Even if Mazda’s little crossover has joined a crowded segment rather late in the game, the CX-3 brings with it some daring style and a playful spirit that enlivens the party.
Mazda likes to take things slowly and to proper digest an idea before it decides to throw it into the market. The Japanese automaker has always been a company that did not push for high volumes, preferring to take a different approach than the rest of the field. The SUVs and crossovers are booming around the world, and even the conservative European market has tipped the balance towards these two segments last year. Therefore, automakers have rushed to meet the demand by launching high-riders, especially in a compact form. Mazda has come to this party last year and has to face a rather harsh competition from models such as Renault Captur, Opel Mokka or Nissan Juke. But like I said before, Mazda does not look over its shoulder to see what path its rivals took to please the mainstream customers, but is rather keeping its beliefs by offering some sharp looking cars that promise a drive to match their bold design.
Design. Interior. Trims
The small CX-3 crossover perfectly embodies the well-known Mazda sporty philosophy with dynamic lines that do not hide its desire to stir emotion when you are heading towards your car. It is an approach that is not usually seen within the segment, as all the automakers choose to play it safe when it comes to their design. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as the oddball Juke. Nissan’s audacity is the perfect example that some craziness can bring good thinks, even if Juke is still raising some eyebrows. CX-3 does not have that hate it or love it stance, but it rather shows off the most exciting bodywork that followers of the urban tiny crossovers can find in this niche. The side mouldings and the high beltline could express a go-anywhere SUV character, but its exterior was definitely pictured to incorporate the Kodo language, the Soul of Motion style that could be seen in all recent Mazdas. The racy look tells us that CX-3 is made for staying on tarmac, announcing some excitement behind the wheel as well, not only from the distance.
The sharp theme is carried on into the cabin, with a clean layout with higher trims which brings before your eyes only three round climate control louvers and a 7-inch touch display for infotainment and connectivity gimmicks, a system that can also be accessed by a rotary dial between the seats, similar to the iDrive controller in BMW models. Clean and efficient, clatter free of buttons, the dashboard can be seen as too minimalistic by some. But the MZD Connect interface offers plenty of features to play with, allowing you to keep up with social media or send and receive emails.
Like all Mazdas, the CX-3 is driver oriented and driving focused, with comfy and supportive front seats. The seating position is top notch, but its low-set is not intended for those who are looking to feel at height on the road. The dynamic stance is emphasized by the instrument dials dominated by the analogue rev counter with a small digital speedometer on the side and by a head-up display providing real-time driving data. The materials throughout the cabin are a good mix of solid plastics and dark red soft trim material on the doors and matching kneepads on the centre console.
The comfort up-front is not to be found on the rear seats though, as it is quite a tight place with not too much room for knee or head for a 6 feet tall person. And this is because the CX-3 sits on the same platform as the Mazda2 supermini. Mazda’s small crossover is not suited for families with growing children and most of its class rivals suppress it. The luggage space is only average for this segment, passengers having a 350-litre boot at their disposal. However, it expands to 1,260 litres with the split rear seatbacks folded and offers some flexibility throughout the adjustable floor which reveals a two-way cargo area.
On the road
Mazda has always developed its cars with drivers in mind and almost all models are a reflection of this approach. At the heart of the CX-3 beats either a petrol Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre in two power outputs or a Skyactiv-D 1.5 diesel, with power transferred to the front or all four wheels via six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmissions. The direct-injection naturally aspirated gas engine is offered with either 88kW/120 PS for FWD models or 110kW/150 PS for AWD CX-3s, both at 6,000 rpm, and 204 Nm of torque delivered at 2,800 rpm, while the diesel produces 77kW/105 PS and 270 Nm. For keeping the CO2 levels as low as possible and to be fuel-efficient, both powerplants have the i-stop idle-stop system as a standard feature.
The test car came fitted with the 2.0-litre 150 PS option, an engine matted to a six manual transmission and helped by the AWD system. In a world dominated by tiny turbo petrol cars, Mazda kept its beliefs that a proper natural aspirated large engine is the way to go. And if we took into account CX-3’s lightness of only 1,235 kg, you would think the setup would do wonders. However, it is not quite the case, as the engine needs to be worked surprisingly hard through the revs to impose a fast pace and asks more gear shifting to be made. Fortunately, Mazda’s transmission shifts have always been flawless and the CX-3 makes no exception. Changing gears is a pleasant job, as well as feeling the good feedback given by the precise steering. As expected from the outside look, the chassis is well complimented by a balanced suspension set-up, an all-together package that brings the CX-3 on top of its class in terms of driving dynamics. The ride quality is slightly on the firm side, but it does not alter the overall comfort.
In terms of fuel consumption, a 2,000 cc non-turbo engine is not exactly what you would call an efficient one. On the highway, at a cruising speed of 130 km/h, the engine stays at 3,100 rpm – and quite noisy – and it needs 8.4 l/100 km, but if you ease up the pace to 100 km/h it returns around 6.0 l/100 km at 2,500 rpm. In an urban environment, Mazda says CX-3 can achieve 8.1 l/100 km, but the real-world figures could go up to 10.0 litres. Around the cities, the small crossover is helped by a fast-responsive start-stop system to ease up the fuel burden. Another technology brought by Mazda to fight on the consumption front is the i-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system, which can take care of most of a vehicle’s electricity needs in stop-and-go city driving, freeing up engine output normally required to drive the alternator.
The CX-3 is aimed towards those millennials who are looking for a small urban crossover to reflect their dynamic lives. It lags on practicability – with a tight room on the back seats, a smallish boot and not so many storage spaces throughout the cabin -, thus the younger growing families are definitely not its target. For them, the Renault Captur is much more suitable, being also fashionable with many accessories to choose from and lots of personalization options. And even if a CX-3 with the 2.0-litre engine is not quite a match made in heaven, it has a sporty look with the sharpest lines within the segment and it also shines on the road, surpassing its rival with ease.
Mazda CX-3 G120 6MT FWD – 14,790 EUR
Mazda CX-3 G150 AWD 6MT “Revolution” – 22,490 EUR
Mazda CX-3 G150 AWD 6MT “Revolution” – 22,490 EUR
1,998 cc four cylinder, DOHC 16 valves, direct injection, start & stop
Power: 150 HP (110 kW) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 204 Nm at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Length – 4,275 mm, Width – 1,765 mm, Height – 1,535 mm, Wheelbase – 2,570 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 44 litres
Trunk Capacity: 350 / 1,260 litres
Weight: 1,235 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 8,7 s
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 8.1 l/100 km, highway – 5.5 l/100 km, average – 6.4 l/100 km
4.5 / 5