Our long-term Mazda CX-3 gets put to work on the land at Australia's home of country music.
Having played the role of beach-hopper around the New South Wales southern coastline in our long-term report two, Mazda’s little-SUV-that-could, 'our' 2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx, needed a fresh and decidedly opposite challenge. And one preferably out of its predictable urban comfort zone.
Enter Easter – or whatever validation for a four-day weekend you elect – and that indicatively Aussie call to pound kays under tread. This time north, this time inland.
Tamworth was calling Marcus Sroba, Office Administrator and Grand Fixer Of Things Needing Fixing at CarAdvice Sydney, presumably for business involving eggs and country music (though he admits to nothing).
It’s a trip that’s around 400 kilometres neat from Marcus’s preferred inner-Sydney hipster enclave to the base of the Tamworth’s Big Golden Guitar, with the final destination being a family shindig with his folks at “late grandmother’s farm in the great town of Wallabadah,” some 55 clicks south of Tamworth and trek with a fair component of dirt driving.
Marcus felt suitably “blessed by the car gods,” he says, to have our Soul Red compact SUV bestowed upon him, which doesn’t so much reveal his predilection for crappy old cars – he desires Fiat's X19, even in 2016 – as it is a reflection of a desire not to have to do the road trip in his girlfriend Bianca’s Mazda 2.
Yes, that’s right, our long-term CX-3 substitute isn’t much of a lunge up motoring’s aspirational tree – he could’ve requested an Aston Martin Rapide, say – but having another small Mazda in the family does serve to demonstrate some relativity within the Hiroshima stable.
As we discovered in our last report, the baby Mazda can monster distance’s tyranny. It should then, by rights, eat up the 400-kay jaunt north with little fault.
“Seeing as it was only Bianca and I on the trip, interior space wasn’t an issue,” Marcus explains. “With our single travel bag, a laptop and nibbles onboard, there was plenty of room inside for our needs.
“Up front, the cloth seats are nice and soft. Within 12 minutes of the trip, Bianca was asleep,” which bodes positively for the Mazda’s all-round comfort levels, particularly the SUV's often-criticised firm ride. Early days, though...
Our northern adventurer describes the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four as “nice and nippy,” with “no problems overtaking camper vans and motorbike trailers on the New England Highway. That said, it is a very noisy engine and sometimes it sounds like it’s about to blow”.
Once on The Land, things got weird. Specifically, weird in the way a devout alternative music lover might find in the home of country music when he can’t help but ‘fix’ stuff.
“We took the Mazda out into the paddocks at feed time to see if the cattle liked the Soul Red colour,” Marcus says. “And to see how it functions as a farm vehicle.”
And how did that go for you Marcus?
“Well…not good. The little Mazda isn't terribly great at being a hay hauler. It struggles on dirt. You definitely want to keep it on the Tarmac.” To be fair, though, Mazda does offer a choice of all-wheel-drive CX-3 variants perhaps better fit for dirty tasks at hand.
“Those soft seats soak up the bumps well enough until you hit unsealed roads, where the ride is teeth-chatteringly rough. At times I really thought that the wing mirrors were going to fall off the doors. I reckon you’d experience the same around some of Sydney’s rougher roads.”
After mildly terrorising Southern Tamworthian livestock, the Sroba tribe converged on “the nearby town of Nundle for a Chinese festival. And, of course, you can’t go anywhere near Tamworth without visiting the Big Golden Guitar…”
“It’s not as big as I remember it was from my childhood.”
Exploration of the area (and now township) that wraps itself around the Peel River wasn’t nearly as tasking as explorer John Oxley – he of various honours such as Oxley Highway – might’ve otherwise found it back in 1818. He didn’t have sat-nav, a reverse-view camera and parking sensors for a start. Or, perhaps, a hankering for ‘conveniently prepared food’…
“There’s not much call for tricky parking in Tamworth,” Marcus says. “Other than a trip to the McDonald’s car park and to the Coles supermarket. Needless to say, parking was no stress.”
Also stress-free are the Mazda’s various conveniences, according to Our Marcus. “The audio system is great – it’s really easy to navigate and it connected to Bluetooth without any issues. All of the controls for the lights and wipers are in the usual spots, and I didn’t have any tricky moments reaching for a control that might otherwise be misplaced while driving. Everything on the dash is in a logical spot.”
As for the centre console, though…
“The centre console controls are a bit awkward. They seem to be in unnatural locations. It might be my poor memory or that maybe my arms are a strange length” – both understandably outside his usual fixing talents – “but I could never find the Sport button or infotainment controller without glancing down for either.”
Recurring niggles from our last long-term report, then. There were other gripes, too.
“Don’t let the slightly raised ride and plastic wheel arch surrounds fool you: this isn’t a SUV. The whole mini-SUV thing seems like a pretty silly idea. The ride is terrible off sealed roads and has pretty stiff suspension in general. I’d have loved some gearshift paddles - that would have made overtaking a whole lot easier.”
As for Marcus's overall verdict?
“I like the simple, no-frills vibe of the car. It’s user friendly and it has all the features you need. The info system is one of the easiest I’ve come across and I am a fan of the two-litre engine – if the CX-3 had anything smaller and I think it would be challenging on the highway.
“As a city car, though, it’s pretty great. I travel light most of the time so the modest luggage space isn’t a problem for me. If I do ever have to move large cargo, I’d simply access a ute and van.
“Also, I rarely have more than one passenger in the car, so rear legroom isn’t a major factor. If you’re in a similar position to me, this would be ideal daily driver.”
2016 Mazda CX-3 Maxx petrol auto FWD
Date acquired – January 2016
Odometer reading – 6476km
Travel since previous – 2135km
Consumption since previous – 7.2L/100kms