Automotive

A week with the sharply-styled Mazda CX-3

A week with the sharply-styled...
Mazda's CX-3 is a unique, stylish entry to the compact SUV battleground
Mazda's CX-3 is a unique, stylish entry to the compact SUV battleground
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The car's 77 kW might sound small, but its 270 Nm gives it plenty of punch on the go
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The car's 77 kW might sound small, but its 270 Nm gives it plenty of punch on the go
A new, highly scientific method for measuring bootspace: the almost-central size 11 shoe test
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A new, highly scientific method for measuring bootspace: the almost-central size 11 shoe test
The CX-3's Skyactiv diesel motor is punchy, even though it's only a 1.5-liter
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The CX-3's Skyactiv diesel motor is punchy, even though it's only a 1.5-liter
The car's infotainment system is dead easy to use, and the controller mimics BMW's iDrive
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The car's infotainment system is dead easy to use, and the controller mimics BMW's iDrive
In top-spec Akari trim, the CX-3 has climate control
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In top-spec Akari trim, the CX-3 has climate control
The Mazda's chubby little steering wheel feels like a quality item
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The Mazda's chubby little steering wheel feels like a quality item
The CX-3 is good fun on the move, with a well-sorted chassis
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The CX-3 is good fun on the move, with a well-sorted chassis
Mazda's CX-3 is a unique, stylish entry to the compact SUV battleground
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Mazda's CX-3 is a unique, stylish entry to the compact SUV battleground
The 1.5-liter diesel in the CX-3 can sound a little bit agricultural, but works well on the move
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The 1.5-liter diesel in the CX-3 can sound a little bit agricultural, but works well on the move
Mazda's stylists have gone all-out on the CX-3 to make it stand out from the crowd.
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Mazda's stylists have gone all-out on the CX-3 to make it stand out from the crowd.
The CX-3's all-wheel drive system is part time, to make sure it doesn't use any more fuel than necessary
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The CX-3's all-wheel drive system is part time, to make sure it doesn't use any more fuel than necessary
The CX-3 draws plenty of attention on the road, thanks to chunky wheels and creased styling
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The CX-3 draws plenty of attention on the road, thanks to chunky wheels and creased styling
With its chrome grille and squinty headlamps, the CX-3 has a good presence on the road
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With its chrome grille and squinty headlamps, the CX-3 has a good presence on the road
It might look like an SUV, but the CX-3 shares a wheelbase with the Mazda 2
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It might look like an SUV, but the CX-3 shares a wheelbase with the Mazda 2
The MZD Connect system is fantastic - quick and easy to use on the go
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The MZD Connect system is fantastic - quick and easy to use on the go
It might be redlined at 5500 rpm, but there's not much use taking the CX-3's diesel engine beyond about 3750 rpm
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It might be redlined at 5500 rpm, but there's not much use taking the CX-3's diesel engine beyond about 3750 rpm
The CX-3's HUD might look fancy, but it's a bit of a gimmick for taller drivers who have to look down at the display
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The CX-3's HUD might look fancy, but it's a bit of a gimmick for taller drivers who have to look down at the display
The car's rising windowline might look good, but it can make things feel claustrophobic in the back seats
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The car's rising windowline might look good, but it can make things feel claustrophobic in the back seats
Given the success of other brands' compact SUVs, Mazda is expecting CX-3s to fly out of showrooms
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Given the success of other brands' compact SUVs, Mazda is expecting CX-3s to fly out of showrooms
With chunky wheels and a twin exhaust, the CX-3 has been designed to look sporty
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With chunky wheels and a twin exhaust, the CX-3 has been designed to look sporty
The little CX-3 handles nicely, sitting flat in the bends
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The little CX-3 handles nicely, sitting flat in the bends
Rear visibility is limited, so the reversing camera is a useful addition
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Rear visibility is limited, so the reversing camera is a useful addition
Mazda's infotainment system is fantastic
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Mazda's infotainment system is fantastic
Mazda's infotainment system is fantastic
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Mazda's infotainment system is fantastic
Unsurprisingly, rear leg room is not a strong point
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Unsurprisingly, rear leg room is not a strong point
The CX-3's leather and suede trim is finished in three colours - a bit much for our tastes
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The CX-3's leather and suede trim is finished in three colours - a bit much for our tastes
There's no armrest on the CX-3, one of the pointers to its economy-car origins
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There's no armrest on the CX-3, one of the pointers to its economy-car origins
Front seat passengers are well looked after, even if things are a bit cramped down back
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Front seat passengers are well looked after, even if things are a bit cramped down back
The steering wheel is covered in buttons, but it's easy to use on to go
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The steering wheel is covered in buttons, but it's easy to use on to go
Mazda CX-3: Push button start
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Mazda CX-3: Push button start
View gallery - 30 images

Compact SUVs seem to be all the rage and many manufacturers are getting in on the act by taking a small hatch, jacking it up and giving it all wheel drive. Mazda's tilt at cracking the recipe comes in the form of the CX-3, a high-riding compact SUV based on the featherweight Mazda 2 hatchback. Gizmag spent a week with the CX-3 to find out what all the fuss is about.

Let's start from the very beginning: the CX-3 is not a full-blooded SUV. It might look chunky, it might have all-wheel drive, but under the skin it's a Mazda 2 hatchback. They share the same wheelbase, and the CX-3 has just an extra 3 mm of ground clearance compared to its city-car cousin.

Its all-wheel drive system is part time, with the car defaulting to front-drive whenever it can to save fuel, and there's not exactly a heap of space in the back for carrying children or things bigger than, say, a suitcase.

The CX-3 draws plenty of attention on the road, thanks to chunky wheels and creased styling
The CX-3 draws plenty of attention on the road, thanks to chunky wheels and creased styling

These aren't shortcomings limited to the CX-3, however. They're endemic of the breed. No compact SUV makes a heap of sense because a hatchback will do the job better around town and a proper off-roader will destroy it when you leave the tarmac. What these cars are about is style, about sitting high and looking "lifestyley" and "rugged".

And no compact SUV does that better than the Mazda.

From the outside, the car looks fantastic. For an ostensibly boring car, a 1.5-liter diesel SUV, the CX-3 draws a fair bit of attention thanks to its funky wheels and sharp front styling. Three or four times during our week with the car people came up to us and asked what it was, or complemented the way it looks.

We can't imagine many Chevy Trax or Ford EcoBoost owners have ever been told their car looks fantastic, which gives the Mazda a feather in its cap before a wheel has turned.

Once you're on the move, the CX-3 has the goods to back up its sharp styling. Our car was powered by a 1.5-liter SkyActiv diesel motor producing 77 kW (103 hp) and 270 Nm of torque. As you might expect, it's not exactly a firecracker of an engine – start it up and you're greeted by a distinctly-diesel chug, chug, chug.

Once you get moving the engine reasonably smooth and punchy. There's a little bit of turbo lag when you put your foot down, but it gives you enough grunt to keep up with traffic.

It's also extremely efficient, with a claimed fuel usage of just 4.8 l/100 km (59 mpg). In a week of stop-start driving in grinding traffic, we managed only 7.0 l/100km (40 mpg) – still impressive considering diesel engines do their best work on the open road.

The CX-3's Skyactiv diesel motor is punchy, even though it's only a 1.5-liter
The CX-3's Skyactiv diesel motor is punchy, even though it's only a 1.5-liter

The little engine is no doubt helped by Mazda's excellent six-speed automatic gearbox. When you're mooching around town it stays out of the way, shuffling quickly up to the tallest gear possible to save fuel. But when you want to get a move on it will hold onto gears nicely, and kicks down quickly if you need to get out of trouble.

Flicking the gearlever across to manual mode doesn't ruin things either – downshifts are sharp and the car doesn't try to force its will upon you. If you want to run all the way to the redline – and that's not necessarily something you should be keen on doing – the electronic brain in the Mazda will let you.

The driver-friendly attitude extends to the steering and ride. It's light at low speeds, but on the move the CX-3's steering has a nice weight about it, making the car feel rock solid on the road. Throw the little Mazda around and it sits flat in the bends, and there's plenty of grip from its 18-inch wheels. You can even play around with it: lifting off mid-corner brings the back round nicely, and it clings on gamely before submitting to understeer.

It's actually good fun, and the fact Mazda has engineered some fun into the chassis is to be applauded.

Unfortunately, the car's neat handling is largely irrelevant to most buyers. Most of the people looking for a CX-3 are going to be more worried about the interior and standard equipment.

Step inside the little Mazda, and the design will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen inside the new 2 hatchback – and that's no bad thing. In range-topping Akari spec, the cabin is kitted out in leather and suede, which was finished in beige, red, grey and black in our car.

The CX-3's leather and suede trim is finished in three colours - a bit much for our tastes
The CX-3's leather and suede trim is finished in three colours - a bit much for our tastes

There are also a couple of practicality issues inside. My 9-year-old cousins, used to being ferried around in a Volvo XC90, got into the back seats and immediately complained that they could barely see out because the "windows are very high." On a 31-degree day the lack of rear air vents also drew their ire.

Me? I was too busy trying to find somewhere to keep my wallet, because there's no center storage bin or armrest.

The same can be said for the heads-up display. Some people will love feeling like a fighter-pilot, but from 6-foot-6 seating position there was no way of setting it up that didn't leave me looking awkwardly down for the little green text whenever I tried to use it.

Mazda's infotainment system, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic. As well as being a touchscreen, MZD Connect uses an iDrive-style rotary controller and some shortcut buttons down next to the handbrake to navigate. The Bluetooth streaming system is quick and easy to use, and my phone contacts transferred without a problem every time the car started.

The 1.5-liter diesel in the CX-3 can sound a little bit agricultural, but works well on the move
The 1.5-liter diesel in the CX-3 can sound a little bit agricultural, but works well on the move

So, where does that leave the CX-3? It's a good little car, with a fun chassis and gearbox. It's also a real stunner, with a fantastic design inside and out.

Unfortunately, it's very much on the expensive side. In the US the CX-3 starts at $21,210, but the Akari Diesel spec we tested in Australia goes for AUD$37,990 in local showrooms, a big jump from the $15,000 Mazda 2 it's based on.

In a lower spec, with a fun little petrol engine though? You could just be on to a real winner, because it's an attractive, economical, fun to drive SUV that stands out from the crowd.

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4 comments
mwm75
Lipstick on a pig, mate. For every cute feature you detail, there's a counter-argument for every one. Bottom line: no reason to shell out bucks for this when you can do MUCH better elsewhere.
gybognarjr
Dear Mr. Collie,
Small diesel engines in passenger cars are irrelevant in the view of the VW fiasco and cheating. In Europe artificial low taxation formed the diesel culture 50-60 years ago. In the old days, the diesel engines were more efficient than gasoline engines, that difference is largely disappeared by now. Diesel engines in passenger cars are irrelevant in the US for the last few decades, ever since Oldsmobile and Cadillac installed convened gasoline engines in their cars, which were junk already, before they were started up. One could drive them from the showroom, directly to a nearby junkyard, if they made it that far. In the last 5-6 decades, improvements in engine technology and understanding the combustion process in internal combustion engines almost doubled the efficiency of the gasoline engines. It takes 15% less crude oil to refine benzine than diesel oil, hence the higher energy content of the diesel fuel, so the additional efficiency is really an illusion. In addition, in the US the gasoline contains 10% ethanol by law. I am sure you understand the math, in the US, 25% less crude oil is being used by a gasoline engine, than the diesel. Add to it the added cost of raw materials and labor to produce a diesel engine and the loss of performance for a large premium price over a similar size gasoline engine and the equation is completely against the small diesel engines. Let's just leave the diesel engines to do what they are doing best, and even there only for a little while longer. They are excellent in large trucks, in large industrial or agricultural machines, ships, etc. They do not make sense for small passenger cars.
P.S. In Los Angeles, the new hybrid buses (36 of them being tested downtown, 34 more coming this year) are driven by small, 2.5L, 4cyl constant 2,200 RPM gasoline engines of 75HP, driving a generator, charging a very large bank of batteries and the bus is driven by two large electric motors. These buses are capable of carrying 116 passengers and operate 24/7. They use a fraction of the CNG the large converted diesel engines use in the typical urban transportation buses. Otherwise I liked the article you wrote, thank you.
StephenTerlizzi
The specs are really different here in the US, such as a 2.0L gas engine at 145hp and about teh same torque, as well as different pkgs I am sure. Plus prices start just under $20,000 here in the US not $21,210. Overall, not sure why this was posted on a US website when the vehicle is quite different
chidrbmt
Ethanol is apolitical bad joke. A complete con job. It takes a gallon of petro. to produce and transport(will rust pipelines)a gallon of ethanol. Plus it's road tax free with other gov. tax breaks. With it's water content,plays havoc with engines and go bad quickly. Sooner we get rid of it the better. Fat chance.