Mazda's 2019 upgrade for the CX-3 sTouring sprinkles some classy garnish on an already attractive package, though its compromises still remain.
The car you see here is the 'new' and 'updated' Mazda CX-3, released toward the end of last year. We won't blame you if you're struggling to see any differences on face value.
However, that seems to be the point of this 2019 model-year upgrade: dressing up an already handsome offering to keep it fresh against an ever-increasing number of crossovers, in what is one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry.
In Australia, Mazda's smallest crossover is consistently one of the top three sellers in the small-SUV class, and when you consider its healthy equipment levels and youthful aesthetics, it's not hard to see why.
For 2019, the CX-3 has been given a minor refresh including a new grille insert, revised LED tail-lights for upper-spec variants, an updated interior with fancier trimmings, along with tweaks to both the petrol and turbo-diesel powertrain options.
Here on test we have the CX-3 sTouring fitted with the 2.0-litre petrol engine and front-wheel drive, which kicks off at $27,790 before on-road costs. The six-speed automatic in our tester brings that starting price up to a smidgen under $30K – at $29,790 plus ORCs.
The only cost options available for the CX-3 are a pair of special paints, one being the Machine Grey metallic you see here – adding $300 for an as-tested ticket of $30,090 before on-roads for the car you see here.
For that spend, you get features like 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights all round, Maztex (leatherette) and cloth upholstery, and a head-up display.
That's on top of equipment carried over from lower grades like a 7.0-inch MZD Connect infotainment system with satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, auto-folding exterior mirrors with heating, a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, cruise control, and keyless entry with push-button start.
As for active safety features, the sTouring gets autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (4–80km/h) along with reverse AEB, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control with stop&go function remain exclusive to the top-spec Akari trim, priced from $32,790.
The aforementioned driver-assistance features are in addition to the CX-3's dual front, side and curtain airbags, along with the usual suite of electronic aids, all contributing to the Mazda's (2015 stamped) five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Since there's not much to talk about on the outside, let's skip straight to getting in the driver's seat.
One of the most notable changes in the MY19 CX-3 range is the redesigned centre console area, which sees the addition of an electric park brake and a centre armrest for the first time. Additionally, the removal of the manual handbrake has freed up more room for storage cubbies, including adjustable cupholders and a small bin underneath that new armrest.
It's a far more organised and thoughtful arrangement compared to the somewhat basic and cheapo set-up of the outgoing model, and the padded leatherette trimmings surrounding the centre tunnel that double up as knee rests add to a more premium ambience.
Beyond that, the only other noticeable changes are the contrasting grey faux-leather trims on the door inserts and on the dashboard fascia, which do well to break up the otherwise black-on-black interior colour scheme.
Up front, the driver and passenger are treated to comfortable and supportive seats, with the former offering plenty of manual adjustment to help find that perfect driving position. The sTouring lacks the lumbar adjustment available on the Akari's leather-trimmed pews, though, which might be worth taking into consideration if you have a bad back.
It's worth noting the driving position is more hatch-like than high-riding crossover, which will be a plus or a minus for some. This reviewer likes the low-slung, even sporty perch – but not everyone will agree.
Despite its compact dimensions, the CX-3 feels relatively airy and spacious up front, with good outward vision and a decent amount of head room. The leather-trimmed steering wheel is nice to look at and feels great in the hand, also featuring all the necessary buttons and switches laid out in an ergonomic fashion.
Something that this reviewer appreciates is the use of attractive and expensive-looking dials positioned ahead of the driver, with a large central rev counter featuring a digital speedometer readout that looks akin to a high-end Japanese sports watch.
The supplementary LCD displays on either side can be toggled to show trip computer information along with an external thermometer – unchanged from the previous model, but nice touches no less.
Atop the instruments is a head-up display, which is projected onto a flip-up polariser rather than directly onto the windscreen. The colour display shows more information than models of old, including speed, navigation, safety systems and speed sign information – again an upmarket touch.
Speaking of displays, the 7.0-inch MZD system isn't very different from the one that the CX-3 launched with several years ago, but continues to be fairly simple to use – via touch inputs or the rotary dial and buttons on the centre console.
However, Bluetooth audio streaming occasionally runs into bugs, and there's no standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto despite its more youthful focus, though the latter should be rectified shortly and is retrofittable.
Things aren't as flash in the back, however. While Mazda has made some improvements on some of the CX-3's interior complaints at the front of the cabin, the tight back seat and lack of amenities remain key complaints – which could be a make or break for some buyers who require the second row.
Leg and knee room are quite limited for even average-sized adults, and the skinny body means that sitting three across is just asking for complaints.
There are no rear air vents either, though a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders means two adults can travel in relative comfort provided they aren't too tall.
Behind that second row is another weak point for the CX-3, in the form of a below-average 264L boot. Parents will struggle to fit a larger pram in the back, for example, though it's fine for small to medium shopping runs or the kids' sports gear.
The adjustable boot floor means you can maximise volume or have a flush-sitting flat load bay, and the volume expands to a more usable 1174L with the rear seats folded. Regardless, it's one of the smallest boots in the class.
It's not like the small boot is hiding a full-size spare wheel either, because all versions of the CX-3 get a temporary space-saver spare wheel – though this isn't unusual for the class, we add.
On the road, the CX-3's fun-to-drive nature and sporty characteristics continue to be its strong points, being one of the most pleasant vehicles to drive within its segment.
The steering is beautifully weighted and has a linear and direct feel to it – so you have an accurate idea of what the front wheels are doing as you apply lock. It's a little on the lighter side, but that helps make parking easy, despite the thick C-pillars, though the big and magnified side mirrors can take a bit of getting used to when judging gaps for lane changes.
In terms of the ride and handling, the CX-3 remains supple enough to absorb the lumps and bumps of inner-city roads, while also being firm enough to not feel like it's going to topple over in the bends. The little Mazda offers a very car-like driving experience, for what it's worth, and despite the front-wheel drivetrain you don't feel like you're lacking grip.
Under the bonnet of our tester is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 110kW at 6000rpm and 195Nm at 2800rpm – a whole kilowatt and three Newton-metres over the outgoing model.
You won't feel the incremental output increases in day-to-day driving, but the free-revving nature of the engine and intuitive six-speed torque converter automatic do a good job at getting the CX-3 up to speed in a timely manner. Although, it still lacks the low-down urge we're getting used to from the turbocharged engines of some rivals.
The petrol engine is also a little unrefined at times, sounding rather rough and loud after a cold start, and can get a little thrashy if you plant your right foot. For most people, though, it'll do the job just fine.
Speaking of refinement, road noise is a niggling issue that continues to plague the CX-3, despite Mazda assuring it has made changes under the skin to improve sound insulation. It's particularly noticeable over coarse roads, though it's not an anomaly for the segment – we just reckon it could be better.
As for fuel consumption, we managed an indicated 7.9L/100km over some 520km of mixed driving conditions, including five days of peak-hour traffic to and from the office. It's a bit higher than Mazda's 6.3L/100km combined claim, but it's a respectable real-world figure no less considering some rivals return low- to mid-nines with more urban driving.
Helping the CX-3 achieve this figure is idle stop/start technology, and as usual Mazda's implementation is quick to start up and engage the transmission without any real hesitation.
From an ownership perspective, the CX-3 range is covered by Mazda Australia's recently introduced five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with scheduled maintenance required every 12 months or 10,000km – something worth noting if you do a lot of annual mileage.
The first five service visits (60 months or 50,000km, whichever comes first) will set you back $303, $360, $303, $360 and $303 respectively, making for a total of $1629 for that period – affordable, but not class-leading.
Worth noting is the above prices don't include the brake fluid ($65) and cabin air filter ($86), which both require replacement every 40,000km, or two years for the former.
All up, the 2019 Mazda CX-3 sTouring makes small if welcome changes to what is already a stylish, well featured and good-value offering. While some will criticise the lack of rear seat and luggage space, the CX-3 is really designed for singles or empty-nesters that want the SUV looks without the bulky dimensions.
It continues to stand out as a looker amongst some of the more quirky designs in the segment, while offering a relatively upmarket-feeling cabin. Add to that the new five-year warranty, and owning a Mazda has never appealed so much.
For us, the sTouring and lower-spec Maxx grades in front-wheel-drive petrol trim are the picks of the range for value depending on how much kit you want – so if you want the top-of-the-range looks without the price tag, the sTouring is the CX-3 for you.