MAZDA'S SPUNKY CX-3 RANGE OFFERS NO SHORTAGE OF OPTIONS. As well as four model grades, there’s also a choice of petrol, diesel, all-wheel-drive, front-wheel-drive, manual, and automatic variations.
The CX-3 is one of few in its segment to offer such a selection for buyers.
So, with a model to suit all budgets, striking styling, and a raft of safety and convenience features, is Mazda’s smallest SUV the 'best of the bunch' in this fast-growing segment?
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $35,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 109kW/192Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7 l/100km | Tested: 7.5 l/100km
We’ve gone to the top of the CX-3 heap for this review, the feature packed Mazda CX-3 Akari.
It comes with everything, every technology that the CX-3 range has to offer (although the Akari’s standard safety kit can be optioned onto lesser CX-3 models).
And it can be yours with front or all-wheel-drive.
We’ve selected the latter, which means there’s no manual option as AWD comes with a six-speed automatic only, but there is still a choice of diesel and petrol. We're testing the 2.0 litre petrol model here.
At a touch over $35k before on road costs, the CX-3 Akari isn’t exactly a budget buy (though the range kicks off from $19,990). But, with a long equipment list, and advanced safety technology, those shopping for ‘one with the lot’ won’t be disappointed.
- Standard equipment: Single-zone climate control, leather and suede look upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, power windows, cruise control, leather steering wheel, dusk-sensing LED headlamps, auto wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels
- 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
Leather seat-trim, two-tone interior, head-up display, multimedia infotainment - there’s really very little missing from the top-of-the-range CX-3 Akari.
While the interior itself is derived from the Mazda2, the upmarket styling touches of the Akari give the CX-3 a stylishly upmarket look and feel.
We like Mazda’s funky looking instrument cluster, with a sporty central tacho, but more importantly a highly legible digital speedo, twinned in the head-up display (a 'must have' in speed limited Australia).
Similarly, the Mazda2’s underpinnings mean that despite the bulkier looking SUV body, interior space is a little more intimate than you might be expecting.
Up front, that’s no real problem, the driver and front passenger are treated to comfy seats with a decent range of adjustability, however there’s still plenty of hard plastics, and, bafflingly, no centre armrest.
As a car designed with urban couples and empty nesters in mind, rear seat space isn’t exactly limo-like. There’s seating for three, but the space is best shared by two children, or two adults... but smaller ones.
While headroom isn’t a problem, taller passengers will notice the squeezy legroom, while shorter passengers may bemoan the lack of visibility out of the narrow rear windows.
Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system also deserves praise as one of the cleverest systems of its kind with an easy-to-understand menu layout, plus touchscreen accessibility when stopped, with simplified rotary controls once the car is moving.
A few points need to shaved off for cabin versatility however. There’s a large glovebox and a bottle holder in each door, but no covered storage in the centre stack or front console, with neither space offering a good wallet/phone/keys dumping ground.
The boot is also amongst the smallest in its segment at 264 litres, and the load lip is high. But there is a sub-floor for tucking smaller items out of sight, and the seatbacks offer one-touch fold-flat functionality.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 295mm ventilated disc front, 281mm solid disc rear
- Steering: Electric power steering
- Towing capacity: 1200kg braked, 640kg unbraked
The CX-3 range offers a choice of petrol or diesel engines throughout the range, but in this instance we’re driving the 2.0 litre petrol model, equipped with all-wheel-drive.
Under the bonnet is Mazda’s 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated SkyActiv four-cylinder engine, delivering 109kW of power at 6000rpm and 192Nm of torque at 2800rpm.
In and around city streets the SkyActiv engine is a willing unit, with a perky, rev-happy nature to help it move along. And it has no trouble with the little CX-3. (The turbo diesel alternative is punchier once rolling, however, due to its strong low-down torque.)
That’s not a massive problem, and the 'rev-ability' of the petrol engine, and its free-spinning nature contributes to a sporty feel behind the wheel. Sure, it can become a bit buzzy when pushed, and it lacks a little of the instant oomph of the diesel at highway speeds.
That said, thanks to the sharply honed six-speed automatic, the Mazda has no trouble adeptly picking the right gear when conditions change or in a bit of a rush to sprint between corners. Kickdown response is fast for overtaking or when tackling hills.
With economy in mind, high gears and low rpm are the usual operating mode, but give the Sport toggle below the gear shifter a nudge, and the CX-3 will hold gears longer, and kickdown even more eagerly.
With fairly monstrous 18-inch alloy wheels, the CX-3 rides well. It is also able to shrug off smaller imperfections and has a nice elastic feel, with good wheel travel, over larger bumps.
At the same time, this little SUV isn’t afraid of a set of curves, with level cornering, and no wallow or bounce along choppy roads.
The lighter nose of the petrol compared to the diesel, certainly helps in that regard.
And, thanks to all-wheel-driv,e there’s no sign of torque steer, that tugging at the steering wheel when moving off, in either wet or dry conditions.
The on-demand system adds rear-wheel assistance if grip levels are low, helping in wet weather, or on low friction surfaces like gravel or snow.
Is all-wheel-drive in a car like this strictly necessary? Not really, but it adds a layer of security if heading to the snow and on slippery rural roads. (Or you can choose from the slightly less-expensive front-wheel-drive variants.)
With just a little more sound insulation Mazda could have a real winner on its hands with the CX-3. However, as is the case with a number of Mazda products, there’s just a little bit too much engine and road noise at highway speeds.
It's a minor debit, as it's not excessive, just constantly present.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - The CX-3 scored 36.44 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side and curtain), ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability and traction control, hill launch assist and rear parking sensors are standard across the CX-3 range.
Advanced safety features on the CX-3 Akari include blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, high beam control, lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Neither the Nissan Qashqai nor Honda HR-V offer all-wheel-drive, but both are great compact SUVs.
The new turbocharged Suzuki Vitara is also a contender for your dollars. With a lot more zest underfoot, it is now a much nicer drive than it was previously.
And, if you’re after something a little more quirky, the Citroen C4 Cactus might fit the bill or even the Skoda Yeti. The latter looks small, but has a huge, flexible interior (and isn't a half-bad drive).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The CX-3 Akari is a very likeable little bus: it's handsome on the outside, with a premium look and feel inside.
It’s not hard to see why it has won so many fans in its first year on sale.
Admittedly, the same fiscal outlay could see you in a larger, but lower-specced CX-5. But, if space isn’t your key priority, then try the plush Akari on for size - it's got essentially the same AWD capability, a comfortable interior (if a bit tight in the back) and really appealing sporty lines.
Add pleasant on-road manners and a willing drivetrain, and there is a LOT to like in the funky little CX-3. It is one of our faves...