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Tim O'Brien | Mar, 17 2015 | 28 Comments

Mazda's CX-3 is all we suspected it might be. Sharply priced, well-featured and appealingly styled, it offers super on-road comfort with nicely balanced handling, and the engines - whichever you choose - are willing performers both around town and n the highway.

The downsides are few; maybe the faux leather is a bit naff, the adjustment for the seats is a bit clunky (and roughly finished down there), there is a still a little more road noise than some will like and it's a bit tight for kneeroom in the back.

But, truly, the CX-3 is 'one out of the box'. This terrific little car will drag in buyers who may have never considered an SUV, much less a small one.

Engines:
109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre SkyActiv S-VT petrol (with i-stop)
77kW/270Nm 1.5 litre 16-valve intercooled turbo-diesel (with i-stop)
With 2WD or AWD drivetrains

Transmissions: 6spd auto, or 6spd manual (front-drive models only)
Fuel consumption:
petrol - claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
diesel - claimed: 4.8 l/100km | tested: 5.9 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

Mazda's new CX-3 will be a phenomenon.

Priced right, packaged right, and absolutely beautifully styled, it is such a convincing car on so many levels.

Mazda calls it “the first ever CX-3” and it will simply bust the small SUV segment apart.

And, because it is so convincing and drives so well, it makes a lot of its quirky tippy-toe competition suddenly look like toy cars.

There is a presence to its style and on-road stance - the way it sits on those big guards-filling alloy wheels, and the strength of its Roman nose and chrome-featured front - that projects quality and solidity.

And it gets noticed. We were flagged down by a driver in a late model Golf wanting to know when it was going on sale.

We drove all variants at launch bar the Neo (production of the entry model to the range does not begin until April), and also had opportunity to put an sTouring through its paces over gravel and secondary roads.

 

THE INTERIOR

Key features (depending on model):

  • cloth, leather and suede/leather interior trims
  • cruise control
  • satellite navigation
  • Mazda's MZD 7-inch screen & infotainment system with USB, Bluetooth and iPhone connectivity
  • reversing camera
  • keyless push-button start
  • auto wipers
  • climate control
  • powered sliding and tilting glass sunroof
    CLICK HERE to view full specifications for the new CX-3 range

Mazda does not do poor interiors. Here, in the new CX-3, is a very appealing interior with a feeling of quality unique at this price point.

The smart soft-touch dash looks and feels good, the stitched instrument binnacle and stitched facing likewise. So too the piano-black highlights on up-spec models and the 'cool' metal rotary controls.

From the wheel, which is small and sporty with a stitched rim and multi-function controls, the style and robust feel to this interior conveys a sense that the appearance of quality is more than just skin deep.

Only the slightly naff faux-leather steering wheel trim, and the clunky plastic seat adjusters (across the range, no electric adjustment) are debits here.

Maxx and sTouring feature fabric, or 'pleather' and fabric, the up-spec Akari comes with full leather trim.

All models from Maxx and above feature a seven-inch display-screen sitting proud of the dash with reversing camera, sat-nav and Mazda's impressive MZD-connect connectivity platform with Bluetooth, Pandora, Stitcher, Aha, and audio streaming with six-speaker sound system.

Its functions are accessed via a rotary controller between the seats; it is all intuitive and easily navigated first time.

The HUD, head-up display for speed read-out is also a welcome feature

Whichever model from across the range you're seated in, the level of equipment and the quality and comfort of the fittings and trims, betters most in the segment - like the Juke, Trax, Captur and ASX.

The CX-3 feels more the modern car and less like it was built to a price.

We also found the seats well-shaped and padded right for long-distance travel (we drove from Canberra to Sydney).

The leather seats in the Akari are particularly good, certainly sumptuous-looking when trimmed in contrasting white, but my preference leans to fabric in the Australian sun.

Importantly, for families, the rear seats are 37mm higher 'theatre-style' for the benefit of back-seat passengers.

There is also reasonable legroom there; even with my 'six-foot-one' long-shanked driving companion at the wheel, although a little tight, there was still room behind his seat for young legs.

The boot space, while not as large as a small wagon, at 264 litres is adequate. It won't fit golf clubs across its width, or a guitar case, but it easily accommodates travel bags and suitcases.

It also has a handy adjustable floor panel, a low-ish load-lip and a nice wide opening for larger objects should the split-fold rear seats be folded flat. With seats folded, the cargo space grows to 1174 litres.

 

ON THE ROAD

Engines:
109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre SkyActiv S-VT petrol (with i-stop)
77kW/270Nm 1.5 litre 16-valve intercooled turbo-diesel (with i-stop)
With 2WD or AWD drivetrains

Transmissions: 6spd auto, or 6spd manual (front-drive models only)
Fuel consumption:
petrol - claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
diesel - claimed: 4.8 l/100km | tested: 5.9 l/100km

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear.


No question, the new CX-3 sets a new benchmark for on-road dynamics in this segment.

With a choice of 2.0 litre SkyActiv petrol or 1.5 litre SkyActiv diesel engines, and six-speed conventional auto or manual transmissions, it has most in the segment covered or bettered for power and performance.

Where nearly all in the segment are now front-wheel-drive only (most having dropped AWD drivetrains), the CX-3 offers both 2WD and AWD formats.

So it's more than just a slightly jacked-up hatch.

In fact, in terms of on-road dynamics, the more expensive Subaru XV is perhaps its closest competitor, though the XV feels 'older' (because it is) and has no diesel on offer.

At the wheel, performance from both engines is lively.

In a car of this size, the 2.0 litre SkyActiv petrol has no trouble moving things along smartly, particularly when switched into 'Sport' mode or paddled through the sports-shift six-speed transmission.

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The petrol engine can sound a little thrashy when really stretched out, but is otherwise unobtrusive and perfectly up to the task.

The CX-3 is no hot-hatch (if that's what you're looking for, buy a hot hatch), but had no trouble dealing with the hills we encountered on our drive through the Southern Highlands of NSW (it will readily and unobtrusively downshift when a little more urge is needed), nor is it slow to respond when overtaking.

And, like its diesel bro', the SkyActiv technology behind this super-efficient 2.0 litre DOHC petrol engine saw it return a 7.2 l/100km average in our hands - something that you will better.

The pick of the engines, though, and by a country mile really, is the little 1.5 litre diesel.

It is as quiet as the best of the modern diesels from Europe, makes a nice gravelly note when pushed, and feels especially spry underfoot.

It is also - for a small capacity turbo-diesel - surprisingly understressed. At 110km/h, it is ticking over at around 1900rpm (the tacho is a little difficult to read accurately), and will quickly snatch the baton and bolt if needing to overtake.

Best of all, we gave it good old flogging for part of the trip, yet still returned a surprising 5.9 l/100km average. (Worst average we saw was 6.3 l/100km/h.)

“Road noise?”, you ask. Yes, a Mazda bugbear and a source of some criticism for the brand, but put-to-bed in the CX-3.

It is, of course, relative; many European cars, particularly the sportier ones, can be very noisy on Australia's coarse road surfaces. As for the new CX-3, on the secondary roads we encountered on our drive (with some badly broken surfaces over some longer sections), we found the road and wind noise no more intrusive in the CX-3 than in, say, a BMW X1.

Even on the 18-inch wheels of the sTouring and Akari, 'road roar' is not an issue in the snug CX-3 interior.

And not once, despite a vigorous workout through some of the windier backroads, and across a number of (sudden) concrete floodways, did we find the bump-stops.

Also no question, the ride of the CX-3 sets a new benchmark for this category of SUV.

It manages to provide a sporty feel, with a flat and responsive front end - turn-in is sharp and body-roll is predictable and well-controlled - while also providing one of the better on-road rides.

The soft front-end of the Qashqai is no match for the CX-3, the ASX is not in the same league, nor can the XV match the CX-3's settled ride. Honda's new HRV is close, but, no cigar, the CX-3 has the segment bested.

So, if we seem impressed with the way the CX-3 drives, we can assure you we are. Mazda has hatched a pretty special car here.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

There is a new benchmark in the small SUV sector, Mazda's striking all-new CX-3.

It looks great, you will love its style - the subtle chrome garnishes around the 'eyes', the smart grille and sporty hipped rear - and you will love the way it sits fat on those guards-filling 18-inch and 16-inch alloys.

This car is such a fresh 'take' on the SUV, so competent on-road and so satisfying at the wheel, that it will set fire to the small SUV segment.

Mazda thinks it will sell 1000 a month… it will bolt it in. The only question mark will be its ability to secure stock out of Japan, because this car will also be a global success.

So, do check it out if you are in the market for a small SUV, or even a larger one. Or even if looking at the small hatch sector.

You will find an interior that's among the best for style, features and finish, and you will find a car that you will just love to drive.

There is a depth to this car and a feeling of quality that sets a new standard. Take it for a run, and you too will notice it immediately.

 

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

MORE: CX-3 Revealed At LA Auto Show
MORE: CX-3 News & Reviews | Mazda | Compact SUVs

 
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