Since the Mazda CX-3 was launched a year ago, we've reviewed various guises seven times. The track record thus far? In four single-car reviews it scored solidly between 7.5 and 8.5 out of ten, while in its three comparison appearances it rated eight from ten each time, winning twice and drawing once.
So our newest long-termer, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx petrol automatic front-driver, arrives in the CarAdvice garage with a solid track record and, one might think, not a lot left to reveal.
Well, in one obvious respect, we've not dug properly under the CX-3's skin for any longer than a few days at a time. And it appears that Mazda's compact SUV may have more to disclose than your average volume-seller. Evidence suggests the CX-3 bottles all the key ingredients - the magic - that makes Mazda's popularity in Australia such an anomaly that even Hiroshima's top brass (over a quiet sake or two) don't quite understand what we've done so right.
Given the quite recent news that the local importer of the Japanese brand toppled Holden from second place in outright sales for 2015, its rivals are curious - often openly - about what Mazda's doing so, erm, differently right. And so do we.
That's why we have the 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol four-powered, automatic-equipped, front-driven version. At $24,390 plus on-roads, it has and is expected to continue to be the biggest seller in the range, the variant most Aussies have and will buy. Ours is in what you'd call 'honest spec', too, its options limited to signature Soul Red paintwork ($250) and floor mats ($134) for a $24,774 manufacturer's list price.
Mazda's 2015 success is despite significant downturns in sales of 3s and 6s, its two SUV ranges, including the high-achieving CX-5, clearly taking up the slack and then some. The CX-3 has proven a smash - if early sales figures are true indicators, the compact five-door will dominate its segment in 2016, smashing the (now defunct if spotted in showrooms) Hyundai ix35 and (ageing if dramatically priced-dropped) Mitsubishi ASX out of the park. Point is, few other cars out there encapsulate the kind of 'right stuff' Aussies are buying right now than our Little Red Wagon.
What is that Mazda magic? Here's one theory, starting, logically, on what the marque does differently to many of its rivals.
Mazda knows that presentation rules. And it tries, with much success, to make its models seems as upmarket and sporty as possible, and it doesn't hold back with the conservatism and restraint some of its rivals feel obliged to do with their own price-savvy, volume-selling models. Models, of course, built to cost.
Here's the clever bit. In arriving at upmarket appeal, Mazda knows that high-brow materials are costly to produce, but high-brow design and styling isn't. And its designer appeared briefed to ensure than the curves of any Mazda are sexier, its red paintwork richer, its instruments sportier, seating more lowly slung and purposeful in shape, and with wheel designs larger and more enticing than found with competitor cars at the same price point.
Unlike Toyota (with Lexus) and Nissan (with Infiniti), Mazda has no premium sister brand to protect through making bread and butter models, well, dull. So it doesn't hold back on pizzazz, and it uses every clever trick in The Book of Car Design that doesn't add costs passed on to buyers.
Same goes for the specification. Mazda sinks cost into key areas that impress the most in the showroom: the flashiest steering wheels, console-mounted infotainment controllers, trick-looking air vents. It's all feel-good factor, though premium presentation without a premium price tag.
Europeans like the stoic and the drab, Americans love the garish and ostentatious. We Australians, though, are an increasingly image-conscious lot and we love our sportiness, but we're traditionally value-savvy shoppers. "How much?" is ingrained in the forefront of our cultural mindset. And parked in your driveway, a Mazda sells the message that you're both a little more adventurous and financially shrewd than your alternative-buying neighbour.
Even before we turn a wheel in our extended tenure with our CX-3, it certainly passes the perceived value test. Even in one-rung-up Maxx trim it looks the more expensive car than its sub-$25K ask.
But enough of fanciful theories. In past reviews, we've discovered that once you scratch the surface the CX-3's pros and cons do err towards the positive, despite the modest 264-litre bootspace and the fact that active safety technology is a considerable ($1030) extra cost raising questions surrounding outright practicality and sensibility.
Whether there’s depth of quality and staying power under the CX-3’s warm and fuzzy 'Mazda magic' in the longer-term experience remains to be exposed over the next few months.
Daily urban runabout, dirty weekender, cross-country cruiser, photo shoot support vehicle excursions: it’ll be put through all manner of calls of duty. We are also keen to run the compact SUV up against its non-identical compact hatchback twin, the Mazda2, or perhaps the more likely cross-shop, the Mazda3, to test the integrity of the former's family friendliness pitch.
If there’s anything you’d like to know about the CX-3, or suggestions about how it should be tested, drop us a line in the comments section below.
2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx petrol auto FWD
Date acquired – January 2016
Odometer reading - 3098kms
Travel since previous – N/A
Consumption since previous – N/A