After waffling on about intangible ‘Mazda magic’ in our 2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx long-term report one, what better way to test the real-world mettle under its Soul Red facade than to trek the compact SUV to the worst place I could think of: Hyams Beach, on New South Wales’ south coast.
Never heard of Hyams Beach? It’s terrible. Sand so bright it’ll hurt your eyes, so unpopular with city slickers it feels lonely, water so clear that sea predators might mistake a swimmer for a porpoise from a nautical mile off. Avoided by franchised hoteliers and fast food corporations, only a posse of masochists – myself, crazy missus and friends – would hole up there in a converted whaler’s cottage, enduring the cacophony of ocean, wildlife and barbecue sizzle from the back patio under bleating early-Autumnal sun.
You’d hate it. Don’t go.
Still, someone has to conduct the marathon (2.5-hour) trip from Sydney's big smoke, via a tiresome succession of twisty Kangaroo Valley corners, for science. And back again, of course, to validate findings. Maybe twice.
No worries. You’re welcome.
I was sceptical about the little guy's abilities to do grown-up tasks but the round trip, two-up with overnighter addenda, wasn't about to task its family-swallowing potential. That said, travelling light for the better half and I, does include a haul of guitar equipment (mine), enough shoes to clothe a small army (hers), and enough perishables to cater a Big Day Out festival (ours). The CX-3 swallowed it all without so much as a groan from its heaved tailgate.
The CX-3, like all cars, dances to an open-road rhythm differently to that around town. In the big smoke, its turbocharger-less 192Nm leaves the 2.0-litre four feeling strained and gruff at times when keeping in sync with the often-erratic urban flow. Heading south on The Hume with cruise control dialled up, the CX-3 can be impressively quiet, save for some inevitable tyre roar which is more the fault of infrastructural slap-ups and cost-cutting than anything of the car, its sound insulation or its eco-centric rubber.
Despite the modest footprint at play, the Mazda is impressively stable at highway speeds. It also feels surprisingly solid and about as well refined as could be reasonably expected for its sub-$25K ask.
Punch the throttle to overtake, and it sounds to be moving Heaven and Earth, even in Sport drive mode. It will get the job done, though it does need generous fast-lane real estate when leap frogging longer trucks and B-doubles. Overtaking on single-carriageway backroads can test prudence and patience.
Negotiating the narrow, hilly descent towards the Southern Highlands coastline, the CX-3’s handling is impressively dextrous, provided you don't overtask those 215mm Bridgestone Turanzas. The brakes aren’t quite as confidence-inspiring, demanding a long push towards an urgent take-up, which takes some getting used to. Likewise, the brakes felt the same with a Mazda3 sedan that passed through the CarAdvice garage recently, so it must be something of a Mazda trait rather than an issue with our long-termer.
Arriving at the disgustingly crystalline Hyams Beach foreshore, the CX-3 had averaged 6.5L per 100 kilometres over a range doubling that. This was an impressive 0.4L off its maker’s combined claim while using 98RON in its now drained tank. As a test, I opted to brim the Mazda’s bladder with Caltex Bio E10 - it's 10-percent ethanol, its maker says, derived from Farmer Joe-approved ‘goodness’.
And you know what? By the trip's conclusion, the average consumption on E10 was the exact same 6.5L figure as it was on The Pricey Juice. I could swear the little 2.0-litre four had a fraction more swagger in its stride, though this could well have been, in truth, some sort of placebo effect...
In the thick of the trip the compact SUV played the role of South Coast beach hopper for four crazy adults in a terrible place over three annoyingly cloudless days.
I’d presumed that, four-up, the not-really-that-tiny CX-3 would only provide modest comfort and only during short trips, after which the torture would inevitably creep in. I was wrong.
With four increasingly sunburnt bodies aboard, the Mazda’s slightly firm ‘unladened’ ride settled in to a nice pliant state that refused to be flustered by the rutted goat tracks that lead to some of Jervis Bay's more irritably picturesque locales. Nor did its engine or transmission struggle in co-operation.
The only real limitation is that we couldn’t pack much more than our towels, togs and my mate Dave's pet drone (much to his partner Ashley's disgust), such is the CX-3’s modest boot space.
Niggles? There are few. My iPhone6 – the littler one – doesn’t fit anywhere in the centre console or near the USB charging point, forcing me shove it into the glovebox – “At least you won't get fined,” opined The Wiser Half.
I’m not a huge fan of Mazda’s MZD Connect, though I have sampled much worse. The rotary console controller is set too far rearward and is less functional than it initially seems, and both the sat-nav and radio can be clumsy in interface.
There’s other little stuff too: the reverse-view camera is very ‘fish-eyed’, making distance difficult to judge; the air-con (not climate control) is tricky to dial in an ideal temperature, and there’s a concerning sag that has started to appear in the driver’s seat base bolster. Small niggles, then.
If the CX-3 offers a deal-breaker, it’s yet to surface thus far. Still, it's early days...
2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx petrol auto FWD
Date acquired – January 2016
Odometer reading – 4341km
Travel since previous – 1243km
Consumption since previous – 6.5L/100kms
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.