What’s Hot: Handles well, looks great, classy interior.
What’s Not: Small boot and compact rear seat dimensions.
X-FACTOR: If our first taste is anything to go by, the CX-3 should sell up a storm next year.
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $TBA (expect between $20-25k starting point)
Engine/trans: 109kW/192Nm petrol 4cyl, 77kW/270Nm diesel 4cyl | 6sp manual or automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: TBA
Pricing and specifications have yet to be finalised, but indications from Mazda are that it will be competitive with existing segment players like the Holden Trax, Mitsubishi ASX and Ford Ecosport - and may even squeeze in under the Mazda3 with a sub-$20k entry-level model.
Three model grades will be offered, with two engines - a petrol and diesel - two transmissions and the availability of both FWD and AWD.
But what else can we expect next year?
To give us an insight into what makes the CX-3 tick, Mazda flew out two pre-production models to Australia for us to sample, with Australian journos the first media in the world to drive the CX-3.
And that’s as good a sign as any that Australia is bound to be an important market for the CX-3, considering it broke cover just three weeks ago at the LA Auto Show.
And first impressions are good, though there are some reservations about packaging.
A proper road drive is still months away, but we do know this: as far as its competitors in the compact SUV segment are concerned, the CX-3 looks set to blow them out of the water.
- Specifications still to be determined.
- Boot space: 264 litres with rear seats up. two-position false floor.
The dashboard appears identical to the Mazda2 on which the CX-3 is based, and that’s a good thing in our opinion.
It looks upmarket, material quality is generally good and all controls fall neatly to hand.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a delight to hold and the driving position is a natural one.
Though the hip-point is higher than in a Mazda2 and gives a slightly better view of the road ahead, you don’t feel like you’re sitting bolt upright like in some other small SUVs.
Three model grades will be offered, with equipment levels being a mash-up of what’s offered in the Mazda2 and Mazda3.
The two cars brought out for us to drive were a high-grade diesel automatic AWD and a mid-grade petrol automatic FWD.
Both were equipped with Mazda’s excellent MZD-Connect infotainment and navigation system, a reversing camera and keyless ignition.
The high-grade CX-3 will also come with a head-up display similar to the Mazda2’s as well as synthetic leather upholstery.
A blind-spot monitor will come standard on the flagship model, but it misses out on the active cruise control that’s available in the Mazda3.
The mid-grade model’s cloth upholstery feels a little thin and fragile, however the seats are nicely contoured and give good support.
Yet, while rear seat accommodation is slightly more generous than the Mazda2, legroom is still in short supply.
But what may be the biggest issue for some buyers is the CX-3’s small boot. Measuring just 264 litres it’s well behind segment competitors like the Mitsubishi ASX, Peugeot 2008 and Holden Trax.
A two-position false floor does give it a smidge more versatility, but there’s no dancing around the fact that the CX-3’s boot is rather undersized for an SUV.
ON THE ROAD
- 109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated petrol four
- 77kW/270Nm 1.5 litre turbo diesel four
- Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions
- Front or all-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
Mazda has always made great handling cars, and the CX-3 - like the CX-5 before it - shows that SUVs don’t necessarily have to handle poorly.
On the highway loop and handling track at the Anglesea proving ground, the CX-3 displayed impressive stability and cornering grip.
They’re a challenging mix of surfaces, and with plenty of mid-corner bumps - encountered at both low and high speed - that can easily unsettle a car.
The CX-3 handled all with aplomb.
It’s also a nicely balanced chassis. It doesn’t feel as ponderous as some of its competitors, and the CX-3’s nose will hook into a corner smartly if you command it to. There’s a high resistance to understeer as well.
There’s some road noise (but not uncomfortably intrusive), especially through the 18-inch alloys of the high-grade diesel. The diesel’s engine note is also quite gravelly, and easily penetrates the firewall.
We also expected the 1.5 litre SkyactivD diesel to feel a bit gruntier than it did.
Power from the diesel is a meek 77kW, but its torque output of 270Nm should translate into decent acceleration. Instead, it feels a bit soft.
The extra weight of the all-wheel-drive hardware in the diesel we drove no doubt blunted performance, but with weight figures still top-secret we have no idea what the difference in mass is.
There’s also no indication whether the diesel will be offered with a front-drive drivetrain, though Mazda Australia says there will be “a mix of auto, manual, FWD and AWD” available from launch.
The CX-3 diesel would no doubt be more than sufficient for pottering about town, but we found it to be glacial in highway overtaking.
It took its time to accelerate from 100km/h to 120km/h, and overtaking in the real world would require a great deal of planning and clear road.
The petrol FWD we also drove had far more pep, thanks to its 2.0 litre 109kW/192Nm four-pot.
Essentially a detuned version of the motor that’s in the Mazda3, this direct-injection engine loves to rev and produces more than enough thrust for the CX-3’s compact body.
It also compares favourably with slightly larger small SUVS like the ix35 and Mitsubishi ASX, though the Hyundai wins on power and torque by a small, but appreciable margin.
While the range will kick off with a petrol 2WD manual, the optional six-speed automatic will likely be the go-to transmission for most CX-3 buyers.
Both of the cars we drove at Anglesea were equipped with the auto, and it’s a very well-sorted gearbox.
It doesn’t hunt, it rarely makes a bad gear selection and the manual mode has the plus-minus plane oriented in the right way - push to downshift, pull to upshift.
It’s also a conventional automatic too, rather than a droney CVT.
As for efficiency, Mazda claims the petrol engine will return an average figure in the low 6.0 l/100km range, while the diesel will sip “below 5.0 l/100km”. Precise numbers will be released closer to launch.
ANCAP rating: The CX-3 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Precise specifications will be announced closer to launch, though all models are expected to feature stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and six airbags as standard.
The mid and high grade models we drove were also equipped with standard reversing cameras and parking sensors, while the high grade model also had a blind spot monitor fitted.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Here’s the full list of what will be available in the compact SUV segment when the CX-3 hits the market:
TMR's PREVIEW DRIVE VERDICT
There’s only so much that can be gleaned from a 40-minute drive of pre-production cars at a proving ground, but the CX-3 has made a positive first-impression on us.
Styling alone will likely be enough to entice more than a few buyers (Mazda says style and design is a top consideration for the target demographic of 20-30 year-old young couples), but the driving experience is just as good.
Luggage and backseaters don’t get much love in the CX-3, but Mazda doesn’t seem too concerned.
After all, with the CX-5 range kicking off at $27,880 Mazda already has a product to cater to those with more gear and offspring to carry.
Of course, pricing and specification levels will determine just how successful the CX-3 will be in showrooms, but with the Trax, Juke and EcoSport already starting to lose their lustre the CX-3’s main competitor will be the incoming Honda HR-V, which launches here in February.
The CX-3 is currently slated for a local launch in the second quarter of 2015, watch out for more news and information as we draw nearer.