Luxury European brands get plenty of attention for their niche models, but in the small SUV space, the 2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx diesel is something of a one-of-a-kind car.
Although there have been plenty of new baby crossover models launching in recent months – the likes of the updated Holden Trax, revamped Peugeot 2008, all-new Renault Captur and highly versatile Honda HR-V all spring to mind – none have come with a diesel engine and automatic gearbox at this price point.
And what an eye-catching price point it is: the Mazda CX-3 Maxx diesel kicks off from $26,790 plus on-road costs, which means it undercuts the few small diesel crossover offerings that also exist on the market. The Peugeot 2008 Outdoor diesel manual is a hefty $32,990 proposition, while the slightly larger Nissan Qashqai diesel starts at $33,590.
That entry price is all the more impressive given the amount of standard kit fitted to the CX-3 Maxx - including a six-speed automatic transmission.
Goodies include 16-inch alloys (with Bridgestone Turanza tyres); a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearshifter and handbrake; cruise control; reversing sensors and reverse-view camera; MZD Connect infotainment system with 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, internet radio integration and multi-function rotary commander.
Buyers can also choose the optional ($1030) Safety Pack, which adds a blind-spot monitoring system, handy rear cross-traffic alert system that alerts you of oncoming traffic when reversing, and smart city brake support (all standard on Akari). Read the full pricing and specifications list for the 2015 Mazda CX-3 here.
So it ticks the boxes in terms of value for money, and it feels like money well spent inside the cabin.
The cockpit is nicely presented and feels more prestigious than some rivals in the class – it’s greatly aided by the dash-top MZD Connect media screen and premium-style rotary dial controller.
That system is a benchmark offering in this segment, with simple menus, precise controls and easy connectivity. The Bluetooth phone and audio streaming worked seamlessly on our test car, and there’s Pandora internet radio capability, too – just watch your download limits…
The screen is touch-sensitive when the car is at a standstill, and thankfully the dial means you limit the number of finger smudges on the display
The finishes used in the cabin are top-notch, too. There’s a nice soft-touch dash pad that runs across from the passenger’s door to the instrument binnacle, and the padded door armrests are nice, too. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, as well, with good adjustment on offer for shorter motorists.
That said, this isn’t the most high-riding of the baby SUV brigade, and if you’re really after that above the traffic driving position you could be best served elsewhere. The other side of that coin is that it feels car-like in the driver’s seat.
Buyers with young kids (still using a pram or bulky baby seat) should probably consider something more spacious, as well … that HR-V, for example … as the back seat is tighter than most rivals, with taller occupants unlikely to be comfortable over long-distance drives to fairly shy leg and head room.
Indeed, the boot of the Mazda CX-3 is tight, with just 264 litres of space. That’s only 14L more than the Mazda 2 hatch, and well short of the class-leading HR-V (427L). That said, the boot is configurable, with a movable floor that can also hide the cargo blind or valuables if required, and the rear seats fold down in a 60:40 fashion to allow 1174L of cargo space.
Storage through the cabin is decent, with bottle-swallowing door pockets for all four outboard passengers, and a pair of cupholders up front between the seats. There’s no covered centre console, though, and those of us with bulky, oversized smartphones may struggle to find a suitable stowage point.
Under the bonnet is that rare diesel engine, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo unit producing 77kW at 4000rpm and a beefy 270Nm at 1600-2500rpm. Mazda claims fuel use of 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and over our week with the car we saw a little higher than that – 6.0L/100km.
The engine is a willing little nugget of a thing, with a nice amount of shove from a standing start and only the slightest hint of turbo lag prior to the torque coming on stream.
It is noisy if you rev it hard – this is a Mazda, after all – though it offers nice refinement in terms of the way the engine revs.
The six-speed automatic transmission is hard to fault, with decisive gear changes and good manners when it comes to holding gears to use the engine in its best operating range.
Mazda’s cars are designed to be fun to drive, and the CX-3 doesn’t disappoint – it’s arguably the most involving baby SUV on the market when it comes to have fun through the bends. The CX-3’s steering is light yet with a pointy nature, meaning it corners with agility yet can still be parked in tight spots without too much arm twirling.
Even though it's front-wheel drive in the Maxx specification (sTouring and Akari diesel models are AWD) there's good traction available through corners, and while the diesel engine does feel a little heavier over the nose than its petrol counterparts, it's entirely manageable.
The ride of the diesel model feels slightly more composed and squishy than the petrol models we’ve sampled. It’s not as comfortable a ride as, say, the Peugeot 2008, and you do notice some of the sharper-edged surfaces being transmitted to the cabin – but it maintains good body control over challenging sections of road.
Mazda offers the CX-3 with a standard three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and the brand also offers a capped-price service program over the life of the car. That said, maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km – a bit more regularly than some rivals – and the pricing is on the high side, averaging out at $420 per annum (over 50,000km).
The 2015 Mazda CX-3 diesel is a standalone – and standout – offering in the burgeoning small SUV segment. It isn’t as practical as some other more spacious and thoughtful baby high-riders, but for buyers who don’t need to use the back seat or boot often, it’s a sturdy option well worth considering.