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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-3 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Sensational looks, wide variety of spec, improved NVH
Room for improvement
Rear seat room tight for tall people, potential supply delays


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17 Mar 2015

EVERY car-maker on the planet wants a piece of the new market sector darling, the compact SUV. Barring one or two, every car-maker will soon offer a small, high-riding five-door hatchback in its range, too.

Mazda’s new CX-3 has been marked for a long time. Recent entrants into the space have all made reference to the fact that “the CX-3 is coming” even Mazda Australia itself is trying to dampen expectations by cautioning that supply may be limited if the car is a worldwide hit.

At first blush, Mazda Australia may well be right – the CX-3 is going to rocket to the top of the charts with a bullet.

Its roadside presence is, for a vehicle derived from the petite Mazda2, quite extraordinary. Its aggressively sloped roof, its cab-back stance, the high waist and liberal use of black highlights combine perfectly with a corporate-ID nose and subtle rear end treatment. It’s a genuine head turner.

It measures 4275mm long, 1765mm wide and 1550mm high. It is 215mm longer, 70mm wider and 55mm higher than its hatch sibling, despite being on the same wheelbase.

Mazda has brought the entire team off the bench for the opening play, too, with 14 variants available from launch. Starting at an almost category-low $19,990 plus on-road costs for the manual front-drive Neo – not due in Australia until at least the end of April – the top-spec Akari nudges the $40,000 mark in all-wheel-drive diesel trim.

The Neo is one of the cheapest compact SUVs on sale today, but is just edged out by the Chery J11 that costs $19,990 driveaway.

Both manual and automatic transmissions can be specified across most of the range, and Mazda’s new SkyActiv-D 1.5-litre turbo-diesel four-potter debuts alongside its stalwart SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

The second-tier Maxx is expected to underpin the anticipated 1000 sales-a-month effort with 55 per cent of the total. On board the FWD petrol manual version, it’s easy to see why. Mazda has taken great pains – and spent a lot of money – to impart a feeling of quality and refinement to its newest nameplate, and it’s succeeded on most fronts.

The dash’s design is taken from the Mazda2 and given a going-over to suit the new space, while the MZD Connect infotainment screen is a modern, sensible (if almost clichéd) way to introduce a wide array of entertainment options.

Seating arrangements for both driver and passenger are spacious, airy and comfortable, with the pilot’s position comfortably able to accommodate even the largest of drivers – albeit at the expense of the rear-seat passengers.

Given the small footprint of the CX-3, it’s obvious that the second row is intended more for younger charges – indeed, Mazda has mounted the rear seat 37mm higher than the front to bring back-seat passengers closer to the action.

While it’s not exactly roomy back there for adults, headroom is sufficient for this 187cm tester. Knee-room is also restrictive when the front seats are slid slightly rearwards, but sub-teens will find no issues.

A lack of an armrest in between the front seats is a minor annoyance, as is the lack of a digital speedo (it’s available in the top two grades in conjunction with Mazda’s head-up display system, which seems odd – you get two digital speedos then!). An armrest can be optioned.

Mazda claims that the CX-3’s urban customer set doesn’t look at luggage capacity as a buying factor IKEA shoppers may argue the point. At 264 litres, the CX-3’s rear space is one of the smallest in the category – the Honda HR-V measures a voluminous 427 litres in comparison – but it extends out to a Fartlek bookshelf-swallowing 1174 litres with the 60/40 seats folded flat. They do fold flat, too. The CX-3 has a false floor in the boot that can be used to deepen the load space, as well.

There is plenty of well laid-out in-cabin storage too, especially for the front-seat passengers. A pair of USB ports and a 12V socket means that your devices won’t run flat, either.

In motion, the base Maxx is a very competent car. Weighing in at just 1193kg, the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G 109kW/195Nm engine has an easy job of it, however its relative lack of torque compared with its turbocharged competitors means that the gearbox gets a thorough workout on rolling terrain. Given the slick shifting six-speeder and the well-weighted clutch feel, this is not a chore in the slightest.

The CX-3’s steering feel is just as nice, its light action belying its good sense of connection to the road. Brake modulation and feel, too, is excellent.

An easy-to-use Bluetooth system is welcome, too.

Stepping into the automatic AWD sTouring, the ambience goes up a notch along with the spec level. Larger rims, a heavier all-wheel-drive layout and an automatic gearbox add 99kg to the base weight, which changes the driving experience considerably. A heavier, firmer feel at the wheel and more of a reluctance to climb grades are evident, but the composure of the AWD system gives the CX-3 the solidity of a much larger car.

Finally, a short stint in the new 1.5-litre diesel four-potter reveals a little peach of an engine that does a very respectable job of hauling the top-spec Akari’s 1368kg. Ignore the 77kW power figure it’s the 270Nm of torque that is doing the work. It does it in a very refined way, as well. We also saw economy figures of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres on our test run, against a claimed figure of 5.1, which is an excellent result on a fresh engine.

The Akari’s white-on-black leather/suede interior is incredibly well put together, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The top-spec’s full-house chassis safety suite adds a layer of complexity to the driver’s interface that isn’t there on the lower grades.

Mazda’s approach is to roll out a wide variety of CX-3s to a market that is still in its infancy. With 14 on offer, it’s natural to suggest that perhaps all of them won’t make the cut when it comes to the first model refresh. In the meantime, though, those people who do their homework will find a CX-3 perfectly in tune with their needs.

The FWD petrol-powered sTouring at $28,990 plus on-road costs, for example, nets most of the functionality of the Akari with the simplicity of the Maxx.

Regardless of what you pick, the CX-3 is an excellent contender for the number one spot in the compact SUV stakes. It’s handsome, competent, comfortable and well specified, and it will easily ascend to the top of the charts in short order.

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