So, what is it?
While just about every brand under the sun has been pumping little soft-roaders into the compact SUV segment (the fastest growing part of the Australian car market), Mazda Australia’s been on the bench, waiting for a nod from the coach in Hiroshima to leap into the hottest game in town.
Appreciably smaller than its big brother CX-5 (the best-selling SUV in the country), it measures 4.3m long, 1.8m wide, 1.5m high (about average for the class), and is offered with a choice of two four cylinder engines – 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol, and 77kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel.
The CX-3 also comes in front or all-wheel drive, as well as with a choice of six-speed manual, or six-speed automatic transmission, across four model grades – Neo, Maxx, sTouring, and Akari.
It’s the fifth Mazda to reflect the brand’s distinctive Kodo ‘Soul of Motion’ design language, and benefit from ‘Skyactiv’ engine efficiency, light-weighting and aerodynamic tech.
Why should I care?
If you’re a young single, or part of a pre-child couple, Mazda reckons this car is for you, and among a field of more than 20 small SUV’s battling for your bucks, CX-3 pricing is sharp, with a spread of close to $18K from the entry point Neo petrol FWD manual at $19,990, up to $37,690 for the Akari diesel AWD auto.
What’s new about it?
It might be based on a modified version of the Mazda 2’s platform, but its designers are adamant the CX-3 shouldn’t be underestimated as an SUV version of the 2. It’s been developed to project cutting edge design and engineering, with a special focus on quality, looks, feel and function.
That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?
A lengthy launch drive gave us an opportunity to sample both engine and drivetrain combinations across Maxx, sTouring and Akari spec levels. And no matter which engine was sitting under the bonnet, the first thing that became clear is that more grunt would be welcome.
The 1.5-litre diesel (powering the 2 in other markets) is smooth and quiet enough, but even with 250Nm from as little as 1,600rpm, it takes it’s time on highway overtaking. The 2.0-litre petrol (also used in the Mazda 3) feels crisper and more willing, but even then the need for extra oomph is clear. The upside is excellent fuel efficiency.
Steering feel is good and the chassis manages to combine a planted feel with nimble responses. Maybe because there’s less weight over the front axle, petrol variants have a dynamic edge, with AWD versions adding an extra sense of security and balance.
And driving home from the city?
IKEA’s proved good design doesn’t have to cost the earth, and Mazda continues to embrace that ideal, creating a beautifully simple, sleek and comfortable interior.
It might be small on the outside, but cabin space is generous, with more than adequate rear leg and headroom for two full-size adults. Put three burly blokes back there and you’d be in trouble though. Cargo volume of 264-litres with rear seats up, 1,174-litres with the (60/40 split-fold) second row folded is relatively modest.
Ride comfort is excellent, noise levels are low, and despite the car’s sloping rear roofline, all-around vision is fine.
Anything bad about it?
That’s that need for more power, occasional front end bounciness on the highway, plus there’s no front centre armrest, a lack of ventilation outlets for rear seat passengers, and the lever to adjust front seat backrest angle is awkward.
How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?
The CX-3 delivers plenty of tech, luxury features and safety bang for your buck. At $19,990 cost-of-entry, the Neo features air-con, cruise, four-speaker MP3 compatible audio, Bluetooth compatibility, keyless start, six airbags, rear parking sensors, and HLA (hill launch assist).
Then the Maxx (from $22,390) adds 16-inch alloys, leather trimmed wheel/gear-shift/handbrake, 7-inch colour touch screen with MZD Connect infotainment, six-speaker audio, internet radio, multi-function ‘Commander Control’, sat-nav, and reversing camera.
Step up to the sTouring (from $26,990) and you’ll pick up 18-inch alloys, front fog lamps, LED head and tail lights, and climate-control air. And on the top-shelf the Akari (from $31,290) is loaded with power slide and tilt glass sunroof, black leather and suede trim, Blind Spot Monitoring (ABSM), High Beam Control (HBC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS).
Would you take the CX-3 or Mitsubishi ASX?
Thanks to its sharp pricing and value, good looks, quality engineering, and impressive dynamics, the CX-3 will undoubtedly shake things up in the compact SUV market. All of a sudden the Mitsubishi ASX is looking ancient, and we’d take the Mazda in an instant.
Click here to read the full range review on the Mazda CX-3.