2017 Mazda CX-3 Review

2015 Mazda CX-3 sTouring

Overall Rating


4.5 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

5 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

5 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars


5 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProEquipment, fuel use, comfort, safety, styling.

  2. ConSmall boot.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Akari (AWD) 4D Wagon

What stands out?

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The CX-3 makes a keenly priced get-away car for singles and couples, coping happily with workaday duties but commanding an easy highway lope. Mazda’s smallest SUV is more than a Mazda2 on stilts: options include an excellent new turbo-diesel engine, and all-wheel drive. Automatic emergency braking can be ordered on any version.

What might bug me?

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Squeezing stuff into the boot. For example, a pram might not fit unless you fold down one rear seat.

Driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.

What body styles are there?

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Five-door wagon only.

The CX-3 is available in all-wheel drive, or front-wheel drive only. It is classed as a small SUV, lower priced.

What features does every Mazda CX-3 have?

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Cruise control, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, and audio controls on the steering wheel.

Hill-launch assist, which controls the brakes automatically when you are starting from rest on a slope.

Windows tinted to reduce sun penetration. Rear parking sensors.

Height adjustment of the driver’s seat and a tilt-and-reach adjustable steering column.

Electronic stability control, which helps the driver control skids. Every new car must have this feature.

A space-saver spare tyre. (A maximum speed of 80km/h is recommended for these.)

Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and curtain airbags that protect front and rear passengers’ heads in side impacts.

For about $1000, a safety pack can be optioned that includes low-speed automatic emergency braking under the label Smart City Brake Support. This feature applies the brakes automatically if a sensor detects a looming obstacle – typically a car in front slowing sharply – when you are travelling at less than 30km/h. The safety pack’s features are standard on the most costly model, the Akari.

Every Mazda CX-3 carries a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The new 1.5-litre turbo-diesel, which consumes a mere 4.8 litres/100km in two-wheel drive form and 5.1 litres/100km when driving all four wheels (official test cycle, urban and country combined).

One reason why you might not order the diesel is that it is not available on the least costly CX-3, the Neo, and on other versions it costs significantly more than the alternative petrol engine and comes only with an automatic gearbox.

A second is that the diesel is not suited to unrelieved short trips around town. You need to do a 30-minute run near highway speeds every week or two, to self-clean the particulate filter that traps exhaust soot.

A third is that while the diesel is a relaxing and responsive powerplant in most conditions, it cannot match the petrol alternative when you want every bit of urge you can get.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is similar to that fitted to front-wheel drive versions of Mazda’s bigger and heavier CX-5. It propels the CX-3 in a much more lively manner, if still a noisy manner when worked hard.

The 2.0 petrol consumes about 6.5 litres/100km on the official test. In real-world testing by Wheels magazine staff, a petrol-engined CX-3 sTouring AWD automatic recorded an average of 8.5 litres/100km over 4500km.

The diesel engine is available only with a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The petrol engine can be ordered in automatic form on all versions, and in 6-speed manual form on all front-wheel drive versions.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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The least costly CX-3, the Neo, rolls on 16-inch steel wheels.

Spend more for the Maxx and you get better looking wheels in an alloy of aluminium, the option of four-wheel drive and the option of diesel power.

The Maxx has a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Mazda’s MZD Connect entertainment system, and with the music-streaming apps Pandora, Stitcher and Aha embedded. There is satellite navigation, a reversing camera, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The CX-3 sTouring bumps the wheel size to 18 inches, using tyres of a lower profile for more responsive steering on hard surfaces. It has foglamps, LED daytime visibility lamps and LED headlamps – which are brighter and longer lasting than conventional lights. There is a head-up instrument display, which allows the driver to view the speedo and the road simultaneously. You can unlock and start the car while the key remains secure in a pocket or handbag. Wipers operate automatically when a sensor detects rain on the windscreen. The air-conditioning maintains a set temperature.

The most expensive CX-3, the Akari, offers a choice between black or white leather seats, and comes with a power-operated sunroof. Headlamps dim automatically for oncoming traffic, and the car warns if you are drifting out of your lane on a freeway. It also has active safety features from the safety pack that is optional on other versions: a blind-spot monitor; an alert that warns, when reversing, of a vehicle crossing behind; and low-speed automatic emergency braking.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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None of the four-wheel drive versions is available with a manual transmission – which could be a downside for keen drivers who like full control of gear selection. The manual gearbox on front-drive CX-3s is a delight to use, too.

The part leatherette Maztek trim in sTouring models is a type of vinyl, and is vastly inferior to the perforated real leather in the Akaris.

Upgrading to a diesel engine cuts towing capacity by a third, to 800kg.

Seven colours are available at no extra charge. The eighth, Soul Red Metallic, adds about $200.

How comfortable is the Mazda CX-3?

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Up front, seat comfort is the best of any small SUV in this price range, while forward vision is impressive thanks to the fairly upright A-pillars at either end of the windscreen. The placement of the driver’s seat feels spot-on – high enough to command the road, yet low enough to still feel sporty and car-like.

The dashboard and centre console are identical to the Mazda2’s, which is no bad thing. The head-up display and colour touchscreen, where fitted, are good too.

The distance between front and rear axles is also the same as on the Mazda2 light car, so that the CX-3 is nippy to steer in the city. But the body is longer, meaning it is not quite as easy to squeeze into a parking spot.

The turbo-diesel CX-3 is a well-mannered little thing. At low speeds you can tell it’s a diesel, but it’s far from a rattler. At highway speeds it pulls incredibly well, and devours undulating terrain with effortless composure. In many conditions it is quieter than the petrol alternative.

In top-spec Akari guise with either engine the CX-3 is a seriously luxe little tinker, complete with a sunroof, proper leather, and just about every safety bleeper known to man.

What about safety in a CX-3?

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With stability control, a full suite of airbags, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, all CX-3s except for the Neo rate as Excellent for safety. The absence of a reversing camera on the Neo drops it to Very Good.

The safety pack option allows you to equip any model with low-speed auto emergency braking, as well as a blind spot monitor (which warns when you indicate to change lanes if a vehicle is alongside out of view), and a rear cross-traffic alert. These and a lane-departure warning are standard on the Akari.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Mazda CX-3 five stars for safety, its maximum, in September 2015.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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Yes, and especially if you get a four-wheel drive version – provided you are satisfied with the very good auto gearbox.

All-wheel drive CX-3s feel better balanced in corners than their front-drive sisters, largely because they use a more sophisticated rear suspension design. The result is meatier, more consistent steering and an involving feel.

Front-drive CX-3s steer less crisply and naturally, with the versions powered by the heavier diesel engine feeling less satisfying than the petrol models. But they are still quite good.

The CX-3’s six-speed manual gearbox – available only with a petrol engine – is a ripper, shifting with fabulous precision and a beautifully oiled weightiness that makes it feel like it has come from a sports car. Combine that with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder’s lively enthusiasm and the superb three-spoke leather steering wheel on Maxx, sTouring and Akari models and here is a baby SUV with panache.

About the only thing tarnishing the experience is the strident note from the petrol engine when it is worked very hard, and the accompanying vibration felt through the pedals and steering wheel.

All-wheel drive versions of the CX-3 are great on gravel roads, but are intended for these and slippery (or snowy) sealed roads only. The CX-3’s low ride-height, and road-oriented suspension and gearing, stop it early when the going gets rough.

How is life in the rear seats?

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The CX-3’s rear seat is mounted quite high – theatre-style – giving passengers a decent view forward, though rather less over its rising hipline. The comfort of the seat itself is excellent. Rear seat passengers have marginally more leg room and knee clearance than they would have in a Mazda2.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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Cargo space is again only slightly greater than in the Mazda2 light hatchback – 264 litres versus 250. So it will hold a stroller or a pair of suitcases, or lightweight camping gear for a couple. But for a week-long tour with two children, you would need to pack light – or invest in a roof pod.

The petrol CX-3s are rated to tow more than the diesels, at 1200kg and 800kg respectively (braked trailer).

Where does Mazda make the CX-3?

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The Mazda CX-3 is made in Hiroshima, Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Active cruise control, which can match your speed to that of a slower car ahead on the highway - until you can overtake. This is standard on the Toyota C-HR, for example.

A full-sized spare tyre, which could mean a flat interfered less with your road trip. This is rare in small SUVs, but the Holden Trax offers one as an option.

Other small SUVs you might consider include the Suzuki Vitara, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Peugeot 2008, Mitsubishi ASX, and Jeep Renegade.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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While the Maxx is a great little car for the money, this is one case where the most costly model offers compelling value. The Akari’s cossetting, leather-trimmed cockpit, head-up display, auto-dipping LED headlamps, active safety equipment, and dynamically engaging four-wheel drive chassis add up to a comprehensively appealing package. We would choose petrol power, but mainly for its small handling advantage: the diesel is an excellent touring engine.

Are there plans to update the CX-3 soon?

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Yes. The Mazda CX-3 was released in March 2015 as an all-new model. A minor update is expected about the middle of May 2017.