Car reviews - Mazda - CX-3 - Maxx FWD auto
Sensible and clean interior packaging, easy driving experience, engine linearity, reasonably practical
Room for improvement
Noisy engine, lack of low-end torque, relatively large turning circle, lacking excitement factor
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29 Mar 2018
OVER the last decade, Mazda has been a runaway success in Australia, underscored by its ever-strengthening sales performances.
In 2017 it was one of only two brands to crack the 100,000 sales figure with 116,349 registrations across the calendar year, second only to Toyota’s massive haul of 216,566.
Mazda’s success has come on the back of strong performances from the likes of the CX-3 small SUV, which, with 17,490 sales, finished second in the burgeoning small SUV segment behind the evergreen Mitsubishi ASX.
The brand’s sensible, no-nonsense approach to car-making resonates with buyers, and with an update that lobbed in May 2017, Mazda will be hoping to claim the small SUV sales crown from Mitsubishi.
Another strength of the CX-3 line-up is its abundant choice, with drivetrains and model grades to suit a range of buyers.
With 14 variants available, can the Maxx FWD hit the sweet spot for price and specification in a hotly contested market segment?
Price and equipment
At $24,890 plus on-roads, the CX-3 Maxx FWD sits towards the lower end of the range, which opens at $20,490 for the manual Neo FWD, and tops out at $37,890 for the diesel-powered all-wheel-drive Akari auto.
Competition is fierce and plentiful in the small SUV segment, and comes from the likes of the Ford EcoSport Trend ($24,490), Holden Trax LS ($26,490), Hyundai Kona Active ($24,500), Honda HR-V VTi ($24,990), Mitsubishi ASX LS 2WD ($27,000), Nissan Juke ST ($24,490), Renault Captur Zen ($26,990), Skoda Yeti 81TSI Active ($26,990), Subaru XV 2.0i ($27,990), Suzuki Vitara RT-S ($25,490) and the Toyota C-HR 2WD CVT ($28,990).
Mazda’s extensive range choice is evident when comparing the CX-3 to its competition, as it sits above the Neo specification level yet still comes in cheaper than some rivals’ base-level offerings.
At 2.0-litres, the engine in the CX-3 is also the equal largest in its class, however other rivals have added turbocharged power to their smaller-capacity engines to achieve a similar output to the Mazda’s 109kW/192Nm.
Standard equipment in the Maxx includes power mirrors, a rear spoiler, cruise control, four-speaker sound system, 16-inch wheels, push-button start, hill start assist, rear parking sensors, leather-wrapped gear knob, steering wheel and handbrake lever, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system, digital radio, satellite navigation, six-speaker sound system and reversing camera.
In the May update, the CX-3 was bolstered with the inclusion of extra safety equipment, including Smart City Brake Support (autonomous emergency braking by another name), blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Higher-spec variants also gain driver attention alert, traffic sign assist, LED headlights and front parking sensors.
Not only does the CX-3 Maxx come with a solid level of specification, the huge amount of variation in the range means that buyers can find the right balance of equipment and price to best suit their needs in what is a particularly competitive segment.
Mazda has a knack for designing cars with efficiently designed, simply-styled interiors and the CX-3 is no exception.
The CX-3’s cabin features minimal switchgear and a clean layout that is easy to navigate and intuitive even for those unfamiliar with Mazda’s interface.
Its 7.0-inch touchscreen is controlled by a cluster of buttons on the centre console similar to BMW’s iDrive system, which offers tactile and instinctive use that can be quickly picked up by just about anyone.
The system works well except for when changing the radio stations, which involves scrolling through a number of sub-menus, and then resets when a station is selected, making scrolling through channels a chore.
Mazda does a good job of making the cabin feel classy by hiding cabin plastics well, and breaking up the dashboard with a mix of materials.
The faux-air-conditioning vent running horizontally along the dash separates the touchscreen from the A/C cluster, and splits the dash up nicely.
Operation of the A/C cluster is simple with old-school analogue dials, while underneath sits a storage nook with two USB, one auxiliary and one 12V port.
Faux-leather touches have been added to the shift gaiter, handbrake and steering wheel, which help give the interior a more premium feel.
The instrument cluster consists of one analogue speedometer matched with two digital black-and-white screens offering read-outs such as fuel level, range, tachometer, gear selection and outside temperature.
Better comfort would have been appreciated from the CX-3’s cloth seats, which are quite narrow, and while headroom is good, legroom is only adequate.
In the rear, legroom suffers, while the 60/40 split-fold rear seats could do with a drop-down central armrest. Luggage volume is a reasonable 264 litres, expanding to 1174L with the rear seats folded.
Extra space can be accessed by a nook in the luggage floor, while storage can be covered from prying eyes with a cargo cover.
Mazda knows how to do interiors well, even on lower-grade models, and the CX-3 is evidence of that. Functionality and aesthetics are segment leading, and cabin plastics are hidden well. Cramped seating is the only lowlight, but can be expected for a car of its size.
Engine and transmission
The sole petrol offering in the CX-3 range is a 2.0-litre aspirated petrol engine producing 109kW at 6000rpm and 192Nm at 2800rpm, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that sends drive exclusively to the front wheels.
As with the rest of the vehicle, the CX-3 drivetrain is user-friendly and easy to drive, with no nasty turbo lag-related surprises, and a power stream that comes on gently and evenly.
The six-speed auto is a quality unit that shifts smoothly to the point that it is barely noticed, and worked well with the engine by holding gears long enough and keeping revs low when needed.
One problem common to aspirated Mazda engines is they require plenty of revving to get up to speed, and the large amount of engine noise can get jarring for day-to-day driving.
Another problem for the free-breathing 2.0-litre unit is a lack of torque low in the rev range, meaning earnest amounts of work are required from the engine to accelerate swiftly.
The six-speed auto also comes with sport mode, which helps the CX-3 offer more lively performance off the line, and is good for short bursts where extra oomph is required.
During our time in the car we recorded a fuel economy figure of 8.2 litres per 100km in mainly urban driving, up on the official 6.1L/100km official combined figure.
We can’t help but feel that figure could be better managed with a smaller capacity, turbocharged engine that isn’t forced to rev as high, however the fuel economy isn’t out of the ordinary for its segment.
Overall the CX-3’s powertrain is adequate but uninspiring, offering simple and user-friendly A-to-B transport, with a no-nonsense attitude.
Ride and handling
Being a relatively cheap offering with a comparatively short wheelbase, our expectations for the CX-3’s ride quality were fairly low when driving it for the first time.
However we are pleased to report that the little crossover’s ride quality is settled and comfortable, soaking up ride imperfections well and making for an enjoyable driving experience.
Obviously it is no Range Rover or Rolls-Royce, however comfort is ample for a car of its size.
As for handling, the CX-3 makes for a great city car with its light weight, short overhangs and G-Vectoring Control system.
Steering is light, springy and fairly sharp, and is easy to direct at any speed.
Handling for the little Mazda SUV becomes less impressive at higher speeds, with the front-drive layout and soft suspension calibration leading to understeer and a less assured steering feel.
The car’s turning circle can also be tighter, and makes the CX-3 feel significantly bigger than a Mazda2 hatch.
Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are generally positive, notwithstanding the aforementioned buzzing engine noise and some minimal tyre roar.
The CX-3 is a comfortable and capable city car best suited for urban driving, however it begins to lose its polish when pushed dynamically.
Obviously, Mazda has not designed the CX-3 to be a dynamic masterpiece, but what it is designed to do, it does well.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) tested the CX-3 when it first landed in Australia in September 2015, where it gave the little Mazda a maximum five-star safety rating.
With an overall score of 36.44 out of 37, the CX-3 aced the side impact and pole tests, and performed strongly on the frontal offset test with a score of 15.44 out of 16.
Standard safety features include six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, anti-lock braking system, dynamic stability control (DSC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist (EBA), emergency stop signal (ESS) and hill launch assist.
All new Mazda vehicles bar the BT-50 come with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while scheduled scheduled servicing covers 5 years/50,000km, with intervals every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
Individual servicing costs alternate between $286 and $314, at an average of $297.20 per service.
The CX-3 is like many other Mazda offerings with its conservative recipe for success. Does it offer heard-racing performance? No. Is it styled provocatively? No. Does it have futuristic tech features that other brands can’t offer? Again, no.
But what it does have is a lack of obvious weaknesses. For most average car buyers, the CX-3 will be able to tick just about every box that is needed when shopping for a new car, even more so with the extensive variety within the range.
It evokes a feeling of solid build quality, clever infotainment design and over-engineered, earnest powertrain performance that won’t let you down.
While other offerings in the small SUV segment may catch your eye more than the CX-3, few can offer a better-rounded and compelling overall package.
Mitsubishi ASX LS 2WD CVT from $27,000 plus on-roads
The segment sales-leading Mitsubishi ASX offers generous equipment levels, regular updates to keep it fresh, and an identically sized powertrain to the CX-3. Its underpinnings, however, are much older, having launched in 2010.
Hyundai Kona Active 2WD from $24,500 plus on-roads
The recently-launched Kona sports arguably the funkiest styling in the segment, as well as a strong infotainment layout and a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Drawbacks include a low-rent cabin, and the 1.6-litre turbo engine in higher variants is worth the step up.
Toyota C-HR 2WD from $28,990 plus on-roads
Toyota’s C-HR sports a small turbocharged engine and aggressive styling, however the $28,990 sticker price puts it above most competitors in a segment heavily dependent on value.
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