2017 Mazda CX-3 review

Rating: 7.5
$20,490 $37,890 Mrlp
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The top-selling 2017 Mazda CX-3 has been updated, gaining safety equipment and improving key dynamic shortcomings. In reality it's a minor mid-cycle tweak, but a worthy one all the same.
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The Mazda CX-3 is Australia’s defending sales champion in the increasingly diverse small SUV segment. The company has now launched a subtle mid-cycle update to keep the chic little urban runabout atop shopping lists.

Just like the upgraded Mazda 2 light car we reviewed last month, the MY17 CX-3’s tweaks are relatively minor, nibbling away at peripheral issues and adding some shiny active crash-prevention systems, some of which were previously optional, in return for price hikes of between $200 and $500.

This latter point was highlighted as an area needing improvement in our most recent small crossover comparison test, so we're glad to see Mazda has listened to the market.

The gist: forward and reverse Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) standard across all variants, claimed improvements to noise suppression and ride comfort, and G-Vectoring to improve cornering response.

The CX-3 range remains the most diverse in the segment, compared to main rivals such as the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR and Suzuki Vitara. There are four spec levels, front- and all-wheel drive, petrol and diesel engine choices, and manual or automatic transmissions.

The base FWD petrol Neo loses its $19,990 (before on-roads) price, climbing to $20,490 for the manual, or an additional $2000 for the auto. Beyond AEB, standard equipment includes steel wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth/USB, rear sensors and six airbags.

But, as before, the Neo alone doesn’t offer a touchscreen in a segment where infotainment is vital, and also misses out on a rear-view camera – which has to be fitted as a mirror-mounted dealer accessory for about $500.

It’s small wonder the overwhelming majority of buyers will pay the $2400 premium for the CX-3 Maxx – based on the sales split of the MY16 car of nine per cent versus 55 per cent – which adds blind-spot monitoring (BSM) and rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) as part of its upgrade.

There are also 16-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, that 7.0-inch tablet screen with rotary dial, satellite-navigation, DAB+ and rear-view camera. The Maxx starts at $22,890 for the FWD petrol manual, then adds $2000 for the auto, $2000 for AWD and $2400 for diesel.

The sTouring opens at $26,990 for the FWD petrol manual, up $4100 over the equivalent Maxx, with premiums for auto, AWD and diesel as before. Extras include 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, fake leather, head-up display, keyless entry and Traffic Sign Recognition.

The Akari opens at $31,490 for the FWD petrol manual, and again commands the same hikes for auto, AWD and diesel. Extras for the $4500 jump over the sTouring include a sunroof, leather seats with memory, adaptive headlights and lane-departure warning.

We'd struggle to justify paying $37,890 for an Akari with diesel engine, auto and AWD when you could get a very nice CX-5 or Tucson for that money.

Read our 2017 Mazda CX-3 pricing and specifications news story for greater detail on the spec breakdown.

Stylistically, the CX-3 remains one of the more car-like crossovers out there, with no pretension of toughness. Its 155mm of ground clearance makes it lower than some passenger vehicles, but its curvaceous design and snub proportions are on-brand for Mazda.

There's not a whole lot difference inside the 'new' CX-3, with headline cosmetic changes comprising a cleaner new set of instruments, an improved head-up display (still projected onto a flip-up glass screen though), digital radio and a nice new steering wheel.

Positives are the good materials, particularly the faux leather touch-points on the range-topper, while the tablet screen on all variants from the Maxx and up, controlled by the MZD Connect system's rotary dial, remain highly intuitive.

But it all still feels like a high-riding Mazda 2, with fewer storage options than a HR-V or Vitara and a notably tighter feel. There's also still very limited rear seat space for what is ostensibly a crossover SUV, and the 264-litre boot (expanding to 1174 litres with the seats down) is tiny.

If you want maximum practicality, any other rival will do the job better. But if you want a higher-riding city car for two, that looks edgy and chic, then the CX-3 remains a top pick. The car's 1500 monthly sales average suggests Mazda knows the market well.

There are no changes to the CX-3's engine range, which comprises a 109kW/192Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol and a 77kW/270Nm (from 1600rpm) 1.5-litre turbo-diesel.

The petrol is purchased by a staggering 97 per cent of customers, making the diesel almost irrelevant, despite its healthy dose of torque. The $2400 cost premium is not really offset by its superior fuel economy (4.8L/100km versus 6.1L/100km) and its characteristics are less suited to the CX-3's urban habitat.

The 2.0 SkyActiv petrol is a good fit for the car, especially given its low kerb weight (ranging between 1251kg and 1356kg). The unit is immediately responsive and peaky, and well-matched to the six-speed auto with torque converter. Ideal for inner-urban driving.

About 10 per cent of buyers traditionally go for the six-speed manual gearbox, and its a genuinely lovely unit that feels just like the MX-5 convertible's. Funny that...

The overwhelming majority of CX-3 buyers choose front-wheel drive, and in a car like this it's hard to justify spending an extra $2000 for on-demand AWD that sends torque to the rear wheels when the onboard sensors detect wheel slip. The CX-3 is as suited to off-roading as a fish is to playing tennis.

Still, we have to commend Mazda for offering such a broad range of configurations

Dynamically, the GVC system is the major change. This system cuts torque to the front wheels at the opportune time, in order to transfer the car's weight forward and improve turn-in. We've trialled it back-to-back, and found the improvements subtle, but there.

The CX-3's feel-some steering, low body and good chassis balance remain, making it feel very much like a little hatchback to chuck around, despite the lo-fi torsion beam rear end. Roll and response are well synced, though the Toyota C-HR has it covered here.

Mazda has also modded the suspension bushes and added a heap of sound-deadening material to isolate the cabin better from road noise. Based on our brief steer at the launch, the CX-3 does feel a little softer – better on compression and controlled on the rebound – and sounds a little quieter than before at a clip.

We want to get the car through our garage and run tests, but civil conversation at 110km/h on coarse-chip roads proved very possible this time around.

From an ownership perspective, Mazda offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, 12-month/10,000km servicing intervals and lifetime advertised servicing prices. Its dealer network also wins more customer awards than most.

The upgrades to the Mazda CX-3 range for MY17 are subtle, but worthy. The fundamentals of the car aren't any different, in that it remains rubbish in terms of overall practicality, and excellent in terms of design.

But the improved value – the extra kit, especially the safety stuff – make the small price hikes worth it, plus welcome updates to the handling, ride and NVH suppression, alongside the continuation of many configurations, will keep it a top-seller.

Not necessarily our segment-leader, but we can see the appeal to many buyers, more now than ever.

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