX-30 stablemate, Mazda consolidated many of the CX-3’s previous trim offerings into the single Sport trim. This means it comes standard with a bevy of standard tech and safety features which makes it far better equipped than most rivals’ base models. A punchy four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel are standard. AWD is available for an extra $1,400.

Pricing on the CX-3 Sport trim starts at $20,640. Standard features include cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, manually adjustable front seats, remote keyless entry, and push-button start. It also carries standard tech features like an infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen, six speakers, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a USB port, and voice recognition.

By making the i-Activsense suite standard, Mazda has packed the CX-3 Sport to the brim with safety features. These include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, day and night pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam LED headlights, adaptive headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a head-up display, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a rearview camera.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Mazda dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Mazda deals page.

See 2021 Mazda CX-3 specs and trims »

The Final Call

The 2021 Mazda CX-3 is one of the most athletic and fun-to-drive subcompact SUVs on the market. It boasts a substantial list of standard safety features and gets excellent fuel economy. That said, if you covet cargo room, passenger space, or a powerful engine, we recommend you shop around the class.

Don't just take our word for it. Check out comments from some of the reviews that drive our rankings and analysis.

  • "The 2021 Mazda CX-3 remains one of the more enjoyable subcompact SUV/crossovers, thanks to its excellent seating position and sporty well-tuned suspension. The cabin also exudes quality. There’s not a lot of space for rear passengers and cargo, however." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "What might cause a buyer to cross the CX-3 off their shortlist is that many competitors offer gutsier engines, more features and roomier interiors. Mazda addressed this with the introduction of the slightly larger and new-for-last-year Mazda CX-30, but doing so has reduced the CX-3 to an entry-level model. However, for those who don’t care and/or don’t need anything more, the 2021 CX-3 remains compelling. One more plus, the basic price hasn’t changed from last year." -- Autotrader
  • "The CX-3 is also handsome all over with sharp-looking bodywork and an equally attractive interior. Sure, Mazda's four-cylinder engine can be noisy at times, but even with available all-wheel drive it delivers impressive fuel economy. While some of its rivals are also attractive and even more useful, the … CX-3 will satisfy people who prefer to think with their hearts not their heads." -- Car and Driver (2020)

Buying

Expert Advice

Last Updated: October 23, 2020

Poor Sales: The CX-3 is currently among the slowest-selling options in the subcompact SUV class, and Mazda dealerships have moved 40.5 percent fewer models so far this year compared to the same period in 2019. The recent introduction of its new subcompact sibling, the CX-30, is likely one of the reasons for the CX-3 sales downturn; the CX-30 is already outselling the CX-3 by nearly 4 to 1. 

Research more buying advice »
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