Faking it. At some point in our lives we've all done it in some way. And depending on the gender of the reader, some probably have more than others – cheeky. Whatever you want to call them; compact SUVs, crossovers or faux-wheel drives, they are the automotive equivalent of Bjorn Again. It's a segment presenting as a would-be off-roader while retaining the practical capabilities of a family hatchback. Or so we're told.
It could all be seen as risky business. Essentially the new breeds of high-riding superminis are cutting the lunch of many traditional products within certain brands. However, as frisky couples look to downsize, yet step up, cars like Mazda's new CX-3 begin to look more attractive. The result is a quasi Mazda2 that rivals the Mazda3 in size while nibbling at the heels of the CX-5.
Mazda has everyone covered. With 14 variants across four model grades, those fraught with indecision better start choosing now. You can select from either a petrol or diesel four-cylinder, front (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) and either a manual or automatic transmission – both with six gears.
My experience with the mid-upper spec sTouring FWD was more of a weekend rendezvous, but it still gave me enough time to assess its suitor potential. And, crucially, to decide if I'd want to pay $28,990 for the privilege. Prices for the range start at less than $20K and increase by about $18 grand at the high end (before on-road costs).
While some competitors serve as visual examples of contraception – think Nissan Juke – the CX-3's Kodo-inspired lines are sexy, svelte and stylish. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for me Mazda has got a lot right. It's muscular enough for the gents, yet elegant for the ladies. On the inside the Mazda2 origins are largely dispensed with as an upmarket ambience permeates. The design is strong and the ergonomics hard to fault. Basically, it should be easy to live with.
In terms of toys, the sTouring doesn't leave anyone unsatisfied. The highlight is the MZD connect infotainment system. It is controlled by a tactile swivel wheel and utilises a seven-inch touch screen. A $1030 safety pack also affords you access to the best of Mazda's safe words – I mean technology – to keep the fun in check. The Japanese marque is largely known for its reliability, and capped-price servicing should quell any nasty surprises.
The “honey I blew up the Mazda2” theme is hard to quash in regard to space. Due to the need for AWD provisions, the boot is a small 265 litres. Sorry guys, using the phrase “it's how you use it” doesn't work here. While you can fold the rear seats to liberate 1174 litres of cargo capacity, it's not as magic as Honda's origami setup.
Headroom is decent, but rear legroom isn't generous. Looks like there'll be no backseat coitus. Luckily there are ISOFIX child seat points if there is, however. Yet, frustratingly there are no rear air vents or centre armrest.
Power comes from a high-compression, naturally aspirated SkyActiv 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The figures of 109kW and 192Nm are enough to satisfy given the lithe 1226kg kerb weight. It just won't set hearts aflutter and it can get quite vocal as revs crescendo on hard throttle applications.
Still, thanks to the frugal SkyActiv tech, fuel consumption is low at 6.1L/100km and the i-Stop system is unobtrusive. The six-speed automatic performs shifts imperceptibly while a sport mode, as well as a sequential-style shift gate, aid its instinctive nature.
On-road the CX-3 has a car-esque persona. Despite some mid-corner bounce on rebound up front, the level of agility and keen handling results in a rewarding drive. The steering is engaging and the ride quality is firm, but not too stiff. And with only 155mm of ground clearance, you're hardly going to be tempted to get jiggy with it on a rocky, off-road adventure. If you really want to get tied up in a bush-bashing situation, maybe wait for the Jeep Renegade.
Ultimately, the Mazda isn't as family-friendly or practical as some rivals, but it has a dynamic edge, premium feel and myriad spec options. Plus, if you're going to join the compact SUV realm, you might as well do it in style. It is essential viewing for potential buyers. Refreshingly, in a crowded bedroom full of manufacturers ready to fire off their respective segment players, when it comes to the crunch, the CX-3 isn't faking it.