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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-3 - sTouring Safety 2.0L

Our Opinion

We like
Chassis, performance, efficiency, cabin presentation, sporty style, design, agility, value, advanced safety feature availability
Room for improvement
Rowdy 2.0L engine, poor side/rear vision, firm ride, some road noise

Gallery

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Mazda logo26 Oct 2015

Price and equipment

MAZDA is Japan’s BMW and nowhere is that more obvious than in the CX-3.

A step up in sportiness, quality, design, ergonomics and driving pleasure, the Hiroshima compact SUV should be the default choice if such things are important. That it also promises very un-German levels of reliability, low running costs, and – most alluringly – affordability is literally the icing on a very Bavarian-like Black Forest cake. How could anybody lose?The sTouring front-drive petrol auto mid-ranger we’re testing here is priced from $28,990. That’s somewhat more than the headline-grabbing $19,990 Neo base, but then – with cruise-control, idle-stop, and rear parking sensors included – this is no poverty pack special.

On top of the expected volume-selling $24,390 Maxx equivalent’s leather-trimmed driver controls, MZD Connect multimedia with 7.0-inch touchscreen and controller, satellite navigation, and reversing camera, the daftly named sTouring brings a head-up display, LED lighting system, keyless entry, a two-inch wheel upgrade (to 18 inches rounded out with 215/50 R18 tyres, auto wipers, and climate-controlled air-conditioning. Note, however, that cloth gives way to ‘Maztex’. That’s vinyl trim, folks.

Ours includes the optional ($1030) Safety Pack, featuring Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring (ABSM), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS).

Another $2K adds all-wheel drive (and a more sophisticated De Dion-style semi-independent rear suspension system in lieu of the standard front-driver’s pure torsion beam set-up seen here), while Mazda’s punchy 1.5-litre turbo-diesel pushes the sTouring’s price to $33,390… plus on-roads, of course.

That’s a broad model range. But then again, the Japanese baby crossover is endowed with a broad range of talents to match.

Interior

Essentially borrowed from the Mazda2, the sTouring’s interior is smart, contemporary, and inviting, and includes a bunch of premium touches such as stitched vinyl dash covering, a head-up display, sporty three-spoke steering wheel, and touchscreen display with remote menu control in the style of BMW’s iDrive system. And it all works with intuitive ease.

We’re big fans of the up-spec instrument pack that dispenses with the Neo/Maxx models’ ridiculously small tachometer for a massive central analogue dial that also houses a smaller digital readout. Mazda ought to democratise this across the board.

Similarly, the basics are spot-on, from the excellent driving position (with reach as well as tilt-adjustable steering), ample ventilation, and a large choice of storage areas that totally work. Cosy yet comfy, with more than sufficient room, defines the high-quality cabin presentation. No wonder these things are flying out of showroom floors across Australia.

However, poor side and rear vision equals a claustrophobic rear seat (meaning the driver has to rely on the mirrors and Maxx-upwards reverse camera – though rear sensors are standard Neo fare). On the other hand, there is actually a deceptive amount of space for adults to enjoy in that second row, with the bench set up high with well-shaped contours for what is ultimately a comfortable 2+1-person proposition. Pity the adult stuck squished in the middle. Note that while two overhead grab handles and some storage areas are provided, no centre armrest is fitted. And don’t forget, those seats are trimmed in vinyl and not cloth. This is not a good trend.

A fake boot floor allows for flat load-through into the cabin with the 70/30-split backrest folded forward, but if removed, the actual base of the luggage area is low enough for there to be a sizeable step, since the rear seat cushions themselves do not move or tip forward at all. With all chairs erect, cargo capacity is 264 litres (though it seems larger).

Thoughtfully, a trio of child-seat latches are set against the backrests (along with ISOFIX latches) for unimpeded tether-strap fitment. A temporary spare wheel lives beneath the boot floor.

Engine and transmission

Fitting the Mazda3’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine endows the CX-3 with a strong and lusty heart, allowing for effortless off-the-line take-off, fast overtaking, and a long-legged cruising capability that will no doubt appeal to Australians.

Even loaded with people, the compact SUV pulls away with vigour, and is aided by a handy Sport mode toggle switch at the base of the transmission lever for extended in-gear revving, resulting in even healthier performance.

Additionally, the engineers have added a Tiptronic-style sequential shift gate for some manual overriding. And it’s in the correct forward-downshift/backward-upshift pattern. Clearly keen drivers proliferate in Hiroshima. As far as autos go, the Mazda’s conventional torque-converter shifter is a gem.

But in truth many owners might eventually tire of the 2.0-litre’s loud and at times coarse operation under even moderate acceleration, which results in an at-times alarming amount of mechanical boom drowning out all the hard-won refinement.

Even when negotiating the heavy commute, it can be unpleasant – to the point that we’d recommend an extended try-before-you-buy, or otherwise shelling out the extra $2400 for the smoother (though not especially quiet) 1.5 turbo-diesel instead.

The latter would return better fuel consumption too, though in reality the CX-3 petrol is by no means thirsty – driven both hard and sedately in equal measure, we averaged between 8.0 and 9.0L/100km.

Muscular but mouthy – that describes the sTouring petrol’s vocal drivetrain. We can’t help thinking that Honda’s elderly 1.8-litre/CVT alternative is far more refined.

Ride and handling

Sharing the same underbody architecture as Mazda’s 3/CX-5/6 models, the CX-3 has a firm, sporty focus to its dynamic character, and it’s here that it feels most like that cut-price BMW, particularly among its somewhat patchy baby SUV rivals.

With a point-and-shoot attitude, keen drivers will love the steering’s immediacy and fluency, for connected and controlled handling pretty much across most conditions. Much effort has gone into creating a perfectly weighted helm that’s more car-like than the lofty crossover styling suggests. The same applies to the beautifully effective brakes.

And while the stable and secure roadholding is aided by the sTouring’s standard 215/50R18 Toyo Proxes tyres, there’s a playful level of rear-end steer available if the mood takes you.

On the other hand, a bit more suspension softness and pliancy would be appreciated in more urban areas, where the CX-3’s chassis can feel stiffer and more inert than most (duller) rivals. That’s the price paid for all that dynamic interactivity.

Mazda says it is chipping away at road-noise intrusion, with some success though there is some coarse-bitumen droning, it isn’t the defining refinement trait in the sTouring. Keep up the great work, Japan.

Safety and servicing

The CX-3 holds a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating in Australia.

Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 10,000km – whichever comes first.

Fixed prices currently alternate between $280 and $307 per visit, up to 16 services. A three-year unlimited kilometre warranty applies.

Verdict

Mazda is punching far above its weight at the moment, leaving competitors like Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and Holden far behind in most classes. No wonder Aussies love ‘em.

Even premium rivals like Lexus and Audi ought to be worried.

But in the generously equipped sTouring, the ride is too firm and the engine too coarse even among the mere mainstream marques, while all versions suffer from excessively shallow side window treatments.

See past these foibles, however, and you should really enjoy Mazda’s latest compact crossover… engineered like no other rival. Gluckwunsche, Hiroshima! Rivals

Honda HR-V VTi-S CVT from $28,990 plus on-road costs
SPACIOUS, smooth and exceptionally easy to drive and live with, the HR-V is the most convincing Honda in ages, and something of a comeback. Niggles are minor and the breadth of talent significant, with the VTi-S also scoring with excellent safety credentials.

Renault Captur Dynamique TCe 120 DCT from $27,990 plus on-road costs
Handsome, roomy, surprisingly practical and very comfortable, the Captur is a smash hit globally, underlining the exceptional engineering and design levels undertaken. Only dual-clutch-initiated initial lag spoils an otherwise punchy 1.2-litre four-pot turbo.

Skoda Yeti Ambition 90TSI DSG from $28,290 plus on-road costs
Anti-design styling has held up surprisingly well over the years, as has the very spacious interior, versatile seating, practical cargo area and smooth yet strong 1.4-turbo petrol engine. Do yourself a favour and Czech the Yeti out before signing any dotted line.

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