Feeding the growing hunger for baby SUVs is a priority for carmakers at the moment. Usually based on superminis, the blown up, stretched out and raised city cars are very much in vogue. The segment seems to know no bounds as the merry-go-round of relentless releases continues to spin in accordance with the buyer’s insatiable appetite. The current growth of this new niche is almost peerless.
From the marketing department’s perspective though, small SUVs present challenge. Take Mazda’s new CX-3 for instance. The Japanese brand’s showroom already offers the bigger CX-5 as well as the conventional 3 hatchback and sedan. Family ties could be strained as strong arguments could be made for either of those two options over the CX-3 – and vice versa.
Essentially Mazda – like other manufacturers in this battle – is cutting its own lunch. And the figures don’t lie as Mazda3 sales are down for May 2015 (against May 2014). No doubt the fact the CX-3 found more than 1000 homes in the same month had something to do with it. So what’s the appeal?
What do you get?
If indecision is your middle name, then the CX-3 could be a nightmare. However, those who like choice will bask in the 14-strong lineup containing myriad engine, gearbox, driveline and spec configurations. Model grades include Neo, Maxx, sTouring and Akari with both petrol and diesel options tied to either front (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
Prices also start at less than $20K (all prices exclude on-road costs), yet top out close to $40K. The former figure means that Mazda actually undercuts key rivals like the Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Honda HR-V. Breaking it down, diesel power adds $3400 over petrol while an automatic asks $2000 more than the manual and AWD commands a $2000 premium over FWD.
The upper-spec sTouring FWD tested here is a respectable $28,990. Its main features include 18-inch alloys, LED headlamps, daytime running lights, auto headlights and wipers, Maztex upholstery, head-up display, climate control and keyless entry. For the modest outlay of $1030 you can option the safety pack. The extra features bring you inline with the Akari and include technologies like smart city brake support, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Adapting what is essentially a Mazda2 cabin to an SUV format that, depending on spec, can nibble at $40K was always going to be a hard sell. Yet, with a hint of Audi-esque design, the sun has risen for the Japanese marque on many fronts. The CX-3’s cabin design and quality does befit the segment. Apart from some scratchy plastics, you don’t feel short-changed even though it is a carry-over item.
The sTouring offers an inviting environment in terms of tech and design. The seven-inch tablet-style screen dominates the dash while the oversize tacho consumes the attractive instrument cluster. In terms of ergonomics the CX-3 scores well with the MZD infotainment system as it’s easy to use. General cabin storage is also good.
The driving position is a quasi SUV and hatch arrangement. Not too high, and not too low. Headroom is generous in both rows and while rear legroom seems tight, the reality is it’s no worse than key rivals. Vision from most angles (apart from the C-pillar) is decent and the raised 155mm ride height aids alighting from the cabin.
What doesn’t work is the fact that there is an absence of a centre console, no rear air vents or centre armrest, a slight lack of sound deadening and a small 264-litre boot. This can be somewhat alleviated by a 1174-litre cargo capacity with the 60/40-split rear seats folded, but it’s still nowhere near creating the practical magic of Honda’s HR-V.
Under the bonnet
Thankfully, Mazda has chosen to up the ante under the chiselled snout of the CX-3. This means the 2.0-litre SkyActiv petrol engine serves purpose with 109kW and 192Nm. While it does most of its best work at 6000rpm, it can sound a little highly strung. Yet, it is enough for city, highway and country driving. The SkyActiv six-speed automatic is also a brilliantly intuitive partner and rarely puts a foot wrong.
Not surprisingly, due to the baby crossover being built from the ground up with SkyActiv tech, fuel consumption is impressive at 6.1L/100km. Strong, yet lightweight material and the use of the unobtrusive i-Stop system help this figure. The 1.5-litre diesel is the frugal one at 5.1L/100km.
On the road
With a lithe kerb weight of 1226kg, the CX-3 bypasses the top-heavy, wallowing feel that many bigger SUVs fall victim to. The steering is sharp with fairly progressive feel and will change direction at will. The “car-like handling” tagline definitely applies here. Lateral rigidity is impressive and, despite a bit of float from the front end mid-corner, remains planted on the road. The McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setup adds to the grippy nature.
However, this could also be due to the test car being fitted with aftermarket 19-inch ROH alloys wrapped in sticky Michelin Sport 3 tyres (245/40 ZR 19). The extra tyre width certainly adds confidence. On the other hand, the larger rim size doesn’t adversely affect the ride quality – which does tend to lean to the firm side. Like the CX-3’s key rivals, it is easy to manoeuvre around town.
Ultimately, after briefly sampling an AWD sTouring, the need to go to four driven wheels will be dependent on the intended use. For most buyers the FWD version is the right, and cheaper, ticket.
If you have your heart set on a small SUV, then the CX-3 has to make it to final reckoning – full stop. However, if you don’t need to follow a trend, the adept Mazda3 (hatch or sedan) could be all the car you’ll ever need. Step outside the Mazda realm and Japanese foe Honda offers more space and cabin flexibility with its HR-V. It is more the family choice in this segment.
However, the sharp styling and quality of this high-riding hatch from Mazda will turn heads and win hearts. Critically, the Zoom Zoom factor hasn’t been forgotten either. Nor has the extensive range that covers almost all bases with a diverse offering of engines and drivetrains. That’s something most competitors can’t match. In the must-have world of small SUVs, the CX-3 is essential viewing.
Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD specifications
Price: $28,990 (excluding on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel use: 6.1L/100km
Power: 109kW (6000rpm)
Torque: 192Nm (2800rpm)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Country of Origin: Japan
Overall test rating: Four out of five stars
- Test vehicle supplied by Jupiter Motors
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.