CX-3 starts in the deep end to prove there’s nothing shallow about it.
First published in the January 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
PROPERLY compact SUVs: Are they the faddish selfie-sticks and man-buns of the car world, or the future of the small car?
Leader of the pack for design and dynamics is the in-demand CX-3, launched to widespread acclaim (and a Wheels comparo victory) earlier this year, so we’re fortunate to snaffle one for a few months to find out what it’s like to live with.
Choice is another area where the Japanese-built, Mazda 2-based, crossover shines, pummelling the competition by offering the option of petrol or diesel, front- or all-wheel drive, and manual or auto. We absolutely applaud Mazda for that.
No new Mazda has ever let me down, but a loose starter motor wire stopped the CX-3. Seems a rogue stick was the likely culprit.
Given that going AWD brings the preferred De Dion rear axle set-up (rather than the torsion beam arrangement of front-drivers) and that the $30,990 sTouring version (as supplied) is aimed at buyers seeking a bit of sporty spice for their snowfields sojourns, is it unreasonable to see the all-wheel-drive CX-3 as a pint-sized all-rounder for the masses?
To find out, AFH-711 was thrown in the deep end, first as one of a slew of cars in COTY contention, and then as the chase vehicle for an upcoming sports car comparo. Before handing the car over to its ultimate keeper, David Hassall, the task of driving on the shoot fell to me. All 2000-plus kilometres of it – from Melbourne to Omeo, then Corryong via Falls Creek, up to Australia’s highest town (Cabramurra in the Snowy Mountains) and back to Melbourne via Canberra. This certainly put the sTouring’s ‘Sport Touring’ claims to the test.
Initially, things looked stellar for the Mazda. The aggressive proportions, arguably the company’s best-resolved dashboard (virtually a straight lift from the 2, but with added glam), sumptuously supportive seats (despite the lack of lumbar adjustment), the perfect driving position, and lush leather facings for key touch points (namely the lovely steering wheel and gear knob). And everything is just so beautifully made.
However, that’s where the refinement sheen is its most lustrous.
The moment you push the start button, you’re accosted by noise. Whether warming up or under any moderate level of acceleration, the 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit is vociferous – too much so by mainstream standards, let alone premium ones. Part of the problem is that the SkyActiv-G’s power delivery feels flat until the tacho is swinging well past 4000rpm; it’s only then that the CX-3’s performance really comes on strong.
That said, the engine itself is pretty smooth while the six-speed auto’s shifts are ultra-slick, and the pleasingly sorted manual-mode shifter does make the most of the 2.0’s peaky character.
Keeping up with sports cars over deserted mountain roads is a recipe for ruining fuel economy, but the CX-3 shone; it refused to drink more than 10L/100km, and I had it as low as 7.2L/100km. Brilliant. And nor did the chase faze the steering (wonderfully involving), handling (remarkably poised and planted for a compact SUV) or brakes (surefooted four-wheel discs). It is in the chassis that the CX-3 feels most premium.
The busy ride quality is reminiscent of most big-wheeled German luxury SUVs with stiff suspension, and it’s accompanied by coarse-chip droning. I’d trade some of that high-speed cornering grip for the cheaper Maxx AWD equivalent’s comfier 215/60R16 tyres.
Ultimately, the long schlep along the smooth Hume Freeway took the edge off the ride and engine roar, highlighting the quality and depth of the likeable CX-3’s engineering. Warts and all, this is the most driver-focused compact SUV around today.
We hope a mostly urbane existence as a day-to-day commuter might alleviate some of that loudness and hardness. Over to you, Hass.
OUR CX-3 is the mid-range sTouring AWD petrol auto, which retails for $30,990 (plus $200 for our ‘Soul Red’ paint and $134 for floor mats). Included in the standard spec is a (class-first) head-up display, Mazda’s far more desirable sports instrumentation (prioritising the tacho as the sole analogue dial), automatic LED headlights, leather-like vinyl (dubbed Maztex), keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers and 18-inch alloy wheels wearing Toyo Proxes 215/50R18 rubber. Also present are satellite navigation (which proved utterly undependable), a rear camera with parking sensors and a BMW iDrive-style central controller for the sizeable stand-alone central screen.
Mazda CX-3 sTouring AWD
Price as tested: $31,324
Part 1: 2089km @ 8.8L/100km
Overall: 2089km @ 8.8L/100km
Date acquired: November 2015