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Mazda CX-3 Akari 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
9

Remember that feeling on the first day back at school, where you were so chuffed with the hi-top sneakers you got for Christmas, until you suddenly realised that the cool kids’ parents didn’t buy theirs from Kmart? 

Your shoes looked pretty much the same as the ones on every kid’s wishlist, but lacked the NBA provenance and all-important embroidered silhouette of Michael Jordan on the ankle. 

Those who bought a small SUV of late might find themselves in a similar situation. Compact crossovers like the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Captur do tick all the important boxes for their class, but Mazda has now hit the blacktop with the all-new CX-3. 

Aside from the Kodo looks and Skyactiv efficiency tech that have made the Mazda2, 3, 6 and CX-5 so successful, the CX-3 brings a cheaper entry price than any of its immediate rivals, plus refreshing choices between petrol and diesel, two and all-wheel drive, manual and auto, and four different trim levels. 

Could we be looking at the Air Jordan of Australia’s fastest growing segment

Design

The CX-3 uses the same stretched and widened light hatch platform formula as most of its rivals – in this case the still-fresh Mazda2. With longer overhangs and wider tracks, the CX-3 is closer to the Mazda3 hatch in size, but still significantly smaller than the CX-5 SUV.

The Australian market is being flooded by such models, including the Honda HR-V, Renault Captur, Nissan Qashqai, Holden Trax, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke and ageing Mitsubishi ASX, with the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and a few others still to come.

These all represent a serendipitous combination of fashionable SUV looks and practicality with the price and efficiency of traditional small cars like the Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla. Given the popularity of those two, this new crop of small SUVs is expected to boom.

The CX-3 builds on Mazda’s Kodo design language, with a look that fits neatly between the cute lines of the Mazda2 and the sharpened details of the new MX-5

Like the CX-5, the lower sections of the body and wheelarches are protected by unpainted plastic, which is ideal for urban bumps and dirt road driving.

The interior follows a similar path to the exterior, with a clever balance of aesthetic appeal and practicality, and nobody will complain that the retro-cool dashboard is lifted directly from the 2. 

The front seats are nice and comfortable for larger adults, with plenty of under-thigh support. There's enough room for two average height adults in the back, and while it beats the HR-V for headroom, legroom feels a bit tighter. 

Likewise, cargo space is only average for the class (264-1174-litres VDA), but there’s a useful cavity beneath the boot floor for discrete storage, atop a space saver spare.

There are four bottle holders and two cupholders, and two ISOFIX mounts for child seats in the rear.

Value

The CX-3’s entry price of $19,990 undercuts all of its immediate rivals, with the base Neo manual only matched by the Chinese cheapy Chery J11. The Chery pricing may be drive-away, but the similarly sized and shaped CX-3 is in a completely different league in every other way. 

The CX-3 Neo doesn’t arrive in Australian showrooms until the second quarter, and will come with standard rear parking sensors, but no reversing camera. Adding the auto brings the price up to a still-competitive $21,990. 

Maxx, sTouring and Akari trim levels are also available as you move up the price list, and all models from the Maxx onwards gain a standard reversing camera along with the seven-inch MZD Connect multimedia  system and satnav. Front parking sensors remain a $599 (fitted) optional extra on all CX-3s. 

Only the top-spec Akari comes with leather trim, which is offset nicely with Alcantara inserts. The Akari with all-wheel drive, turbodiesel and automatic rounds off the range at $37,690. Nearly double the price of a base Neo, but better equipped and nearly $5000 cheaper than a base Audi Q3.

Engines and Transmissions

Petrol CX-3s come with a version of the 2.0-litre Skyactiv four found in the 3 and the bigger CX-5, which has been retuned to slightly lower 109kW/192Nm maximum outputs to bring the torque peak down 1200rpm to a very tractable 2800rpm. 

The petrol manages an impressive combined fuel consumption figure from 6.1L/100km combined using regular 91 RON unleaded, and both petrol and diesel variants come with a switchable stop/start system to help efficiency in heavy traffic.

The turbodiesel engine is optional on Maxx models upwards, and its combined fuel figure from 4.8L/100km sets a new segment benchmark. The new 1.5-litre unit punches out a respectable 77kW/270Nm, with max torque on tap from 1600-2500rpm.

All trim levels are available with a six-speed manual or torque converter automatic, with the auto costing an extra $2000. Diesel and all-wheel drive models are only available with the auto.

Maxx models and upwards are available with the all-wheel drive system, which costs an extra $2000. 

Those looking to tow with a CX-3 should note that the petrol models carry a 1200kg maximum rating, while the theoretically superior diesel models are limited to just 800kg.

Driving

Out on the road, the CX-3 delivers more of the great balance of ride and handling that have made all recent Mazdas so popular. 

The ride is particularly comfortable, even on the Akari’s bigger 18-inch wheels. Compared with the Mazda2 on which it is based, the CX-3 trades some sharpness for compliance, but most will prefer the more premium experience. 

It can still be hurried along a winding road without losing its cool, and there’s more weight to the steering than you’d expect for this segment. The electric assistance is consistent and offers great feel at the limit.  

We’ve only managed to drive the petrol Akari all-wheel drive for now, but even in the petrol’s heaviest guise, the 2.0-litre does an excellent job of hauling the CX-3.

Both front and all-wheel drive models use a cheap-to-build but space-efficient torsion beam rear suspension design, which is typically challenged by mid-corner bumps, but performed very well on test.

As with all Skyactiv-era Mazdas, the auto is tuned to maximise efficiency. This means it tends to hold taller gears as long as possible, but the switchable Sport mode alters throttle response and shift timing to bring some genuine ‘Zoom Zoom’ when the mood takes you.

Safety

The CX-3 isn't due to score an official crash test rating until later in 2015, but does come with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags as standard.

All models aside from the top Akari are available with an $1030 optional safety pack, which adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and auto emergency braking. These features are all standard on the Akari, which also adds auto high beams and a lane departure warning system.

Verdict

Is the Mazda CX-3 the Air Jordan of the small SUV segment? It may not be the roomiest, so it’s not a total slam dunk, but it packs an endearing combination of value, drive experience and design that should win it many, many friends.

A side-by side comparison with its key rivals is needed to determine the overall best choice, but if you're in the market for a small SUV, the CX-3 is a must-drive.

Pricing Guides

$19,990
Based on 362 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$13,898
Highest Price
$27,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Akari (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $17,999 – 25,995 2015 Mazda CX-3 2015 Akari (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Akari (FWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $19,888 – 27,990 2015 Mazda CX-3 2015 Akari (FWD) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $13,750 – 18,040 2015 Mazda CX-3 2015 Maxx (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (FWD) 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $15,777 – 22,888 2015 Mazda CX-3 2015 Maxx (FWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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Pricing Guide

$10,920

Lowest price, based on 367 car listings in the last 6 months

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