The competition is heating up on the world stage, with even the markets that post overall negative sales results having the crossover and SUV segments on the rise – and everyone needs as many contenders as it can get in this scorching hot class.
And while Mazda is well known for being a smaller Japanese player, it’s keen on capitalizing the market trends and has been known to do it very cleverly – hence its own survival since it parted ways with US giant Ford and analysts and other experts saw its doom. But, thanks to only one word – Skyactiv – and an entire culture rooted in delivering a car that not only takes its driver and passenger from point A to B, but does so in a particularly pleasing way, Mazda is very much alive and kicking. And it’s also nailing new models in some of the hottest segment – the subcompact crossover, thanks to the introduction of the new CX-3. While small, Mazda now has a fully fledged SUV/crossover range – from the smallish CX-3 and all the way up to the large CX-9.
The subcompact crossover segment was invented by an expert in the field – Nissan – through its Juke oddball that became the successful underdog no one saw coming (actually, they did, thanks to a very funky and polarizing design) and took a new niche to become a fully fledged segment with numerous entries. Mazda’s CX-3 will not have an easy life here – it comes after a few players have already established their leadership – Renault’s Captur and Peugeot’s 2008 – and dethroned Juke. It also comes besides another upscale contender from Japan – Honda’s HR-V. But as we’re already used to, the CX-3 has its own trump cards. Mainly, it eschews the pool of mass-market players (Chevrolet Trax/Opel Mokka/Buick Encore; Ford EcoSport, etc) and goes directly towards the fashionable upscale zone where it will fend off with the Mini Countryman or the Renault Captur.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The Japanese brand has managed to update almost its entire model lineup in the span of a few short years and almost every single model has an angular and distinctive, sporty-oriented appeal. The models are easily acknowledged as a Mazda and usually there’s no easy way of getting even the model itself wrong – the CX-3 is following in the footsteps of its larger brother CX-5 but without actually copying any feature.
The front view is extremely important for any vehicle and is treated as such by the Mazda designers, which have carefully integrated numerous layers of design patterns – for example the chromed surround of the radiator grille spreads a pair of “wings” into the headlights. We get the vertical nose with a rather large overhang and a very short bumper at the back, while the side shows the family DNA it has received from the CX-5. While the latter is a family oriented compact SUV, the CX-3 crossover will instead appeal to younger customers or maybe families that are very active and only have a child. The sporty emphasis is clear if we take into account the more aggressive front design and the very small glass surface at the side, coupled to the sloping roofline and smallish rear glass that won’t make you happy if you forgot to get park distance control.
Inside the sporty theme goes on, even as the cockpit has been almost directly taken from the Mazda 2 hatchback, with the two models sharing much of the architecture when in a front wheel drive configuration. Actually, the main differences are not seen on the dashboard but rather on the door panels, with a slightly different design and arrangement. That’s not a bad decision – it will keep the costs down for them and the customers will be treated to the same, minimalist design. It’s sportiness at its core, without any feature or knob thrown in just because it’s better looking and the clean and neat design will probably mesmerize much of the new generation of Mazda owners into treating the brand as a cult object much like their parents did with the MX-5 Miata convertible, for example.
At 4265 mm long and with a wheelbase of 2570 mm, the CX-3 is not the biggest of the bunch when compared to the Juke, HR-V, Countryman or the Captur but will deliver the same amount of interior space and roughly the same trunk load. It appears that Mazda’s engineers might have deliberately worked around this setting – given that a CX-3 will not employ a cab-forward architecture – to enhance the sportiness of the model and make sure it won’t eat into the CX-5 target audience. That’s because the driver will get wrapped around by the controls, with the rear exterior mirrors sitting very close to its eyes and a high side window line that might make the owner forget it’s riding in a crossover that can also be equipped with all-wheel drive. We do love such setups, after we have been seeing so many automakers abandoning their own principles and delivering dull and uninteresting models.
Gadgets form an important part of everyday life today, especially if you’re young and active – the target audience for the CX-3 crossover. You’ll get the Mazda connect infotainment system which can deliver all elements in one place (actually two, you also have physical buttons and a touchscreen interface) and a wide array of safety and assistance systems, including a head-up display. The infotainment system does need some polishing, as the interaction with it is not always seamless and intuitive as we’ve grown used to when dealing with our smartphones, for example.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The Mazda CX-3 that underwent our testing procedures was equipped with the Skyactiv-G petrol burner that churned out a rather unimpressive 120 PS and 204 Nm from a two-liter four-cylinder. That’s actually in line with the Juke (115 PS from a 1.2 turbo), the Captur (120 PS from the 1.2 TCe, again with turbo), or the naturally aspirated Countryman Copper. But it fails short of a main contender – Honda HR-V – which delivers 131 PS from a naturally aspirated 1.5 i-VTEC. That means the CX-3 is disadvantaged in terms of taxation rules in certain countries. Fortunately the dynamic figures are not impaired and will put it in front of the pack thanks to the higher torque – which comes with higher displacement territory – it’s the only one that goes above 200 Nm and beats all of the aforementioned competitors when it comes to the 0-100 km/h sprint.
In real world driving – where you don’t actually test that sprint or the top speed too often, the CX-3 performs much like a traditional hatchback. You won’t have any turbo lag, and will be given ample power reserves in almost any gear because the torque is great and comes at the lower end of the rev spectrum – at 2800 rpm. It’s also very elastic, with the sixth gear engaged at city speeds (we didn’t mistreat the engine, the switch gear assistant called us to do it), meaning you’ll be able to get better mileage as well. Speaking off, the CX-3 is again not at the top of the roster but delivers an average fuel consumption of less than 6 liters per 100 km, according to the manufacturer. You won’t see it easily unless you go for long rides outside of town but also won’t be far from it – thanks to the impressive Skyactiv enhancements, as the engineers have also worked on the engine, chassis and other components to make sure you’ll be happy when paying the fuel bill. Inside the city, the i-Eloop system that regenerates breaking power will work together with the start/stop system but we did see its limitations if the car was at a standstill for longer periods of with air conditioning on.
While we’re talking here about a subcompact crossover that can also receive all wheel drive, ride dynamics will be one of the strengths of the CX-3 compared to the rest of the pack, sitting very close to the Countryman in terms of driving enjoyment. The wrap around cockpit will also come with great brakes, a surgical steering response and a neutral ride in the bends, because the naturally aspirated engine will not suddenly push the front rubber to break contact with the asphalt. It’s not going to be as playful as the MX-5 for sure, but if you go for the awd version you can rest assured that driving sporty is a strategy under all weather conditions – we really don’t think owners will take a crossover off the asphalt for more than a sand parking at the seaside or a trail in the forest.
The CX-3 packs the driving scenario tightly – great steering, good response from the engine, and that well known short-throw gearbox. With six gears to go you might say the CX-3 is also the long ride maniac, but in reality I found the same issue – highway speeds also bring a high rev count. That was not taxing on the ears – the car is well isolated from the outside (though somehow the engine sound is there when your ears call for it) – as it was on the fuel economy.
Pro: sporty exterior design, minimalist interior with wrap-around cockpit feeling, great engine with ample reserve power and overall stellar road handling architecture putting it next to the Mini Countryman.
Against: small windows make for a rather claustrophobic back seat, short final gear not suitable for highway rides, start/stop system with not so stellar power reserve.
Starting price – Mazda CX-3 G120 Emotion – 15,290 EUR
Tested Car – Mazda CX-3 G120 traction – 19,790 EUR
Engine: 2.0L four cylinder, gasoline, direct injection, start/stop (1998 cc)
Power: 120 HP (88 kW) at 6000 rpm
Torque: 204 Nm at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,275 mm, width – 1,765 mm, height – 1,535 mm, wheelbase – 2,570 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 48L
Trunk Capacity: 350/ 1260 liters
Weight: 1230 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 9 s
Top Speed: 192 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 7,4L/100 km, highway – 4,9L/100 km, average – 5,9L/100 km
Rating: 4.4 / 5