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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-3 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling still looks crisp despite no updates, huge selection of variants, G-Vectoring Control makes it even better to drive, included standard safety equipment
Room for improvement
Second row still too small for adults, boot opening too high and small, NVH improvements don’t go far enough

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Mazda logo9 May 2017

By TUNG NGUYEN

IF YOU didn’t love the way the CX-3 looks before, unfortunately, Mazda will not win you over with the updated small crossover which is styled, from the outside, identically to its forebear.

On the other hand, if you are like us and think the CX-3 looks stunningly balanced, with the right mix of high-riding SUV chunkiness and small hatchback sexiness, then the good news is that you will probably like Mazda’s new crossover.

Mazda has very much taken a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to the new CX-3’s exterior design, which has held up surprisingly well in the two years since it landed in Australian showrooms.

Even among newer competitors such as the Toyota C-HR and Jeep Renegade, the little Mazda still has enough stylish cred to place it highly in the beauty stakes.

Inside, Mazda has installed a new steering wheel lifted from the CX-9 seven-seater, as well as updated instrumentation and an easier to read head-up display for variants with the feature included.

While the one car Mazda let us sample at the Melbourne launch of the new CX-3 – an automatic, front-wheel drive, Maxx petrol – missed out on the Active Driving Display, the new steering wheel does make it easier to use the audio controls by shuffling buttons around and recessing the centres.

We found it was much easier to hit the right button to change songs or activate the cruise control without having to look down at the wheel, with our thumbs better able to identify which button on the sloped controls we were touching.

It may also be a small thing, but we also found instrumentation a little bit easier to read, with clearer fonts used in the tachometer.

We’ll have to wait until we try out an Akari or sTouring CX-3 to give a verdict on the updated head-up display, but Mazda is promising a less cluttered projection and easier to read information in the new unit.

The rest of the interior is identical to before, with three large dials to control air-conditioning in lower grades which morph into silver-accented knobs in higher grades with climate control.

The mid-mounted screen still looks poorly integrated to our eyes, but the seats remain as comfortable, and the cabin controls as ergonomical, as before.

Back seats however, still suffer from cramped space and poor head and legroom.

Anyone taller than about 150cm will struggle to get comfortable over extended periods of time.

By the same token, the boot opening is still too small and too high to make the most use out of hatchback opening. We wish Mazda would enlarge the opening to make it just that bit easier to load with hands full.

Mazda also say it has made improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels with the inclusion of more insulation around key areas such as B-, C- and D-pillars, as well as the central tunnel, but without driving both old and new versions back-to-back, our ears could not detect any changes from inside the cabin.

However, road and tyre noise is still prevalent at speeds greater that 80km per hour.

Other changes to the new CX-3 includes the adoption of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) across the whole range. While AEB is tricky thing to test on public roads, Mazda should be commended for including the increasingly important safety feature as standard – a first in the small SUV segment.

Engines options remain the same as before – a 109kW/195Nm 2.0-litre petrol or a 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel – as do the choice between manual and automatic, and front- and all-wheel drive.

The petrol engine in our test car, as before, was peppy and eager to rev, but the relatively low amount of torque meant the automatic transmission had its work cut out for it and engine noise at high RPM often strayed too far into the ‘annoying’ side of loud.

Our pick would be to get a front-wheel drive, three pedal version to make the most of the playful and enthusiastic drivetrain.

Mazda also claims changes to the diesel powertrain mean engine noise is reduced and power deliver is smoother, but again, without sampling the oil-burning CX-3 for ourselves, a conclusion is still yet to be drawn.

But if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you certainly have got some options available. Mazda has retained the same 14 variant structure as before, with only small price changes to the entry level Neo and Maxx (up $500) and flagship Akari (up $200).

Prices now kick off from $20,490 before on-roads for the petrol-powered, front-wheel drive, manual Neo, while the most expensive variant rings in at $37,890 for the diesel, AWD, automatic Akari.

Moving up in grades will net buyers more equipment such as a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring, bigger wheels, a reversing camera and heated seats – highlighting just how bare bones the entry-level Neo variant actually is.

As one of the widest specification and price spreads in the small SUV segment, Mazda hopes that the CX-3 will have something for everyone.

Despite the price rise though, the CX-3 remains one of the most competitively priced crossovers in the market, undercutting entry-level variants from rivals such as the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Holden Trax and Mitsubishi ASX by as much as $6500.

The CX-3 has always been a strong dynamic performer, given the short 2570mm wheelbase, low 1550mm height and all variants tipping the scales under 1400kg, but Mazda has upped the game with the inclusion of G-Vectoring Control (GVC) across the entire range.

Having made its debut on the Mazda3 in mid-2016, GVC is a way for Mazda to control torque split by slightly braking the inside wheel in a corner – reducing the amount of steering input required to turn the vehicle and tucking the nose in for better cornering.

GVC is a welcome addition to the already capable CX-3, turning what was already a fun and engaging drive into something approaching sportscar-like handling.

The suspension has also been tweaked, with redesigned bushings contributing to a more involving drive and more comfortable ride.

Mazda didn’t fiddle too much with its CX-3 formula, but then again, it didn’t need to. The inclusion of more safety equipment and GVC is more than welcome on the baby CX-3 SUV, but improvements to NVH and ride comfort, while appreciated, are not all that noticeable.

With the small SUV segment heating up with more competitors every year, Mazda has put its best foot forward with the updated CX-3 and given itself a strong contender for best small crossover on the market.

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