8.5 / 10
The small SUV segment is undergoing tremendous growth (sales are up 32 per cent on 2014) and now there’s a new model set to boost that even further – the Mazda CX-3.
The CX-3 marks the first entry for Mazda in the sub-compact SUV market, but based upon the success of its big brother CX-5 – currently leading medium SUV sales – it would have been mad not to go there.
At 1550mm tall, it allows for the much desired high driving position over its small car siblings, but it is actually the lowest car in the segment – helping improve its sporting looks.
The CX-3 is the fifth model to feature Mazda’s Kodo design (behind Mazda 6, Mazda 3, Mazda 2 and CX-5) and with its big black arches and floating rear roof pillar is a really smart and ‘funky’ looking car.
There are eight colours to choose from and the CX-3 looks great in all of them – particularly the sparkling blue mica and signature Soul Red (a $200 option).
While talking about choice, the CX-3 launches with an impressive range, with a choice of four grades (Neo, Maxx, sTouring and Akari), a 109kW/192Nm petrol and 77kW/270Nm diesel engine option, front-wheel or all-wheel drive – even a choice of six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
The big kicker? The range starts from just $19,990 for a manual, petrol, FWD Neo, making it the cheapest sub-compact SUV on the market (read full price and specifications here).
We drove the Maxx, sTouring and Akari models on country roads between Canberra and Sydney. The Neo arrives in Australia in April.
Mazda expects to see 55 per cent of all sales being the Maxx model (likely in FWD, auto, petrol guise for $24,390). The Maxx interior is simple and clean, and a direct carry-over from the Mazda 2.
Space and vision up front is excellent and the mirrors do a great job of providing a clear view, even with the sloping roofline.
All CX-3 models have a manually height adjustable driver’s seat and reach/rake adjustment on the steering wheel. The driving position is good and there is plenty of headroom (even for taller drivers).
The back seats are cozy, particularly for knees, but there is decent head room. There is no centre armrest and you wouldn’t want to squeeze three adults back there, but for short trips it is okay – and it would be fine for children.
We tested a standard booster seat (there are two ISOFIX points and three standard anchor points) and found the leg room for booster passengers very tight.
Again, okay for shorter trips but the CX-3’s size is not really ideal for younger families – if not for the children, think of the constant kicking on the back of the front seats!
The boot isn’t huge, although it is 14 litres larger than the Mazda 2 at 264 litres. The space is very usable, with a moveable floor (that can fit the parcel shelf if not in use) and fold-flat 60:40 seats, that gives an 1174L cargo space.
While Mazda note the market the CX-3 is aimed at doesn’t factor overall space as a core requirement, it is fair to note it is substantially smaller than key competitors such as the Renault Captur (377L) and Honda HR-V (427L).
All grades except the Neo feature Mazda’s 7.0-inch MZD touch-screen infotainment system that includes satellite navigation and access to internet-based music applications such as Pandora. Most importantly, the MZD screen is utilised for a reverse-view camera with guidelines.
The Neo does receive reverse parking sensors but a camera (with a screen in the rear-view mirror) is a $778 option.
Also optional on all models except the top-spec Akari is a $1030 safety pack that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic low-speed collision detection and braking function.
On the road, the Maxx on the standard 16-inch wheels and tyres feels sporty and composed. We noted 100km/h road noise on coarse-chip country surfaces at about 80dB, and about 73dB for smoother freeway driving.
The 18-inch wheels in the sTouring and Akari models are a bit firmer, but not uncomfortably so – plus they do look good.
Around town the CX-3 feels light and easy to drive, all while retaining a bit of a sporting and entertaining nature.
It’s not a supremely quiet car, but conversation levels were comfortable and around town (where the CX-3 will likely spend most of its life) you don’t notice much road noise at all.
The 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine is zippy at urban speeds and comfortably cruises at 100km/h. Under sustained load periods, either accelerating or powering up a hill, the ‘same as a Mazda 3’ engine can sound a bit coarse and drony.
It’s efficient, though – returning 6.9L/100km for a combined loop of urban and ‘spirited’ country driving (Mazda claims 6.1L/100km).
The 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre Skyactiv-D turbo-diesel engine is new to Australia and feels much smoother and quieter than the petrol at urban speeds. On country touring sections, though, the lack over overall power was noticeable when overtaking and it too can be quite ‘clacky’ under load.
Efficiency here was a strong point as we saw 5.3L/100km on another mixed loop of country and urban roads (close to the 4.8L/100km claim).
Service intervals are every 10,000km and cost between $280 and $307 for the petrol and $319 and $387 for the diesel. Taking that over four years or 60,000km (and including noted wear and tear items) sees service and maintenance costs of $2016 for the petrol and $2451 to the diesel.
ANCAP tests have not been conducted, but Mazda state that simulations and adherence to guidelines should see the CX-3 net a five-star rating.
The Mazda CX-3 has a high-quality, and pleasant feel about it in all conditions. The design keeps impressing the more you look at it (the black fender cladding really works on the small footprint) and overall it is a very nice little car.
Buyers looking for a compact SUV that is cool and stylish, and that’s also affordable, now have another very serious player to consider.
It may be a little late to the compact SUV game, but with the Mazda 2, Mazda 3 and CX-5 all close to or at the top of the sales charts in their segments, the Mazda CX-3 is set to shake things up.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks when we spend some real time with the car and see how it stacks up against some other newcomers in its class.