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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-3 - S Touring AWD Diesel

Our Opinion

We like
Snappy diesel performance, sporty handling, quality feel
Room for improvement
Not much rear-seat room, can get expensive

Mazda logo16 Jul 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

Price and equipment

BUYERS lured by the $19,990 plus on-road costs opener of the CX-3 should know there’s a big difference between this and the test model, the oddly-spelt sTouring edition.

This is an SUV on which you have to spend a few dollars to get the reward of a civilised level of equipment, good performance, frugal fuel economy and curbside style.

The sTouring diesel automatic with all-wheel drive sits just under the flagship Akari and with its optional Safety Package – costing $1030 – is $34,420 plus on-road costs.

The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport all-wheel drive diesel automatic is $38,990 – a financial difference of $4570 that translates into a substantial space difference if you’re buying for a growing family.

The CX-3 isn’t a family car. It even balks at carrying much cargo and even partially-assembled bicycles are difficult to load.

But if you’re single or a couple desiring a small, sports-oriented SUV with charm and a sense of clever build design, this is one of the segment’s best offerings.

The CX-3 model range, though more generous than any of its class rivals, can get restrictive. For example, most buyers don’t want or need all-wheel drive.

It’s certainly not a wagon that you’d take beachside for fishing or into the muddy hills for mountain biking.

The diesel is a better engine in terms of performance and economy than the 2.0-litre petrol alternative. And an automatic transmission is a no-brainer for suburbia.

But aside from the test car, there’s only the Maxx model that is available with a diesel, automatic and front-wheel drive. The Maxx costs $26,790 plus on-road costs and $27,820 plus costs with its mandatory safety pack.

Not that owners will complain about the sTouring, even though it’s $6600 more expensive than the Maxx.

Standard equipment for the sTouring tested here is not only comprehensive but is presented with a high level of perceived quality. This visual appeal talks directly at people who may be downsizing from a prestige vehicle, just as much as impressive buyers moving up the price scale.

It improves on the Maxx model beneath it with LED headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights as standard. It moves to 18-inch alloy wheels and the combination faux leather and cloth-trimmed cabin has a dash-mounted head-up display that Mazda terms Active Driving Display.

The Safety Pack option – which we think is a top pick – comprises blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert (senses and reports on obstacles either at or approaching the rear, such as when reversing from a parking bay) and the handy low-speed auto braking system called Smart City Brake Support.

The option costs only $1030, equivalent to less than three per cent of the car’s purchase price. Do it!Interior

There’s simplicity with the CX-3 interior and a lot of parts and shapes have been borrowed from the Mazda2, on which it is based, and the CX-5 in creating the dashboard.

This simplicity is responsible for making it look almost elegant, in the same manner that Audi – and Volkswagen – use minimal lines to create a feeling of quality.

Soft-touch materials, some alloy-look trim and quality upholstery fabrics do a lot to lift the cabin and link to better driver ergonomics, handy spaces for storage and good occupant comfort.

The centre-dash monitor is perfectly placed for driver vision (and wrongly appears to be retractable) and works with the clear single-dial instrument panel and top-dash head-up display.

That centre tachometer and digital speedometer is a neat design that’s easy to read but unfortunately it is flanked by tiny ancillary warning lights and the fuel gauge.

Though compact, there is good personal storage spaces including two cupholders between the seats, bottle holders in the front doors, a tray ahead of the gearshifter and a small glovebox.

Front seat room is good, eclipsing that of the slightly narrower Mazda2, and here there’s not much indication that this is a small vehicle.

But the rear seat and the boot are very telling. The luggage area with the rear seats up is 264 litres, well down on the 393 litres of the Mitsubishi ASX and Holden Trax's 356 litres.

Fold the rear seats forward – for they won’t collapse to create a flat floor – and there’s 1174 litres. This betters the ASX at 1109 litres and well above the 785 litres of the Trax.

The space-saver spare wheel lives under a clever boot that has a removable floor panel, creating two floor levels.

Two adults can fit on the back seat for small journeys. It’s more appropriate for small children but the high waistline takes away most of their view. There are no rear airvents.

A baby seat restraint was trialled in the rear but the child had his feet hard up on the passenger front seat. This while the seat was pushed forward to such an extent that it made it uncomfortable for the passenger. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily a family car.

Engine and transmission

The Mazda CX-3 shares parts from siblings to give a range of buyer choice. For example, the platform and its 2570mm wheelbase is a Mazda2 but the bodywork is extended by 215mm for a length of 4275mm. One engine is shared with the Mazda3.

It gets a 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine that makes its debut in Australia. Part of the SkyActiv technology, this newcomer pumps its maximum torque from 1600rpm and maintains that peak until 2500rpm.

The engine has a relatively low compression ratio of 14.8:1 (the CX-5 and Mazda6 diesels get down to 14.0:1) to improve response.

The CX-3 also has the 2.0-litre petrol option from the Mazda3. By comparison with the diesel, this petrol engine feels almost asthmatic. It’s rare to find a diesel more responsive than its petrol counterpart.

The little diesel drives through a six-speed torque-convertor automatic with rapid lock up in all gears to minimise slippage and maximise fuel economy. That’s helped by the engine’s idle-stop system that has one of the quickest restarts around.

This then drives through a part-time all-wheel drive system that uses hydraulics. It is the same design as used in the CX-5.

Forget the rather puny 77kW of power. The joy of the diesel CX-3 is all in the torque. Thanks to that, this is a remarkably quick and agile car that, though sometimes exhibiting the occasional bout of lag at low speeds, is such fun the drive.

It’s also reasonably quiet and smooth, especially at cruising speeds where it feels like it’s barely spinning.

Mazda honours its “zoom-zoom” catch-cry in the diesel because it’s a rewarding car that’s a lot of fun to drive.

The 2.0-litre petrol is a clever engine in the way it can claim down to 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel use on the combined cycle, but it does this by strangling the engine of breath.

The diesel, by comparison, claims 5.1L/100km as tested and we recorded 6.9L/100km in mainly city and freeway conditions. That’s respectable and, for country drivers, helps extend the range – an important fact given the fuel tank is only 44 litres.

Ride and handling

Ride comfort is good although the short wheelbase will produce pitch on uneven surfaces and, for the same reason, the car is subject to being upset by undulations through corners.

The all-wheel drive promises extra grip in the wet and on sandy roads and there’s merit in the all-paw design when towing. The crunch is the poor 800kg tow rating, and that’s with a braked trailer. Compare Hyundai’s ix35 at 1600kg and the ASX at 1400kg.

The benefit of AWD is that more traction is available to all wheels, felt particularly through corners where it improves grip and reduces the incidence of oversteer.

It’s an action that’s tangible but it’s only by relatively small degrees.

A diesel Maxx automatic front-wheel drive was tested at the same time as this sTouring to compare ride and handling.

The Maxx’s steering was lighter and the car felt more nimble but there was more understeer and less precision in the steering when pushed into a corner.

The sTouring’s AWD creates a more predictable platform but this is felt at higher cornering speeds than many motorists would travel.

Is it worth the extra money (about $4000 depending on the model) for AWD? For most city-bound motorists, it’s not worth it.

Safety and servicing

Mazda lists the CX-3 with six airbags, rear park sensors, reversing camera, automatic LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights.

The car gets emergency brake display for panic stops, a hill holder and automatic wipers.

But (again) we press the point that the optional Safety Pack is cheap to buy and has the potential to warn a less-attentive driver of possible collisions.

The spare wheel is a space saver and was used on test after a misplaced beer bottle rolled off a curb and under broke against the sidewall.

The skinny spare had to be placed on the rear as the majority of drive in the car is to the front wheels. Freeways had to be avoided on the way to repair the original tyre as the space is rated only to 80km/h – a fact that should be made clear to country buyers. A full-size spare is available at extra cost.

The Mazda has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty and a flexible service interval. Drive less than 10,000km a year and you may only need an annual service – saving on your time and money.

The capped-price service program costs $1141 for three years, based on an annual service. Glass’s Guide expect the sTouring version of the CX-3 to retain 54 per cent of its value after three years, the highest of its main rivals (see comparative section below).

Verdict

Cute as a button but potential buyers should be aware that this is a small SUV that could quickly be outgrown by lifestyle or family changes.

It’s also not particularly cheap – for example, the Mazda 2 offers a lot more – especially when you want AWD and a diesel engine. But it looks great and is fun to drive, comfortable and has a host of bells and whistles to delight onlookers.

Rivals

Mitsubishi ASX XLS AWD from $35,990 plus on-road costs
Newly refreshed for 2015, the ASX adds a little bit of gloss to the cabin, 18-inch alloy wheels and a digital DAB radio. The price has even dropped by $500. The XLS also has a high equipment level that includes rear camera, sat-nav, glass roof, electric adjustment seats, heated seats and leather upholstery. A petrol engine is optional but the 110kW/360Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is better. It claims 5.8L/100km and drives all wheels through a six-speed automatic.

Skoda Yeti 103TDI Outdoor from $33,590 plus on-road costs
Always a benchmark for quality and reliability, the Yeti is let down only but its modest equipment list. Standard is 17-inch alloy wheels, an eight-speaker audio with connectivity, reverse camera and front and rear park sensors, and seven airbags. Most of the expense is in the engineering. The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel pumps 103kW/320Nm through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic and the latest Haldex-5 part-time AWD drivetrain. Skoda claims 6.7L/100km.

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