Taking the road less travelled has long been an SUV theme, but for different reasons it applies to the 2017 Mazda CX-3 Akari diesel.
Mazda believes that within its four-tier small SUV lineup, this all-wheel drive flagship will attract 12 per cent of buyers. Of those, only three per cent will spend a further $2400 to move from petrol to the diesel tested here from $37,890 plus on-road costs.
This is the maximum a CX-3 buyer can spend, but it’s also the greatest beneficiary of a recent mid-life update. The Akari simply offers more luxury and safety equipment than ever before, including items that were until now reserved for Audis and BMWs.
That means that while the CX-3 Akari is the flagship less purchased, it is perhaps the model grade most worth revisiting.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $37,890 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 77kW/270Nm 1.5 four-cylinder turbo diesel | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.1 L/100km | Tested: 6.6 L/100km
The CX-3 Maxx diesel front-wheel driver starts from just $27,290 (plus orc). The sTouring then leaps to an all-wheel-drive-only $33,390 (plus orc) option, but adds a stack of extra equipment.
There’s 18-inch alloys (replacing 16s), part-leather trim, and climate controls beneath the Maxx’s 7.0-inch touchscreen (with digital radio, satellite navigation and reverse-view camera); plus foglights, keyless auto-entry, auto on/off LED headlights and wipers, power-fold door mirrors and a head-up display. For the first time, there’s also speed-sign recognition that uses a camera to search for roadside red circles to then display the required digits. This is BMW technology filtering down to the mainstream.
The final $4500 spend to the Akari adds a sunroof, front parking sensors to match the rears, lane-departure warning and now, for the first time, heated seats offering 10-way driver electric adjustment and three memory settings. Also new – and a standout – is adaptive high-beam that can detect forward or oncoming traffic and block the portion of beam affecting drivers, leaving the roadside flooded with light.
As with speed-sign detection, this is (optional) Audi technology now available (as standard) in a sub-$40K Mazda.
- Standard Equipment: Cruise control, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, electric sunroof, head-up display, leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats with front heating and driver’s electric adjustment with memory settings, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, and automatic headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with rotary controller, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB inputs, Aha/Stitcher internet radio connectivity, satellite navigation, voice control and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 264 litres.
The Mazda CX-3 continues to be heavily based on the Mazda2 inside – a light hatchback that starts from $14,990 (plus orc), or less than half the price of this Akari flagship model grade.
Giveaways include hard dashboard and upper-door plastics, and a lack of storage spots including an open console between the front seats that lacks a storage bin lid.
This Japanese small SUV also remains the tiniest of its breed, both externally thanks to a body length of just 4275mm – much shorter than a Mazda3 hatch – and inside, where tight rear legroom and sunroof-affected headroom can be found.
Thankfully the seats front and rear are cushy yet supportive, and in the latter case the bench is perched high enough to ensure longer legs drop to the floor and slide effortlessly under the front seats. Knees aren’t crimped, therefore, which gives the impression of extra legroom length. It is smart packaging.
Don’t go looking behind the rear backrest for surplus space, though, because the 264-litre boot volume is also as limited as that in some light hatches. Every comparably priced small hatch is more capacious beneath the tailgate.
Thankfully, however, the CX-3 Akari now proves more than the sum of its cheaper and smaller parts. Build quality is fantastic, as is the Mazda norm, and there’s now enough equipment to embarrass ‘premium’ small SUV models such as the Audi Q2.
It isn’t a case of tick-a-box kit, either.
The knurled silver climate controls rotate with precision, the MZD-Connect infotainment system glides through menus backed by high-resolution graphics – and a new digital radio, though sadly sans Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring – plus a revised head-up display now in colour.
Intelligently, not only does the head-up display show speed signs, but also subtle left and right ‘pointer’ icons informing the driver if a vehicle is in a blind-spot on either side of the Akari.
Along with a great driving position with heating and electric adjustment, and rays flooding in through the sunroof, there isn’t much missing in the way of kit – save for Bose audio and passenger seat electric adjust found in other top Mazdas, plus active cruise control and auto reverse-parking featured in some vehicles at this price.
Yes, the CX-3 is small inside. But that’s because it’s unashamedly a small SUV. Thankfully it now has the luxury and smarts to (mostly) support its lofty pricetag.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 77kW/270Nm 1.5 four-cylinder turbo-diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Mazda non-turbo petrol engines are noisy. Responsive, keen and frugal the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the CX-3 may be, but with 109kW at 6000rpm it loves to work hard and makes its presence felt doing so.
Enter the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel option. Its 77kW at 4000rpm sounds puny, but it’s the 270Nm of torque from 1600rpm to 2500rpm that matters. The petrol needs 2800rpm to make 192Nm.
Combined-cycle fuel consumption falls to 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres, down from the petrol’s 6.7L/100km. Unlike the 2.0-litre there’s no manual option with the 1.5-litre, however, with a six-speed automatic the only choice.
Pleasingly a Mazda auto is absolutely the finest to be found anywhere at this price. It shifts crisply, picks ratios decisively and is a wonderfully smooth and connected partner to an engine that sometimes needs a good helper.
The diesel can feel soft-to-sluggish away from a set of traffic lights, demanding extra throttle be added quickly in order to get the turbo spooling in response. Beyond that, though, it’s all distant clatter and a linear surge of torque that, while far from forceful, is rarely stressed. That said, a 30 per cent power/torque boost would be ideal.
Given that road noise levels remain high, and the suspension can sometimes feel abrupt working with 18-inch lower profile tyres, this engine choice also provides some much-needed calm within a mostly joyful but also frenetic model range.
The CX-3’s steering is a standout, being brilliantly sharp and engaging yet never becoming darty or nervous. It's far superior to a Q2 tested weeks earlier. Being small on the outside isn’t only great for parking, but this Mazda also feels nippy and agile when cornering; it’s playful and yet composed across craggy roads.
And the price for all this fun? The up-front cost may be high, but around town we managed 8.0L/100km – dropping to 6.6L/100km after a freeway and country run.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Mazda CX-3 scored 36.44 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2015.
Safety Features: Six airbags, ABS and ESC, forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, front and rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000 kilometres.
Servicing: Mazda’s service program includes annual or 10,000km intervals at a cost of $317 for the first, third and fifth service; and $359 for the second and $733 for the fourth. The total cost across five years or 50,000km is a higher-than-average $2043.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Trax is outdated and falls below average in most respects. The HR-V stands out for space, meanwhile, but it’s also outgunned on the road. Which leaves both the C-HR as the class pick, being roomier and more refined than the CX-3, and the Golf Alltrack as a superb diesel wagon alternative to the diesel small SUV tested here.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the small size is right, then the Mazda CX-3 Akari diesel presents a more compelling case than ever before.
It is very tiny, and cheap in parts, but its luxury and safety technology is now impressive for the price. It also shines a harsh spotlight on certain ‘premium’ brands that demand too much for optional equipment that is included here.
This test also highlights that diesel is best in the CX-3 range. The pick of the bunch is surely the $27K Maxx if a buyer can do without big wheels and leather, or fancy headlights and a head-up display. Being front-drive it’s also 95kg lighter than the Akari tested here, which will improve its performance and further boost economy.
Either way, keep that SUV theme in mind when looking at a Mazda CX-3 – the fuel type least used is the best one to pick at the bowser.
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