The Mazda CX-3 Maxx offers a good all-round package for not a huge amount of coin. Is it the pick of the range? James Wong finds out
It's been a while now since the refreshed 2017 Mazda CX-3 range landed in Australia, bringing numerous equipment and technology updates across the range, though the overall look across all variants is largely the same.
The changes come as a growing number of competitors have arrived, such as the Toyota C-HR or the Hyundai Kona. What the CX-3 has always had going for it are its handsome looks and engaging drive experience, and this updated model aims to continue that.
On test we have the Maxx in petrol front-wheel-drive form equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission. It's listed at $24,890 plus on-road costs, with the Eternal Blue mica exterior paint a no-cost option. In fact, the only cost-option you can equip your CX-3 with is Mazda's signature Soul Red metallic paint, which commands a measly $300 extra.
For your near-$25,000 spend, the Maxx offers a healthy standard equipment list, including 16-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, a rear-view camera, digital radio, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, along with a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shift.
Those features are on top of the entry-level Neo's autonomous emergency braking (AEB), rear parking sensors, cloth seat trim, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, push-button start, and six airbags.
As already mentioned, the updated CX-3 is fitted as standard with AEB technology across the range, which operates at speeds from 4–80km/h and also features pedestrian detection. The pre-update CX-3 was given a five-star safety rating from independent crash-testing authority ANCAP, and the refreshed model should achieve the same.
Other safety kit includes six airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outboard rear seats, along with your standard suite of driver aids like stability control and traction control.
In terms of design, the CX-3 remains pretty familiar inside and out, with very few changes made other than the revised driver's instrument cluster, though higher-spec models get a better head-up display (HUD).
The exterior remains sharp and handsome, even in the more unassuming Maxx trim. The 16-inch alloy wheels and chubbier 215/60 R16 tyres are conservative but nice, while the chunky black cladding on the bumpers gives the CX-3 a much tougher look compared to its Mazda 2 sibling.
Meanwhile, the differences inside are much harder to notice, with the overall cabin design basically lifted from the Mazda 2. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the clean and uncluttered aesthetic is quite nice.
The floating MZD Connect infotainment screen looks premium, though the harder plastics atop the dash and doors detract from what is otherwise an upmarket-looking interior.
In terms of the system itself, the 7.0-inch screen's software is familiar Mazda fare, with in-built satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, along with digital radio functions. It can be controlled either by touch inputs on the screen or via the rotary dial located on the centre console.
While it lacks the increasingly standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technologies, the MZD system does the job and won't leave many complaining – except for the odd moment when Bluetooth audio can cut out, or transitioning from navigation to audio screens can take a little longer than it should.
Room for front occupants is good, with lots of head and knee room, while there's plenty of adjustment for the driver to find the right position, even for taller people. Comfort in the front pews is likewise good, with enough bolstering and support to be comfortable over longer journeys.
In the back, though, it's not quite as good. Taller passengers are tight for both head and leg room, particularly if you have above-average occupants up the front. Kids will be fine at the rear, but if you regularly carry teenagers or adults in the back, you'd be far better served by something like the Honda HR-V.
Behind the second row is a 264-litre luggage area, which lags far behind just about every rival, namely the HR-V (437L) and Mitsubishi ASX (393L). It does expand to a more respectable 1174L with the rear seats folded, but it's by no means as practical as its competitors.
There is a removable boot floor, however, which can be used to make a flat loading floor, or act as a lid to an underfloor storage compartment. More volume would be a welcome addition, though. Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare wheel.
Moving back to the front, a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine resides under the bonnet, making 109kW of power at 6000rpm and 192Nm of torque at 2800rpm.
Our tester drives the front wheels via a six-speed torque converter automatic, though you can also have a six-speed manual with front-wheel drive, an all-wheel drive with the six-speed automatic, along with a 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic.
Despite being an atmo unit, the 2.0-litre engine provides enough pep to neatly shift the CX-3's relatively light 1282kg kerb weight. Around town, the Mazda gets up to speed smoothly and with ample pace, though under load the whiny engine note is hard to ignore. Once at speed, though, the petrol mill settles into a quiet hum, barely heard even at speeds of 100km/h – where it spins at around 2250rpm.
The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and intuitively, and seems to find the right gear just about every time. If you're feeling a little spirited, there's even a 'Sport' mode, which holds gears to keep you in the power band. It's no performance car, but it does make the CX-3 surprisingly responsive and almost 'fun' to drive through twisty back roads.
Speaking of bends, the Mazda's steering is light enough to make tighter manoeuvres easy without feeling completely numb. The CX-3's light weight and compact dimensions also make it feel nimble no matter what speed you're doing. In fact, it handles far more like a regular small hatchback than an SUV, so you won't feel like you're wallowing about like some rivals.
The ride is well sorted too. It's compliant and supple enough to iron out just about every speed bump and pot hole you can throw at it, while also feeling nicely stable and planted at freeway speeds.
Road noise is well suppressed, despite this being a common complaint of Mazda's range, though some rougher surfaces can transmit noticeable tyre roar into the cabin. Wind noise off the windscreen and side mirrors is kept to a minimum, however.
Compared to the higher-spec sTouring and Akari grades, which ride on larger 18-inch rims, the Maxx is noticeably more comfortable over just about every surface thanks to its smaller 16-inch wheels and chubbier tyres. There's also less tyre roar, at least in this reviewer's opinion.
Fuel consumption was a noteworthy positive as well. We managed 7.2 litres per 100km during 500km of mixed driving, which may be a litre up on Mazda's 6.1L/100km claim, though it's pretty good considering there was a skew towards urban environments.
In fact, it wasn't that much thirstier than our Mazda 2 Neo long-termer, which misses out on the CX-3's idle stop/start technology, though is lighter and has a smaller 1.5-litre atmo four.
Ownership-wise, the CX-3 is covered by the company's three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with lifetime advertised servicing prices.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. The first five services, meanwhile, will set you back between $286 and $314 – though an extra $200 spend is required every 40,000km for the replacement of the cabin air filter ($80) and brake fluid ($120).
While the service intervals and warranty coverage cannot match the likes of the Korean brands, Mazda's dealer network consistently wins awards for customer service and satisfaction – something that is potentially more valuable to buyers.
It's easy to see why the Mazda CX-3 continues to be a hit among buyers – it's affordable, comes loaded with equipment in most grades, drives like a hatch rather than an SUV, and it looks great.
While the lack of outright practicality continues to be a drawback, the refined driving experience and the upmarket design inside and out will appeal to many.
Provided you aren't looking for a load-lugger or family hauler, the CX-3 is plenty of car. The Maxx, particularly in the front-wheel-drive petrol trim we have on test, is arguably the best value in the range, while also the most comfortable to live with. If you can do without the LED lighting and stylish alloys of the sTouring, the Maxx is good buying.