Mazda CX-3 review: 2015-2016

24 January 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2017 Mazda CX-3 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Mazda's CX-5 is pretty much the benchmark in its segment, wiping the floor with the competition from Toyota and Hyundai while picking its teeth with Honda and Nissan, former segment heavyweights.

So it was with much wringing of hands from customers and Mazda dealers that the company took so long to get a small SUV to market. Buyers of those cars were beating down the doors of other companies to make and sell them, so it made sense that the Japanese marque would put a bit of its Kodo design magic in amongst the pigeons.

And when it arrived, it was an instant hit. The Mazda CX-3 has quickly established itself as the segment leader, already closing on twenty percent market share in its first full year on sale and beating the segment king, the evergreen (and ageing) Mitsubishi ASX.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The CX-3 range is a big one, stretching from $19,990 for the manual CX-3 Neo through to $37,690 for the Akari diesel all-wheel drive auto. 

The Neo ($19,990-$21,990) opens the range with 16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, power windows and mirrors, cloth trim, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless start, rear parking sensors and a basic four-speaker audio system.

A reversing camera is not standard in the Neo as the full MZD Connect touchscreen doesn't make an appearance until you move to the Maxx (that will cost you $22,390 for the manual, $24,390 auto).

The CX-3 does to the small SUV segment what the CX-5 did to the medium-sizers and that's attract buyers with good looks.

On the multimedia front, each CX-3 comes (at a minimum) with AM/FM radio, CD player, MP3 compatibility and smartphone connectivity with iPhone and Android devices. Everything but the Neo has Mazda's MZD Connect which comes with the bigger screen and adds some basic app integration with things like Pandora and Stitcher.

Similarly, more advanced safety tech is part of the optional Safety Pack ($1030) can be added to Maxx, Neo and sTouring ($26,990-$30,990), while those features are standard on the Akari.

On top of the Neo spec, the Maxx swaps steel wheels for alloys of the same size, some leather in the cabin, the 7-inch MZD Connect screen replaces the dot-matrix display, the speaker count increases to six and sat nav and reversing camera are standard.

The Maxx is available in manual and auto petrol and auto diesel as well as front or all-wheel drive.

The sTouring builds on the Maxx with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and lighting, auto headlights and wipers, climate control and keyless entry to go with keyless start.

The sTouring enjoys the same range of powertrains as the Maxx.

The Akari ($31,290-$37,690) brings the range home with a powered sunroof, leather seat trim, blind spot monitoring, auto high beam, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and forward autonomous emergency braking.

Across the range, automatic adds $2000 and all-wheel drive a further $2000. The Neo is only available in front-wheel drive and the 2.0-litre petrol four cylinder, while the 1.5-litre turbodiesel arrives in the Maxx. All diesel-powered CX-3s are automatic.

The CX-3 is available in eight colours: Snowflake White, Ceramic Metallic (a sort of eggshell grey, like a duck's egg), Dynamic Blue, Meteor Grey, Titanium Flash (gunmetal grey), Deep Crystal Blue and Jet Black Mica. The only optional paint is Mazda's signature Soul Red for just $250.

Mazda regularly offer a drive away price as part of sales campaigns, usually at a decent chunk off the RRP sticker cost.

How practical is the space inside?

The CX-3 says it can carry five people but the reality is unless the three across the back are small children, it's four in comfort, five squished. Rear leg room is marginal for anyone over 150cm and is heavily dependent on the generosity of those up front.

The CX-3 makes do with just two cup holders up front, so grandma will need a sippy cup for her gin and the kids will need the same for whatever it is they drink. The rear seat passengers also do without a centre armrest although water bottles up to about 500ml can go into one of the four bottle holders, one in each door.

Boot capacity is a bit on the small side, with 264 litres seats up and 1174 with the 60/40 split seats laid down. These numbers are comparable to the tiny Mazda2 hatch on which the CX-3 is heavily based. The boot has a clever false floor that makes the loading lip level with the floor. You can hide things like laptops and tablets under the falsie. Under that is the spare tyre, which is a space-saver.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The CX-3 was penned by Mazda's own team in the company's Kodo design language. While most designer talk can be insufferable and/or impenetrable, the company says Kodo is "soul in motion" and this helps explain the use of wild animals in its advertising. It kind of works as an explanation but in the end, it works well in the metal and that's all that matters.

Almost the entire Mazda range is Kodo-fied and there hasn't been a dud yet. The CX-3 does to the small SUV segment what the CX-5 did to the medium-sizers and that's attract buyers with good looks inside and out.

The CX-3 has its own identity but is clearly a Mazda with its big five point grille, slim headlights and taillights and high beltline. As you work your way up the range there is some subtle bling added to make the cars look ever more expensive, things like LED daytime running lights, bigger wheels and aluminium-look trim.

Crucially, it's not even slightly overbearing. It's barely higher than a hatchback, with a little extra ground clearance but once you're in, you feel high enough that you're in an SUV. It's a neat trick.

There's just two problems with the design - the first is that inside isn't particularly big (try an HR-V on the same day and you'll be gob-smacked at how much space is crammed inside the Honda) and secondly the rising glass line means kids in that nether world between "too big for a seat" and under, say 150cm, can't see out of the back. It also means an over-the-shoulder head check is harder than, for example, a Holden Trax.

Inside, the dash panel is lifted straight from the Mazda2 which also has its good and bad points. The instrument panel is frustratingly small and hard to read in parts (this is partially fixed by the cheap-but-effective heads-up display higher up the range) and there are few opportunities for a splash of colour. It's a bit grey and bleak inside the lower models. If you've got kids, they'll soon fix that.

Those gripes excepted, it's a very well-built interior with what space there is maximised for passengers and ergonomically very sound. Just about everything is intuitive to operate, so dipping into the owners manual will be an unusual occurrence.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

There are two engines available in the CX-3 range. From the entry-level Neo all the way up to the Akari, you can specify the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated (10W30 oil type) Skyactiv-G with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto, with the Neo offering just front-wheel drive. All other models feature four wheel drive, some have it as standard, some an option.

If fun is on the cards, the CX-3 is pretty good.

The 2.0 petrol produces 109kW and 192Nm of torque. Both figures are competitive in the CX-3's class.

The novel 1.5-litre four cylinder turbodiesel, or as Mazda would have it, Skyactiv-D, is available only with the automatic transmission but can be had with front or all-wheel drive in the Maxx while it's all-wheel drive in sTouring and Akari.

Producing just 77kW it follows up with a rather more impressive 270Nm of torque.

All CX-3s have a rated towing capacity 1200kg braked and 800kg unbraked.

How much fuel does it consume?

For the 2.0 in front wheel drive, Mazda claims 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle for the manual and 6.1L/100km for the auto. Add in all-wheel drive and consumption rises to 6.7L/100km. In our most recent test of the front-wheel drive petrol, we saw 8.6L/100km in a 70/30 split of city and highway driving.

The diesel returns an impressive 5.1L/100km in all-wheel drive automatic but drops to 4.8L/100km with front-wheel drive automatic. In a recent CarsGuide road test, we managed 6.1L/100km in the front drive Maxx auto in almost exclusively city driving. 

The fuel tank capacity is a smallish 48 litres, which on our figures means a real-world range of around 750km for the diesel and about 540km for the petrol.

What's it like to drive?

The two different engines have distinctly different driving characteristics. The petrol is linear and revs cleanly, with enough torque to get things moving without fuss. It's not a quick car but if you want to spend less time on the wrong side of the road in country overtaking moves, the diesel is for you. The petrol is good around town, is reasonably frugal and is well-paired to both the manual and the automatic. Hardly anyone buys the manual, but it's more fun if that's what you're after.

And if fun is on the cards, the CX-3 is pretty good. Well-weighted steering, good grip in either front- or all-wheel drive and a chassis that has some of the sparkle of its Mazda2 underpinnings. It doesn't mind a corner and when you send it through one, it holds nice and flat, with sensible spring and damper settings to stop any mid-corner nonsense unsettling things. The CX-3's suspension is a combination of struts up front and simple torsion beams at the rear. 

One thing the SUV doesn't share with its hatchback sibling is the hushed cabin - a noticeable amount of road noise does seeps into the CX-3's cabin through the firewall, but certainly nothing like early 3s or CX-5s.

While neither engine delivers startling power figures, the light kerb weight (1193kg for the Neo manual and no more than 1368kg for the auto all-wheel drive diesel) means that the diesel vs petrol argument is really going to be around value rather than performance.

The light weight contributes to reasonable performance figures, at least in the petrol. Expect a 0-100 time of under nine seconds, but it's unlikely to be far under that figure - Mazda doesn't claim any official times, so it's down to our stopwatch. The diesel, with its weedy power figure, is likely over the 10 second mark but pulls like a train in the gears.

Brakes are discs at both ends and provide good strong stopping power.

It bears mentioning that the CX-3's off road performance is moderate at best. It's perfectly at home on loose surfaces, such as fire trails, but point it at a muddy rut and it will struggle. The low-ish ride height and lack of mud-plugging tech will see to that.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Across the range are six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls and hill holder. 

All CX-3s carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the highest attainable.

On the Neo, Maxx and sTouring, the $1030 optional Safety Pack adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking. The Akari has all this as standard and adds lane-departure warning to the mix.

All CX-3s cater for your baby seat with top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points, one on each side of the rear seat.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

All Mazdas arrive come with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a capped price servicing regime, with all service costs available on Mazda's website. Irritatingly - and unlike many of its rivals - roadside assist is extra but is a reasonable $68.10 per year.

Mazda expects you to visit the dealer every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. Every 10,000km seems on the short side when many competitors stretch longer, to 15,000 and sometimes even longer.

Both the petrols and diesel Skyactiv engines use a timing chain, so there won't be any nasty servicing surprises at the traditional 100,000km for a belt change. 

A scan of the forums suggests there are no real problems yet reported for the CX-3. Owners complain of thick A-pillars and therefore poor forward visibility, some aren't sure about the firm ride. A recall was issued for some cars owing to a dodgy gas strut on the tailgate and some cars had not had a knuckle in the suspension properly tightened.

There appear to be no common automatic transmission problems or indeed any particular drivetrain or reliability issues.

Resale value prospects appear good based on the RRP pricing (and the performance of the bigger CX-5), however at the time of writing, the CX-3 had only been on the market for two just under two years. A first-off-the-boat 2015 Maxx Auto will fetch between 60 and 70 per cent at trade-in while privately you'll see up to 85 per cent.

Verdict 

The Mazda CX-3 is a fine example of what can be done in the mini-SUV segment while also offering a stylish alternative to a "normal" hatchback. The trade-off of less than stellar interior space is more than made up for by good equipment levels, fine looks and a capable road warrior whether in urban or country areas.

What's more, the front-wheel drive version is more than good enough for most buyers and you don't lose a single thing from the spec-list if you go down that route. Some manufacturers bundle the all-wheel drive in with better engine or spec and that's hugely irritating.

We think the sTouring front-wheel drive is the pick of the bunch, but the majority of buyers are choosing the Maxx. Either way, as long as you don't need the space of something like an HR-V, the CX-3 is a great choice.

Click here for more 2017 Mazda CX-3 pricing and specs.

Would you pick the CX-3 over its rivals? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Specifications

  • Price From $19,990
  • Fuel consumption 6.3L/100km (combined), 151g/km CO2 Tank 48L
  • Safety 5-star ANCAP
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 3 years/unlimited
  • Service Interval 12 months/10,000km
  • Engine 1.998L 4-cyl unleaded, 109kW/192Nm
  • Transmission Manual, FWD
  • Spare Spare Wheel - Space Saver/Temporary
  • Turning circle 10.6m diameter
  • Dimensions 4275mm (L), 1765mm (W), 1550mm (H)

Mazda CX-3 review: 2015-2016

What we like

  • Solid value
  • Good driving experience
  • Equipment levels

What we don't

  • Interior a little dark
  • Petrol engine a bit of a droner
  • Small boot

Key Features

  • 5 Star Safety

Rivals

Comments