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On face value, everything Mazda touches in Australia, turns to gold – pretty much instantly too. The 2017 Mazda CX-3 2WD sTouring is therefore leading off on the right foot before you even start to assess the sum of its parts. We generally rate the CX-3 range quite highly at CarAdvice as well, so Mazda’s all-conquering small SUV has a lot to live up to.
The Mazda CX-3 range has a model grade to suit everyone, and then a few extras. It’s pretty comprehensive to say the least. Pricing for the 2WD petrol model, as tested here, starts from $19,990 before on-roads, and runs up to $31,290 before on roads for the range-topping Akari.
Our sTouring tester is the second top of the 2WD range, and starts from $26,990 plus on-road costs. Despite my initial feeling that it might cost too much in the company of cheaper options within the segment, the sTouring has in fact dropped a few grand since it was first released.
Beyond the 2WD range, there are three AWD petrol model grades ranging from $26,390 to $35,290 and two AWD diesel grades starting from $33,390 and $37,690 respectively. See what I mean about plenty to choose from and then some?
Standard equipment highlights for the sTouring include: rear-view camera, cruise control, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, rain sensing wipers, faux leather, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED tail-lights and DRLs.
From the outset, I should state the fact I find a 2WD SUV completely and utterly pointless. Doesn’t matter whether it’s FWD or RWD, if your SUV doesn’t drive all four wheels, I don’t see the point – and I don’t think it should be called an SUV either incidentally.
Although ‘jacked-up hatchback’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as SUV. Such is the case here too. On face value, I see no reason you wouldn’t just buy a Mazda 3, a highly respected, and broadly competent hatchback. The mere fact that we now talk about SUVs in terms of everything except off-road ability shows how far off-track the genre has gone – see what I did there?
Anyway, back to the CX-3. A mistake a lot of punters make is assuming it is based on the architecture of the aforementioned Mazda 3, but it isn’t. Rather, it is based on that of the Mazda 2, a significantly smaller vehicle than the 3. Which, means in turn the CX-3 is compact – properly compact. Great externally, not so great inside the cabin.
It’s counted as a small SUV by the number crunchers in Australia, but could almost sneak into a segment below that as a compact SUV if there was such a segment. Regardless, the manoeuvrability of the CX-3 around town is a stark reminder of just how practical a compact vehicle of any kind can be if you live in the city, whether it’s classed as an SUV or not.
As is Mazda’s wont of late, the interior is what I would call a work of affordable luxury art. It’s beautifully executed, classily appointed and feels significantly more expensive than the price tag would indicate. Simple features like the rotary dial control for the infotainment system add a tangible touch of class. Look elsewhere, and you find quality plastics, perfect fit lines, soft-touch materials, and elegant brushed metal.
The infotainment system, and the way in which you operate it, could not be any easier. The screen is perfectly positioned, the Bluetooth connection is reliable and secure, and the satellite navigation system is easy to, um, ah, navigate, as well as being accurate and quick to find new routes if you deviate from the plan.
A few CarAdvice testers didn’t love the head-up display in terms of where it is positioned, but the information it displays is definitely useful. I think Mazda could have done a better job of integrating head-up into the dash though, that’s for sure.
As you’d probably expect, the second row is tight, especially if you have long-legged occupants up front and that’s the reality of the Mazda 2 platform on which the CX-3 is based.
Headroom is also at a premium back in the second row, and taller adults won’t love being stuck back there on longer drives. The second row split folds forward to liberate extra luggage space, and you can shove a surprising amount of gear into the back of a CX-3, if and when you need to.
It’s when you start driving the CX-3 that the whole ‘SUV’ concept starts to make even less sense, if any at all. First and perhaps foremost, the ride is as far from an SUV in terms of bump absorption as you’re ever likely to get. The little CX-3 crashes and skips over even the most minor of road imperfections and it often seems as if the front end wants to do something entirely different from the rear end. The CX-3’s general ride and bump absorption is blown away by the Mazda 3 for example, yet it doesn’t have any of the benefits of an SUV either.
The suspension tune is simply too firm and unresolved for our pathetic urban road network. It’s not Mazda’s fault our roads are rubbish mind you, but the CX-3 needs a softer tune in sTouring guise, in my opinion. At speed, there’s some tyre noise being generated too, and it is definitely audible in the cabin.
It’s worth noting however, that on a twisty, smooth road, you can stretch the CX-3 a little and it doesn’t kick back violently. In fact, it feels like it enjoys the challenge, which again, is a little counter-intuitive to its SUV DNA. It shows a little duality of character, even though most owners will never coax it out of its comfort zone.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine feels a little unrefined especially if you ask it to work hard. Said another way though, the engine has character with it’s raspy chortle toward redline. Maybe we’ve been spoilt with too many quiet, refined engines, such that any engine with a bit of a gruff edge seems boisterous.
It generates 109kW at a peaky 6000rpm, so you’ll be encouraged to nudge the redline too, especially if you select sport and the gearbox holds each gear for longer. Out of sport mode, the gearbox will choose gears that best deliver fuel efficiency, which tends to dull the otherwise enthusiastic performance a little.
Peak torque is 192Nm at 2800rpm and the baby SUV uses an ADR-claimed 6.1L/100km. On test, we saw figures closer to 9.0L/100km, indicating we were having to work the four-cylinder pretty hard to get the job done.
The six-speed auto, and the way in which it works with the engine, is excellent. The auto is smooth regardless of how hard you’re working the tacho and it shifts back down through the ratios with equal aplomb. There’s plenty of harsh engine noise entering the cabin as you accelerate though, and the smoothness of the gearbox can’t iron that out.
There is however, a go-kart-like feel to the way the CX-3 behaves around town. The steering is sharp and direct, there’s plenty of lateral grip and you can hustle the CX-3 through tight, inner city streets effortlessly. In fact, it’s in the confines of the CBD, where the CX-3 most shines as a useful runaround.
As we’ve noted with some other Mazdas of late, the CX-3 would be even better with some suspension work, and improved NVH inside the cabin. It would take what already feels like a premium offering, to another level altogether. None of these minor negatives should take away from the inherent quality of the CX-3 though. The platform upon which it is based, is well designed, and well executed and there’s a lot to like about a range that is as broad as that of the CX-3.
While the CX-3 in sTouring 2WD guise will undoubtedly be popular among Mazda buyers, it’s not my favourite in the range, and I’d be tempted to try to steer people towards a Mazda 3 if they were in the buying process.
I do think it’s a little expensive, but the harsh ride is the kicker for me. I’ve loved the way the Mazda 3 can iron out any poor surface and the CX-3 simply can’t match that level of proficiency. Still, there’s plenty to like about Mazda’s baby SUV.
Click the Photos tab for more 2017 Mazda CX-3 images by Tom Fraser.