Small SUVs are – or soon will be – all the rage, ripping sales off light and small-size hatchbacks and even encroaching on medium-size SUV sales.
Mazda joins the fray with its Mazda2 hatch based CX-3 that is roomier, more comfortable and almost as affordable as its donor. See why baby SUVs are the new black?
Mazda CX-3 Overview
Unlike most of its rivals, Mazda has thrown all its big-car trim levels and drivetrain options at the CX-3.
There’s four variants with petrol and diesel engines, manual and automatic transmissions and front or all-wheel drive. Best news, the price band is wide enough to scoop up anyone interested in a city-suburban car, regardless of needing an SUV. Talk about win, win.
Walk into a CX-3 this week for the front-drive Neo at $19,990 plus on-road costs. That gets a 2-litre petrol engine with six-speed manual gearbox, 16-inch steel wheels, electric mirrors with fold-in function, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel adjustment with height-adjustable driver’s seat, rear parking sensors, a hands-free Bluetooth system , six airbags and trip computer.
Pay $1030 extra for the safety pack that includes a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and auto braking called smart city brake support (SCBS). It’s money well spent.
Up one step on the ladder is the Maxx that starts at $22,390. There’s a choice of the 2-litre petrol or a sweet 1.5-litre turbo-diesel. The petrol has the option of a six-speed automatic but the diesel, regardless of model variant, is attached only to the auto. The diesel also commands at $2400 premium.
Maxx comes standard with extra gear over the Neo including 16-inch alloy wheels, leather wraps for the steering wheel and gearshifter, a 7-inch central monitor with MZD Connect for an expansive connectivity suite, six speaker audio (up two speakers on the Neo), satellite navigation and a reverse camera. You pay $1030 for the safey pack.
The sTouring is a new level for Mazda, equating to the Grand Touring n some other models. Like the Maxx, there’s the choice of the two engines and transmissions and either front drive or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $26,990 for the manual petrol model with front-wheel drive, then to $30,990 for the all-wheel drive and up to $33,390 for the AWD diesel auto.
It adds 18-inch alloys, LED headlights and daytime running lights, active riving display (which is Mazda-speak for head-up display), climate-control air-conditioning and keyless entry. You still have to add $1030 for the safety pack.
The pinnacle model is the Akari that starts at $31,290 for the petrol front-drive model and adds $2000 for the automatic. The AWD petrol is $35,290 and the equivalent diesel is $37,690.
Akari doesn’t need the safety pack option, loading its shell with the listed features plus high-beam control. Other standard equipment includes a sunroof and leather upholstery.
A full list of specifications can be found here –
The 2015 Mazda CX-3 line-up and pricing:
|2-litre petrol FWD||Manufacturer's List Price|
|1.5-litre diesel FWD||Manufacturer's List Price|
|2-litre petrol AWD automatic||Manufacturer's List Price|
|1.5-litre diesel AWD automatic||Manufacturer's List Price|
Soul Red paint $200
Safety Pack $1030
* Excludes Dealer Delivery and statutory charges
Mazda CX-3 Engine
You won’t be disappointed to learn that Mazda has carried over many components from other models and that’s certainly the case with most of the platform, suspension, transmission and one of the engines.
Shared with the Mazda CX-5 and Mazda 3 is the 2-litre SkyActiv aspirated petrol engine that has been slightly detuned for its role in the lighter CX-3.
This petrol engine is available across the range and in both front-drive and AWD configurations and rated at 109kW/192Nm, down from the Mazda3 and CX-5 unit at 114kW/200Nm. It’s lightweight application reduces fuel consumption marginally, now 6.3 litres/100km compared with the CX-5 at 6.4L/100km.
On test, a heavy-foot exercise from Canberra to Sydney via the Southern Highlands delivered 8.2L/100km. It draws from a 44 litre tank in the AWD versions and 48 litres in the front-drive models – the difference courtesy of the AWD’s prop shaft taking up valuable under floor space.
From a fuel economy perspective, cost-conscious buyer will lean to the new 1.5-litre turbo-diesel. This is the first showing of this engine in Australia though has surfaced before in Europe and Japan in the Mazda 2 and Mazda 5 people mover.
In the CX-3 this engine is magic. It pumps a mere 77kW but is strong on torque, delivering 270Nm from 1600-2500rpm thanks to its turbocharger and water-cooled intercooler.
Mazda claims 4.8L/100km from the engine and surprisingly almost hit its mark with a 5.0L/100km average – again from a route and driving style not conducive to eco-motoring.
Buyers are faced with a big model and variant choice but have to be aware that the diesel is available only with the six-speed automatic transmission – not a bad thing actually.
Mazda CX-3 Interior
Mazda has taken the easy route by copying the Mazda 2 dashboard, then bringing it up market by including high-quality materials and etching a bit of colour into the flat-black décor.
The result is a cockpit that mimics much of the simplicity and perception of quality that is inherent in the CX-5, Mazda 3 and Mazda 2. It’s this familiarity that will retain Mazda customers.
More than anything, the striking feature of the cabin is its spaciousness – not something you’d expect on a platform shared with the diminutive Mazda 2.
Importantly, the area for the driver is almost as big as a CX-5. There’s plenty of room for big feet, the adjustability of the steering wheel and seat will suit 90 per cent of body shapes and the access to switchgear and the clarity of he gauges makes it a confident SUV to drive.
That’s also helped by the standard rear park sensors on all models, though the entry-level Neo misses out on a rear camera. Mazda says that’s typical of most of its rivals but that may not be a valid excuse.
The dash features a central dominating single dial within the binnacle. Alongside this speedometer is a tiny – too tiny, in fact – tachometer and fuel gauge. The rest is left to warning lights though buyers of the sTouring and Akera have a head-up display that reflects the digital speed onto a small perspex panel.
There are three circular vents on the dash and though four is more common, air flow was more than adequate. The dashboard’s upper level is hard plastic but is softened by a horizontal strip in either black or a contrasting colour, depending on the model.
The CX-3 retains a manual handbrake (the CX-5 has moved to an electric park brake) yet there’s sufficient console room for two cupholders and a lidded bin.
Most models have a 7-inch screen with audio, navigation, car management and connectivity functions. These also offer internet access to Pandora, Stitcher and Aha plus radio data system program information and the reverse camera.
But the base model gets a small screen without these functions, relying on Bluetooth as a medium to operate the phone’s functions. Buyers can purchase a reverse camera with a screen within the rear-view mirror for $778.
Upholstery material starts at cloth for the Neo and Maxx and then man-made leather for the sTouring and then full lather for the Akera.
Luggage capacity is 264 litres with the 60/40 rear seats in situ, expanding to 1174 litres when folded. The seats actually fold flat and there’s a false floor in the boot to take more gear or, for country owners, perhaps replace the standard space-saver spare with e full-size tyre.
By comparison, the Mazda 2 has a boot that is smaller by 14 litres when the seats are erect and by 322 litres when folded.
Mazda CX-3 Exterior and Styling
Think about an SUV based on the Mazda 2 and the CX-3 comes as no surprise. Mazda treats style as extremely important an delivered a design to appeal to a broad and potentially cynical audience.
It sits on the same platform as the Mazda 2, sharing the 2570mm wheelbase but upping the vehicle’s overall length by 215mm, its width by 70mm and its height by 55mm.
Notably, despite this rise in height, the CX-3 is one of the lowest SUVs in its class. Compared with the CX-5, its baby sister is 265mm shorter, 75mm thinner and a whopping 165mm lower.
There’s also similarity in styling. Yes, it’s the grille that does it first but look closer at the relationship between the cabin and that long nose and clearly designers have picked up on the old sports-car silhouette.
Sure, the CX-3 is no sports car but it has a look like a tethered greyhound, long in the snout and slimming down at the rear.
Part of that appeal lies in the shallow and wedge-shape of the side glass, and the tiny rear window.
The boot lid gives good access to the interior for most cargo but is comparatively shallow and narrow compared with rivals including the Honda HR-V and Skoda Yeti.
Cabin room remains impressive with me at 1.77cm able to easily sit behind myself – a difficult task but one mastered just for you, dear reader – with sufficient leg and head room.
Mazda CX-3 On the Road
Three variants were trialled on the road from Canberra to Sydney. As a starter, the Maxx with front-wheel drive, a 2-litre petrol engine and manual transmission was a pleasant and easy car to drive.
It felt more like a car – indeed, almost identical to a Mazda 3 – than an SUV and through the corners, came without the usual hallmarks of an SUV’s bodyroll.
Like the Mazda 3 there is some hesitation in the engine and a reluctance to perform under load. It is sensitive to gear changes and performs infinitely better when downchanged one or two lower ratios for hills and overtaking.
Clearly this is an engine made for economy. The manual is slick, light and perfectly suited to the engine. Its light clutch action also makes it ideal for the city. Mazda says 23 per cent of Mazda 2s are ordered with manual gearboxes though it expects that to be slightly lower (at 20 per cent) for the CX-3.
The Maxx has a solid blend of comfort and convenience features and came with the optional safety pack that is highly recommended at $1030.
It is a surprisingly quiet and comfortable vehicle and despite some rutted bitumen roads, shrugged them off with its compliance.
The AWD sTouring with the same petrol engine and the six-speed automatic was next. No surprises that the engine was still a little soft in its response but the “sport” button reduced the lag.
The automatic transmission unfortunately put some of that lag back in courtesy of the torque converter. But it is the preferable transmission here and any doughy feel under the accelerator will undoubtedly dilute over time.
Interestingly, it is the front-drive derivative that felt more accurate and showed less tendency to understeer through the corners. If you don’t need the part-time four-wheel drive system, save some money and opt for the front drive versions.
The last model on our test was the AWD Akera with the diesel engine. For buyers intent on saving money and who enjoy the comforting rumble of a small diesel, this is the pick.
Though pushed just as hard as the petrol models, it returned only 5.0L/100km on the test and is memorable for being a lot of fun.
It didn’t have any of the engine lag of the petrol, was just as peppy and though not as quick in some locations – up hills being the main one – it was the most enjoyable.
Mazda CX-3 Issues
The lack of a reverse camera in the base model was washed over by Mazda by comparing its SUV to rivals. I understand that and also agree that to get the price under $20,000, some things have to give.
Otherwise, this is a smart and logical choice for your next car.
Mazda CX-3 Competition
All hail the baby SUVs. Mazda jumps into a growing pond of baby SUVs and floats to the top. It’s a must-drive competitor in this rapidly-thriving segment.
Honda HR-V: From $24,990. Nice effort. The Jazz-based HR-V is sharp, well priced and especially roomy. Love the Magic seats and the peppy drivetrain.
Peugeot 2008: From $21,990. Another one that is a serious contender. Stylish, sensible and with a diesel among its four-model offerings.
Nissan QASHQAI: From $25,850. Top city car with optional diesel but no AWD offering. Just like a Pulsar but with more style and a bit more room.
Skoda Yeti: From $23,490. One of the best with as much cabin flexibility as the HR-V, really efficient engines and an AWD option that is impressive in the dirt.
Mazda CX-3 Verdict
This is one of the few new cars on the market that I would buy. Probably the sTouring petrol automatic front-wheel drive.
I am surprised that it starts at under $20,000 – we expected mid-$20,000 as a starter – and that there’s plenty of choice. But I suggest that the safety pack is included in your purchase.
Buyers must be aware that initial demand will be huge and that supply will be short, so expect delays.
It is also a car designed for a couple or for singles. If you have a child or two, buy the CX-5 or CX-9.