What’s Hot: Punchy engine, great gearshift and killer looks.
What’s Not: Compact boot, no centre armrest, tiny tacho.
X-FACTOR: If the looks don’t do it for you, the build quality and road manners will.
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $22,390 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 109kW/192Nm 4cyl petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
Mazda's new CX-3 is a newcomer to the small SUV class. But instead of just dipping a toe into the water, Mazda has plunged in with an extensive range of CX-3 petrol and diesel models, two and all-wheel-drive, manual and automatic transmissions.
And here it is - no lengthy teaser campaigns, and no endless parade of concepts. Instead, after wowing audiences at November’s LA Auto Show last year, the car landed - ready to roll - in Aussie Mazda showrooms at the end of March.
And, confident it has a winner on its hands with this sharp new entrant to the sector, Mazda has also made sure it had its dealers well-stocked.
It certainly looks the part, and we loved it at launch.
But is there more to the CX-3 and can it get by on killer looks alone? The rest of Mazda’s range offers polished dynamics and decent interior amenities; fitting those brand hallmarks into a compact SUV is no mean feat.
We’ve good things to report though, Mazda’s first attempt at a compact SUV is every bit as polished as its well-resolved style suggests.
Until stocks of the entry-level Neo model arrive, the Maxx tested here, with a six speed manual and front-wheel-drive, is the cheapest way into the CX-3 range.
Quality: Inside, the CX-3 borrows heavily from the Mazda2 for its interior fittings. There are a few little detail changes here and there, but overall the interior is familiar and very impressive.
Hard plastics in a few places: the dash top, and the lower dash and console panels, but a padded and stitched decor panel lifts the ambience and sense of quality, and looks and feels good.
Faux carbon details around each vent and deep crimson highlights in the outer air-vents are as classy as you’ll find at this end of the market.
The manual air-con controls have a solid feel, and the rotary controller for the infotainment system has a quality heft to it, feeling every bit as nice in the hand as what you might find in an Audi or BMW.
Comfort: Although the CX-3 may be based on the Mazda2, the interior feels more roomy - particularly the rear seat.
Tall passengers can still slot in behind a tall driver, with enough space to slide feet under the front seats and a commanding view from the raised ‘theatre style’ rear bench.
Trimmed with a durable but comfy cloth trim, the seats are well padded and deliver enough comfort for long drives.
Front seat adjustment could be a little finer though and the backrest in particular never quite felt like it was in the ‘just right’ position.
The view out the side windows and rear feels a little pinched too. The shallow glasshouse might look sporty from outside, but it eats into over-shoulder visibility.
Young passengers won’t get to see much beyond the rising belt line either.
Equipment: Maxx models and above pick up the MZD Connect system that pairs a seven-inch touchscreen with a rotary controller.
It is simple to use, but still offers advanced smartphone compatibility with native Pandora, Stitcher and Aha app control.
Other standard equipment includes air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, reversing camera, leather steering wheel and gear knob, push button start, rear park sensors, six speaker audio, 16-inch alloy wheels, and satellite navigation.
Storage: The cabin features dual front cup-holders, a bottle-holder in each door, open console storage and a recess in the centre stack (unfortunately just a tad too small for most modern phones).
The glovebox is a healthy size, but overall cabin storage is a little light on.
Swing open the tailgate and there’s a compact 264 litres of boot space. The load lip is a little high, but it helps cover up the dual-level floor.
Drop the 60:40 folding rear seat and a maximum of 1174 litres is available.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: While Mazda has a reasonable reputation for turning out fine handling cars, its fair to say that the on-road talents of the CX-3 still caught us by surprise.
Dynamically this car sits right at the top of its class.
Powering the CX-3 is a 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, shared with base model variants of the Mazda3 and CX-5.
Crucially, that power figure is at the higher end of the scale for the class, and, as a result, the CX-3 moves with more vigour than you might expect from a tall-boy hatch.
Drive is connected to the front wheels via a six-speed manual, and the clutch weight and gearshift feel terrific - once again, as good as you’ll find in the class.
Not so great is the tiny digital tachometer, too small to accurately see what the engine is up to, it acts as an approximate guide only.
In city shuffling, the CX-3 will pull strongly away from traffic lights and has no problem keeping pace with fast-flowing traffic.
The great clutch balance makes it a cinch to launch, and the firm but precise gear change is a pleasure to row through its gate.
Outward visibility towards the rear is compromised a little by the low-roof looks. Parking is aided by the rear view camera and sensors, but form really dictates function in this one.
Refinement: Long a bug-bear of previous Mazda models, the CX-3 seems to finally be heading in the right direction. There’s little disturbance from wind or engine noise.
If you plant the foot you’ll find a rorty induction note from up front. In a sea of anonymous droney engines, it’s nice to find a little character baked in.
Don’t worry though, for the most part the CX-3 is peaceful enough for comfy cruising.
Road noise, the biggest strike against previous Mazda models, is better contained in this model. Still not completely silent, but not at all bothersome and better than both the Mazda2 and Mazda3.
Ride and Handling: Despite rolling on 16-inch rims with chubby sidewalls, the CX-3 feels pretty nimble through the front end. Cornering is level and handling is agile.
Mazda has also pulled off the delicate task of making the CX-3 comfortable. Normally a sweet-handling hatch will be too firm to ride well, but with two adults and a little bit of gear on board the CX-3 proved spot-on for ride comfort.
Over some of inner-Melbourne’s more relentless speed humps, we found the low front lip occasionally bounced into the pavement.
Generally though the absorbent ride shrugged off bumps, dips and cobblestones easily.
Front suspension is tended to by MacPherson struts while the rear uses a torsion beam design. Steering is via an electric system.
Braking: Braking is calm and linear, with good pedal feel, making start-stop traffic easy to contend with. Jump on the brakes hard though and there’s plenty of bite in emergencies.
Brake hardware consists of 280mm vented front rotors and 281mm sold rears
ANCAP rating: This model has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side and curtain), ABS brakes, stability and traction control, brake assist, brakeforce distribution, emergency stop signal, hill launch assist, and rear park sensors. Rear ISOFIX child restraint anchor points and top tethers, height adjustable front seatbelts with load limiting
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometre.
Service costs: Mazda offers Service Select capped price servicing which covers the CX-3 for 12 years or 160,000km, with service intervals falling every nine months of 10,000km.
Alternate services vary between $280 and $307 each, with additional items (which may vary by time or usage) priced separately.
For example: Brake fluid, two years/40,000km $116. Cabin filter, 40,000km $69. Air filter, 60,000km $70. Manual trans oil, five years/100,000km $40. Spark plugs, 120,000km $260. Fuel filter, 150,000km $308.
For a comprehensive explanation of the Service Select program consult your local dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Honda HR-V VTi ($24,990) - Honda’s HR-V sees the return of an old nameplate, but this time on a dramatically different model. All HR-V models are equipped with a CVT transmission, but the base VTi comes pretty close to the mid-range Maxx for equipment.
Inside the HR-V offers a mature, well-specified interior, plenty of space, and Honda’s always-amazing Magic Seat versatility. (see HR-V reviews)
Mitsubishi ASX LS ($24,990) - Something of a segment stalwart, the ASX has been around for a while, but that doesn’t stop it from selling up a storm. Blocky good looks and a reputation for reliability certainly help there.
Dynamically the ASX doesn’t deliver any big hits, it can feel a little crude at times. Likewise the dated interior doesn’t come close to the CX-3 for quality or features. (see ASX reviews)
Holden Trax LS ($23,990) - The upright and staid looking Trax hides a multitude of clever storage solutions inside the cabin. It’s also a comfortable performer on road, not exciting but capable nonetheless.
Like the HR-V, the Trax is front-wheel-drive only, and the front bumper lip is very low, meaning the furthest you can venture off-road is the car park of your local farmers' market. (see Trax reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With plenty of very fresh offerings in the compact SUV class, the CX-3 isn’t going to have an easy fight on its hands.
It’s safe to say though that the CX-3 is near or at the top of its class.
Dynamically it feels more like a well-sorted hatchback than an upright SUV. Inside it offers impressive technology, and genuinely feels like a car from the class above.
Honda’s new HR-V will give it a run for its money, and if filling the boot and back seat are your primary concerns, perhaps the Qashqai or ix35 would be worth a look.
For young couples, empty nesters, city dwellers and those less family-focussed, the CX-3 ticks plenty of boxes.
For anyone a little uncertain of the CX-3's qualities, inside and on-road, one quick drive should be enough to cement Mazda’s newest offering in your mind as a solid buy.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
2.0L Petrol FWD
- Neo - 6spd manual - $19,990
- Neo - 6spd auto - $21,990
- Neo Safety - 6spd manual - $21,020
- Neo Safety - 6spd auto - $23,020
- Maxx - 6spd manual - $22,390
- Maxx - 6spd auto - $24,390
- Maxx Safety - 6spd manual - $23,420
- Maxx Safety - 6spd auto - $25,420
- sTouring - 6spd manual - $26,990
- sTouring - 6spd auto - $28,990
- sTouring Safety - 6spd manual - $28,020
- sTouring Safety - 6spd auto - $30,020
- Akari - 6spd manual - $31,290
- Akari - 6spd auto - $33,290
1.5L Diesel FWD
- Maxx - 6spd auto - $26,790
- Maxx Safety - 6spd auto - $27,820
2.0L Petrol AWD
- Maxx - 6spd auto - $26,390
- Maxx Safety - 6spd auto - $27,420
- sTouring - 6spd auto - $30,990
- sTouring Safety - 6spd auto - $32,020
- Akari - 6spd auto - $35,290
1.5L Diesel AWD
- sTouring - 6spd auto - $33,390
- sTouring Safety - 6spd auto - $34,420
- Akari - 6spd auto - $37,690