Monday, November 28, 2022
Reviews 2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD Review: The Right First New Car

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD Review: The Right First New Car

Well-appointed, stylish, affordable, and amusing to drive, the Mazda CX-3 will be a better first car than I ever got

  • The base price for a 2021 Mazda CX-3 is $21,300 in Canada, $20,790 in the US.

  • The CX-3 is the subcompact crossover for those looking for affordability and style.

  • Though the first step into the Mazda family, it’s not short on anything.

A long time ago, in a different Century, I remember looking forward to buying my first car. It was all I could think about and it was all I wanted to do with my meager earnings at the time. My first set of wheels happened to be a lovingly pre-owned loaded 1985 Mazda 626 LX Coupe that cost me all of $2,000. When I think back on the 626 and compare it to the CX-3, my first car experience has little to do with today’s first purchase adventures.

First car without sacrificing anything

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

When I say loaded, the 626 featured power windows, door locks, and cruise control, no A/C, however. A 2021 Mazda CX-3, at $21,300 (about $5,000 more than the 626 cost new), includes a 6-speed manual transmission, a 7-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, and air conditioning! And that’s barely scratching the surface. There’s clearly no such thing as a “base” model as I once knew them.

Priced and equipped as such, the Mazda CX-3 ($22,600 with the 6-speed automatic transmission) might not be the least expensive among its FWD-only counterparts like the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue but more often than not, substance, design and driving fun are worth the small supplement. The story changes somewhat when the available i-Activ AWD system is selected. At $25,650 for a GS, it is close to being one of the more value-packed offerings in the subcompact segment when compared to the Hyundai Kona, Nissan Qashqai, and a few others.

Premium styling inside and out

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Of the many favorable aspects going for the 2021 CX-3 is Mazda’s dedication to its unique and attractive design language. The small SUV is sculpted like few other vehicles with proportions that require a few takes before being fully understood. On this point alone, the CX-3 stands out as the sole premium offering in the category.

This is further reinforced once the occupants slide abord. There’s a level of attention to detail where presentation, materials, and fit and finish are as important as the actual features built within. As tested, my $26,150 unit included the delightful Custom Appearance package which throws in Rich Tan Grand Luxe Suede upholstery and satin chrome handles. This is an unexpected bonus at this reasonable price point. All surfaces in the cabin area of good taste, especially when considering the entry-level price. Again, there value throughout the CX-3 and for the most part, there’s more of it than meets the eye.

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The Mazda Connect system, operated via the rotary wheel when driving or straight through the screen when immobile. The system is relatively simple to operate with a minimal amount of to get to the desired functions.


The CX-3’s sole real shortcomings are directly related to its size. This means that they are not faults per se. The truck can hold, according to Mazda, up to 504 litres of gear but even when the load floor is in its lowest spot, the gap between the rear seatback and the hatch narrows considerably once up to the cargo cover. As well, the rear bench is snug. At 5’10”, I fit if barely behind the driver’s seat – my driving position is always close to the wheel. Two adults can fit across the bench, three would be a stretch, or more specifically, a bind.

Noisy engine, enjoyable drive

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

As standard, all 2021 Mazda CX-3 versions are powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. The available 148 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque are often put to the test especially when accelerating to merge or pass on the highway. Most Mazda engines have the unfortunate habit of being quite loud even under partial load. Thankfully, the included 6-speed automatic transmission never skips a beat.

The power is adequate at best, especially with AWD is it adds about 90kg (almost 200lbs) to the CX-3’s curb weight. Add my large bottom, the spouse’s delicate frame, and a weekend’s worth of stuff, and engine noises become more sustained. Even so, it is possible to expect to average about 8L/100km however winter conditions and a heavier right will quickly raise the number to 9L.

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

About the drive itself, the CX-3’s chassis is tuned for a dynamic drive. The suspension’s dampers prefer smoother surfaces but, frankly, the level of damping is sufficient to nearly iron out bad road surfaces as found in my area. Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system has risen on my list of good setups thanks to its quick reaction times. And finally, the standard brake-biased G-Vectoring control is a confidence booster if mostly because it is completely invisible.

The small SUV segment is also loaded

There’s no shortage of options in this category. From the Chevy Trailblazer, the two  Hyundais, the Kia Seltos, the two Nissans, the Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, and upcoming Volkswagen Taos, all feature a few highlights however only a scarce number among all of these are truly worthwhile.

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

At $25,650, the CX-3 GS AWD provides the owner with a heated steering wheel, heated seats, an excellent AWD system, and plenty of smiles per mile. In my humble opinion, if boot space is not a priority then this is the better option. For all other requirements, the Honda HR-V will deliver.

If you’re like I was back in the early ‘90s, that is nearly broke, a used CX-3 can also be a good option. If however, you’re doing better and want something convivial and new, the CX-3 even a mid-trim CX-3 has 10x more features and, not to mention, is far safer.

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2021 Mazda CX-3 GS AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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