Make / Model Search

Future models - Mazda - CX-3

First drive: Mazda CX-3 lands in Oz

Off road: Mazda’s eagerly awaited CX-3 baby SUV won’t officially launch in Japan until about April next year, but we were given a sneak-peek early drive on Australian turf.

Australia hosts first global pre-production drive for critical Mazda CX-3 baby SUV


Click to see larger images

9 Dec 2014

MAZDA’S all-new CX-3 has touched down on Australian soil for its dynamic drive world debut, with GoAuto among the first to sample the crucial new crossover at an exclusive event held today at the Australian Automotive Research Centre near Anglesea in Victoria.

Set to go on sale here in the second quarter of next year – immediately after the Japanese launch – the sub-CX-5 crossover will take on the likes of the Hyundai ix35, Mitsubishi ASX, Holden Trax, Nissan Juke, Ford EcoSport and a host of other rivals from around the globe in the flourishing sub-compact SUV segment.

Mazda’s move into the segment is relatively late with most major players already competing, but with its popular range-defining ‘Kodo’ design and a package derived from careful inspection of the competition, the Japanese manufacturer and its Australian subsidiary are confident the CX-3 has what it takes to win a good chunk of the action.

Mazda CX-3 program manager Michio Tomiyama has ambitious expectations for the crossover, saying it can be “used anywhere and in any way” – and after a brief stint behind the wheel of Mazda’s crucial new offering, we think it could be a cool cat amongst the petite SUV pigeons.

Two four-cylinder engines will be available: a normally aspirated SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre producing 109kW of power and 192Nm of torque and a 1.5-litre SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel with 77kW and 270Nm.

Expected fuel economy is quoted at 6.0 litres per 100km for the petrol and a more frugal 5.0L/100km for the diesel aided by automatic engine idle-stop technology.

For Australian-spec cars, Mazda says the diesel will better that figure but more accurate predictions, along with acceleration figures, will come later.

A choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission will send torque via two or four wheels, but while any combination is a possibility, Mazda is yet to confirm the exact engine/transmission specifications for the various global regions.

Our first pre-production test car represented the lower end of the CX-3 range with a front-wheel-drive chassis, petrol engine and only the automatic transmission option to push up the equipment from entry level.

Unsurprisingly, the interior of the CX-3 is much like the Mazda2 on which it is largely based, although the cabin does have an airier feel with a higher roof and more space throughout.

Quality is generally high with some harder plastics used but the design is minimalist and likable with a simple layout highlighted by a 7.0-inch central screen standing out well from the plain but pleasant dash.

Under the CX-3’s SkyActiv chassis, MacPherson struts look after front-end suspension while a space-saving torsion-beam set-up deals with the rear track on two-wheel-drive versions.

Mazda says the front end’s 30mm trail and 5.0-degree caster angle adds to the various weight saving measures for a positive steering feel, nimble performance on winding roads, but stability when cruising.

A palm rest has been added to the Mazda ‘commander control’ which allows an operator to keep a steady hand when using the simple and easy-to-understand arrangements of buttons and a dial.

Mazda’s MZD Connect allows the connection of smartphones via Bluetooth and access to internet-based services such as streaming radio and social media, as well as more conventional CD, USB or radio playback.

Boot space is average for the class, with an expected capacity in the region of 350 litres with the 60/40 split-fold rear seats in place. Holden’s Trax offers 356 litres and the Mitsubishi ASX can carry 416 litres in the cargo area, while the Nissan Juke offers 251 litres.

Australia’s VDA method of measuring boot usability rates the Mazda with a more regular conveniently shaped load space and a score of 265.

The CX-3 is not as high, wide or long as the Mitsubishi, but is more similarly proportioned to Nissan’s Juke.

With no turbo to interfere with power delivery, the petrol engine responds well to accelerator instructions and has a terrific induction note when loaded up.

However, that lovely sound could become intrusive when pottering around.

The four-cylinder does not have the same power as the Mazda3’s 114kW 2.0-litre engine but in the lightweight CX-3 it does a decent job.

Bolted on the back of the SkyActiv engine is one of our favourite elements of the CX-3 – its proper automatic transmission.

Where many cars in the segment opt for a droning and unsatisfying CVT, the Mazda has a responsive but smooth six-speed torque-converter version and we think it gives the little high-riding Mazda an edge.

In normal mode, the cog swaps are smooth and rapid, allowing effortless and comfortable motoring, but flicking to sport mode switches the gearbox to a new level of intuitiveness for more enthusiastic driving.

The sportier mode allowed the transmission to hold onto gears in just the right spot, wringing the best out of the normally aspirated engine.

The CX-3 does not have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters but we liked using the gear selector to manually shift, especially as the switch is oriented correctly with a push forward for downshifting and a pull back for clicking up a gear.

A manual gearbox option will also be coming to Australia but at this early stage Mazda has not confirmed which of the CX-3 variants will get the self-serve box.

Handling for a relatively high-riding crossover was also playful with an obedient turn-in and minimal bodyroll. We would have liked a little more steering feel and weight but the communicative chassis in part compensated for less feedback.

The small-diameter leather-wrapped steering wheel also added to the sense of fun and encouraged us to chuck the CX-3 through every bend on the AARC proving ground.

Road and wind noise when cruising was surprisingly good for a car of its size and some occasional vibrations could be attributed to the test car being a near-production prototype.

Moving into the diesel version we also had a chance to experience the four-wheel drive layout, too, and the gorgeous new Ceramic Mica paint colour.

Where front-drive versions have a more conventional torsion beam arrangement, to get drive to the rear wheels, the 4WD CX-3 has a more sophisticated DeDion axle.

On rougher, unforgiving surfaces the difference was obvious with a more compliant ride and large imperfections less likely to upset the direction of the little SUV. However, the extra weight and more predictable back end did strip a little fun from the handling.

Longer, more adventurous trips would be better suited to the all-paw CX-3 but a blast on well-maintained roads is more rewarding in the front-drive option.

The 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre oil-burner produces a good output for its size but the torque runs out towards 2500rpm, discouraging us from revving the little engine even though it has a high maximum engine speed.

For low-speed manoeuvring and dashing about town, the diesel is smooth and adequate but progress with a full load or overtaking could become frustrating.

In the absence of confirmed variants and specifications it is likely the CX-3 will adopt similar equipment brackets to the larger CX-5 model.

But with all technicalities and variant details aside, all CX-3s will have one uniting and strong feature – its looks.

We love the application of Kodo design language, clever size-specific styling and the series of bold lines that run through the CX-3 body, giving it essential novelty in an, at times, awkward-looking city SUV segment.

The pleasing lower window line, blacked-out B-pillar and diving crease from the bonnet through to the doors sets the Mazda apart from every other offering in a striking but agreeable way – and that could be its greatest weapon.

We understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the Mazda CX-3 is possibly the best-looking option among the growing small crossover segment. Add to that a pair of likable engines, excellent transmission and a versatile choice of two- or four-wheel drive and you have a package that could easily change the light SUV landscape.

For more ambitious motoring and perhaps more family-oriented adventures the diesel offers efficient torquey progress and the 4WD chassis will go further on more beaten tracks.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the revvy 2.0-litre petrol which comprises the most fun-to-drive CX-3 package when coupled with the lighter and livelier 2WD layout.

There is no outright high-performance option as yet, but then neither is there under any other marque in the segment – in Australia, at least – so if you are thinking of jumping into the crossover market, Mazda’s CX-3 will certainly be worth a look when it arrives next year.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Read more

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

Mazda models

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here