MAZDA'S CX-3 HAS STYLE BY THE SPADEFUL, AN ATTRACTIVE SUB-$20K ENTRY PRICE FOR THE BASE CX-3 NEO AND WEARS THE BADGE OF ONE OF AUSTRALIA'S MOST POPULAR BRANDS ON ITS SNOUT.
But perhaps more than that, it comes with a great deal of choice within the range.
The CX-3 is one of few small/compact SUVs to be offered not only in FWD and AWD form, but also as petrol or diesel, manual or auto. Most sales are petrol, and front-wheel-drive... a cheaper choice and only the practised eye will pick them apart.
So,we put an AWD diesel-powered CX-3 sTouring to the test. It's a more expensive buy, comfortable and very well equipped, but is this the CX-3 you should choose?
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $33,390 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 77kW/270Nm 1.5 turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.1 l/100km | tested: 6.0 l/100km
After 12 months on sale, the Mazda CX-3 has settled into second place in the compact SUV segment, just a couple of hundred cars behind the Mitsubishi ASX (which trades heavily on keen pricing to help offset its age).
The range starts at $19,990 for the base Neo grade, but extends to a whopping $37,690 for the top-shelf CX-3 Akari diesel AWD. The sTouring diesel AWD tested here is the next rung down the model ladder, at a more reasonable (but still pricey) $33,390 (plus on-road costs).
Based on the Mazda2’s platform, and sharing much of its appealing interior and 'squeezy' dimensions, the CX-3 is nevertheless substantially different mechanically and feels .
Price-wise, it pretty much overlaps the Mazda3 range. It’s tighter on the inside than that car, but its unique selling point is very much its distinctive style and SUV status.
- Standard equipment: Single-zone climate control, synthetic leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, power windows, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel
- Infotainment: MZD Connect infotainment suite with 7-inch colour touchscreen display, rotary controller, satellite navigation, smartphone app compatibility (Stitcher, Pandora, Aha) AM/FM/CD/USB audio and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Single-colour head-up display with speed and navigation data.
- Cargo volume: 264 litres seats up, 1174 litres seats down.
Mazda knows that good design helps sell cars and that philosophy not only applies to the CX-3’s shapely, sculptural exterior, but to its interior as well.
The dash is virtually identical to the Mazda2, in shape, but has soft vinyl padding across the centre trim and either side of the centre stack. The door trims are also unique and feature more soft-touch surfacing, though the window sills are rock-hard.
But it’s not like you’ll be perching your elbow up there anyhow. The CX-3’s sides rise up to enclose you like a bathtub, with a high shoulder-line that limits over-the-shoulder vision, not to mention the view through the side glass for your rear passengers.
In fact, younger kids will likely only be able to stare at the clouds rather than what you’re driving past. Adults, meanwhile, will find it to be a cramped space with limited knee-room and headroom.
Access to the back seat area is tight, too. With the CX-3’s swooping roofline doing itself no favours when it comes to rear door size. If you’re 5’10” or over, duck your head before entry.
Boot space is another negative. With just 264 litres of seats-up capacity, there’s limited room for cargo. A small tailgate opening hampers its practicality too.
A dual-level false floor does help bring some versatility to the CX-3’s load space and the 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold flush with the boot floor when in its highest position, but there’s no getting around the fact that the CX-3 has a small booty.
However, the CX-3 sTouring claws back points thanks to its gadget list, headlined by Mazda’s excellent MZD-Connect infotainment system.
The system is intuitive to operate and presents clear graphics on a high-set screen. Whether via touchscreen or the rotary remote control on the centre console, this is an easy system to use.
The CX-3 also packs a head-up display, the only car in its segment to do so. It’s a great thing to have, especially if you’re nervous about getting pinged by Johnny Law for doing 3km/h over the speed limit. (Saving money in your pocket and points on your licence.)
Add to that the standard reversing camera and parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, dual USB ports and keyless entry/ignition, and the CX-3 sTouring provides plenty of equipment to keep the modern driver happy, informed and entertained.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 77kW/270Nm 1.5 litre turbo diesel inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual mode, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Ventilated disc front, solid disc rear
- Steering: Electric power steering
- Towing capacity: 800kg braked
The CX-3 gets two engines - a 2.0 litre petrol and a 1.5 litre diesel. We’re testing the diesel here, and though its 77kW/270Nm outputs are solid numbers for a lightweight SUV, we have to wonder - why the diesel?
It simply doesn’t seem necessary in this kind of car, and while it Is tractable and fairly smooth, this 1.5 turbo diesel suffers from slow stop-start response, engine noise and dull acceleration.
The 2.0 petrol is a far more lively - and liveable - engine. We’d only suggest opting for the diesel if you do lots of highway miles and can take advantage of the diesel’s long-distance frugality.
And frugal it is. Our mostly-urban average of 6.0 l/100km is within sight of Mazda’s claim of 5.1 l/100km, and it’s especially thrifty on the highway. Like we were saying, if you spend a lot of time on highways then maybe, just maybe, consider the diesel.
The six-speed automatic gearbox (all AWD CX-3s come with an auto as standard) is superb.
It makes the most of the diesel’s slim powerband and kicks down quickly when needed. It doesn’t hunt up hills either, but prefers to shoot for top gear at the earliest opportunity to boost fuel economy - that doesn’t get in the way of driveability though.
The CX-3’s suspension is fine for the most part, with a soft tune that promotes ride comfort and dials out harshness and vibration.
With the diesel though, there’s a floaty feel to the front end and the nose tends to take a while to settle after encountering big undulations. On a highway, surprising for a small car, it can occasionally feel like a boat on a rough ocean.
The diesel carries around 60kg more weight in its nose than the petrol, and you can feel it. We’d suggest Mazda tighten up the rebound damping at the front to counter some of that bounciness.
Great steering though. If the chassis was a little more buttoned down at the front this would be a real zippy thing.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.44 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP testing.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side and curtain), ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability and traction control and hill launch assist are standard, as are rear parking sensors.
Outboard rear seats are equipped with ISOFIX child restraint anchor points and top tethers.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The CX-3 enjoys great sales success within its segment, but there’s no shortage of worthy competitors, Honda's HR-V and Nissan's Qashqai demanding a close look in particular. Here’s some of the better ones:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The CX-3 sTouring diesel is fine as it is… but it could be better. How? By opting for the petrol-powered equivalent.
Not only will you gain a more flexible and enjoyable 109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre motor, but the front suspension feels more settled, engine noise is reduced AND you save $2400.
And that’s if you go for the AWD variant. Opt for the 2WD petrol CX-3 sTouring, and the savings amount to a whopping $6400. Will you miss AWD? Unless you drive on gravel or wet grass with regularity, it’s unlikely.
But if a diesel AWD configuration is something that calls out to you, is a must-have, then by all means go for it. After all, with the Mazda CX-3 you’re spoiled for choice.