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Future models - Mazda - CX-3

CX-3 learnings improved Mazda2

Baseline: Mazda’s new CX-3 crossover shares about 70 per cent of its parts with the Mazda2 hatch on which it is based.

Developed concurrently with the new Mazda2, the CX-3 crossover is an engineer’s SUV

Mazda logo24 Nov 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in LOS ANGELES

MAZDA says it developed the CX-3, due in Australia in the second quarter of next year, to be the best driving and highest-quality B-segment crossover in the world.

Designed and engineered in Japan, but with strong input from Mazda Europe, the company sought to establish the strongest possible reputation in a burgeoning market sparked off by the unexpected success of the Nissan Juke.

Just two years in the making – although the basic SkyActiv chassis and drivetrain are based on the CX-5, 6, 3 and 2 that had been under development since 2008 – the newcomer’s engineering gestation occurred in concert with Mazda’s latest light car. Both models share about 70 per cent of their parts.

According to Mazda Motor Corporation program manager Michio Tomiyama, the fact that the sub-compact crossover market was in its infancy in 2011 when CX-3 planning work started gave the engineers unprecedented freedom to put their stamp on the vehicle.

“When engineering development started, there weren’t many vehicles in that market, so we had latitude for developing this model from scratch,” Mr Tomiyama told Australian journalists at the LA motor show through an interpreter.

“So rather than trying to just pursue (design) differentiation from other models, we concentrated on having (leading) dynamic performance too.

“Development for the prototype was done in Japan and after that we sent it to each region for final spec confirmation, because it is so important to make sure this vehicle’s performance is good enough for each individual markets’ traffic conditions.”

One of the upshots of developing the CX-3 and Mazda2 concurrently was the positive flow-on effect the former had on the latter, particular in terms of improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) properties as well as perceived quality and craftsmanship.

During testing, Mazda engineers collaborated closely with tyre manufacturers, while driving on the widest possible variety of surfaces and environmental conditions pinpointed precise areas where sound-deadening material could be applied most effectively.

“We’re seeing customer trends for higher quality ride comfort – so we sent the CX-3 to Europe and the United States so as to make sure its performance settings in this regard is optimum for each region.

“With the CX-3 refinement, there were two approaches – one was to suppress wheel and tyre noise, and for that we’ve worked with tyre manufacturers so we can really suppress the noise through very fine tuning and secondly, we did thorough work reducing cabin noise pathways by analysing where they’re coming and then added noise insulation materials to suppress those areas.”

Mr Tomiyama said the prototype CX-3’s global journeys ensured that the company’s chiefs were exposed to vital feedback as well as constructive criticism, that in turn was taken on board at a level early enough to make the finished product a much better vehicle.

“Mazda engineers considered all the critical comments,” he revealed, adding that it is an ongoing journey for Mazda. “We are continuing this work for the US market.”

Whether sportier versions of the CX-3 to match its claimed dynamic aptitude materialise will depend on how the markets react to it, but Mazda is keen to put its best foot forward with the best driving and higher quality offering in the B-segment SUV market.

Central to this is the availability from launch of one of the most powerful engines in that segment – the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G four-cylinder petrol unit that in the Mazda3 delivers 114kW/200Nm – as well as an all-new 1.5-litre SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel unit.

Both will be offered in both front-wheel and all-wheel-drive configurations – a relative rarity in this class. The latter is expected to account for about 20 per cent of all production volume.

“There are no plans for now to install the 1.5-litre in CX-3 because we want to provide a powerful driving performance that matches the styling – that’s why we decided to introduce the 2.0-litre petrol engine instead,” Mr Tomiyama explained.

“Also the 1.5-litre petrol might get people expecting to see a lower entry price – and that’s not our intention, we want to offer a higher-quality product… customers will find this size of engine easy to handle.

“The potential for higher performance models is there, but we’ve just launched so our focus is to establish the CX-3 into the marketplace… and a bigger engine might give a rougher feeling than what customers want.”

Though Mazda is keeping mum on specification details until the first international press drives commence in a few weeks time, Mr Tomiyama said the difference in weight between the Mazda2 and CX-3 is about “the weight of two skinny men.” Figure on that being about 140kg more than the 2 hatch, which kicks off from about 1050kg in base manual form.

Mr Tomiyama said that his biggest challenge was developing the CX-3 to within a budget, while pushing the boundaries for an SUV of this size and category.

“Striking a balance between cost and performance was difficult – because we try to develop better vehicles, and the desire is very strong that we end up using very costly materials,” he revealed. “So we really paid a lot of attention and effort to make sure the cost didn’t blow out, yet we still provide quality and better driving experience.”

Asked which is his favourite, Mr Tomiyama nominated the 1.5-litre diesel manual front-wheel drive version, because “it allows for total control of the torque just as you need it.”

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