It’s a fun game writing about cars. You’ll ask us about the best light SUV; something sensible, stylish and popular; and we’ll respond talking about some left-field model, produced in an old brewery in Genovia, by a brand who’s CFO used to be a race engineer with Arrows F1, that shares it’s left front tie-rod end with the Cizeta Moroder V16T.
Good times. Great banter. But not all that helpful for most buyers.
So this time I’m assuming you’re in the same group as 8637 Australians so far this year, and over 88,000 buyers since launch, and looking at the top-selling light SUV in the country, the Mazda CX-3, probably in a nice spec, in red.
Just like our range-topping 2020 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD.
Before we go too far though, I’ll explain that the CX-3 is only now the top-selling ‘light’ SUV as the market growth of smaller models has forced a category split between light and small. The Mitsubishi ASX has lead the small SUV sales race since 2015 and continues to do so.
Riveting stuff huh! I bet not being able to invite motoring writers to dinner parties isn’t looking so bad now?
|2020 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD|
|Engine configuration||Four-cylinder petrol|
|Power||110kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||195Nm @ 2800rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||85.9kW/t|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||6.7L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||44L|
Priced from $37,990 (drive away pricing in September 2020) as a front-wheel drive, the all-wheel model currently commands an extra $1000, with the Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint (one of five choices) an additional $495.
The LE is priced $500 higher than the regular Akari ($38,490 drive away under the same offer for an AWD model) and includes ‘Dark Russet’ nappa leather seats, unique use of materials on the dashboard and door trim, and bright-finish shadow chrome 18-inch wheels.
This is on top of the Akari’s generous equipment list that includes a 360-degree camera (with parking sensors front and rear), sunroof, adaptive LED headlamps, and driver head-up display.
Add that to a DAB+ digital radio, keyless entry, satellite navigation, Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition, and a Driver Attention Assist function.
It’s well equipped no doubt, but the range-topping CX-3 is $9,500 more expensive than a top-spec Hyundai Venue Elite ($29,490 drive-away) and $6000 more than the Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Style ($32,990 drive-away).
In fact, you can add every option including ‘Makena Turquoise Metallic’ paint to your T-Cross and still be $644 short of the CX-3. To spend more you'd have to choose the the range-topping Nissan Juke Ti ($39,490 drive-away), a car we have previously said was too expensive, but you'll also miss out on the CX-3's all-wheel drive.
For a TL;DR no nonsense summary, the CX-3 Akari LE is expensive.
It does look pretty sharp though. The floating roof, long nose with a wide grille and slimline headlamps balance well with the dark cladding and high-waisted rear end. The CX-3 looked good when it arrived in 2015 and still holds well today.
The size, 4275mm long by 1765mm wide makes it very much at home in the city, as it’s easy to deal with in traffic and simple to park. Vision from behind the wheel isn’t bad, helped in part by the little portal in the C-pillar.
Being based on the Mazda 2 hatch, the CX-3 has never offered a huge amount of space either in the back seat or in the boot. Adults will squeeze back there, but don’t start planning a four-up road trip. The boot is a very modest 264L, which will expand to 1174L with the seats folded.
Other parts of the interior have aged reasonably well in isolation, with the wide-set centre vent surrounded by pure-white leather, and punctuated each end by a circular vent with a metallic white trim accent.
In the middle of the dash is a 7.0-inch LCD screen that operates with a touch-function when the car is stopped.
On the move, you can use the MZD Connect jog-wheel on the centre console to control the infotainment system at any time, with this, the sporty three-spoke wheel and other switchgear offering a high-quality and modern cabin.
Well, modern until you peer over at the newer CX-30 in the Mazda showroom, which offers more space, uses an 8.8-inch screen and includes a more complete use of premium materials.
It’s not that the CX-3 is bad, as it works well, as I said, in isolation… but it is showing its age. Digital climate control for example, really wouldn’t go astray in a near $40k high-riding hatch.
|2020 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD|
|Boot volume||264L / 1174L|
|Wheels/tyres||18-inch 215/50 R18 Toyo|
You can pay an extra $515 to have the MZD interface support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, but given the ‘designed for touch’ Apple CarPlay interface and that bonkers request for more money, I'd suggest you get it thrown in for free or ignore it all together.
As the last Mazda model to get standard smartphone mirroring, there's every chance we'll see it appear on the standard features list soon.
Beyond that, the system and configuration settings for the CX-3 are very impressive, with all the safety and assistance tech offering a number of tuning options to suit your preference.
Under that long nose is Mazda’s 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine with 110kW and 195Nm available. It’s not a world-beater by any stretch and can sound particularly raspy first thing in the morning, but it performs surprisingly well in the 1280kg Mazda.
You need to rev it out for decent power, as the output peaks at 6000rpm but the torque-band hits its top at just 2800rpm, giving a sense of sportiness to the CX-3, especially when running about town. The engine note isn't anything to write home about, but despite the conservative output figures, the CX-3 still zips along well enough.
The six-speed automatic is a traditional torque converter transmission and works well with the little 2.0-litre. There’s no elasticity or lag as you find with CVT or multi-clutch systems, and the car settles well at middling speeds, making it an easy cruiser on the freeway.
Mazda claims 6.7L/100km consumption on a combined cycle, but as is the regular experience with Mazdas, we saw higher, around the mid 9L/100km mark. Worth noting too, that buttons you think will control the trip computer don’t, and you’ll no doubt change the radio station a few times as you try to find the data you need.
Mazda calls its head-up the Active Driving Display, and its representation of changing speed limits and navigation waypoints is clear and easy to use.
One area where the CX-3 has always impressed though is it's on-road manners. The little SUV feels tight and sporty on the road, without translating too many sharper bumps through the wheel. It is quite simply, fun.
Pop through side streets and over cobblestones, and the CX-3 deals well with it all. Like many hatch-based SUVs, the added height and compliance services the buyer’s desire as much as it affords a more comfortable and tractable ride.
|2020 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD|
|Colour||Soul Red Crystal Metallic|
|Options as tested||$495|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
One big thing though, that extra $1000 for the all-wheel driveline? Yeah, I wouldn’t bother. There’s not enough power to make you feel like you need it, and heading bush isn’t really the CX-3’s scene. Save the cash, save 70kg of weight, and save fuel in the process. This helps save the environment too, and you might as well throw in a Save Ferris if you’re a millennial who feels ‘80s movie quotes are meta.
There is a reason these are so popular, even with newer and shinier models clamouring for your attention. It’s a proven and still mostly impressive little style package that ticks all the right boxes for 8637 (and counting) so far this year.
All CX-3 models are offered with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and capped price servicing every 12 months or 10,000km will see you pay $1208 over three years or $2096 over five as a minimum – cover more distance annually and you may have to add in an extra service visit.
The 2020 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD proves that you don’t always have to be unique to be good. It might not be as impressive as it was five years ago, but the CX-3 still represents a smart and stylish package with plenty of kit on offer.
Yes, it is expensive, yes it is cosy in the back, and yes it is showing its age, but if you’re coming from a ten-year-old car and don’t need a lot of space then it will still feel like a big step forward; just look a little lower in the range for better value and you too can enjoy being part of the status quo.
That said, don't rush out just yet, as next month we'll be lining the CX-3 up against the larger CX-30 to see whether the status quo should potentially shift a bit.