Mini Countryman Cooper D 2017 review
This Mini Countryman exudes fun from the bottom of its 18-inch alloys to the top of its higher roof rails. It's not as zippy as the hatch, but it's fun, with or without kids holding on in the back.
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Mazda's baby SUV, the CX-3, has been nothing short of a sales sensation since its release almost two years ago. After grabbing the segment by the scruff off its neck and tossing aside its erstwhile sales leader, the Mitsubishi ASX, like the whimpy kid in the playground, the minute Mazda has established itself as the Boy King.
Competition is getting hotter, though, and in a growing segment, you have to stay on your toes. Mazda recently gave the CX-3 range some attention to counter the arrival of Toyota's C-HR, while helping to continue to fend off its other rival, Honda. More trouble looms later in the year with the arrival of the Hyundai Kona.
Up here at the top of the range, however, not too far away from Euro offerings from Mini and Audi, things are pretty relaxed. Just 10 per cent of Mazda sales go the Akari's way, but that's still a healthy number (particularly in terms of Mazda's profits). Does the Akari have what it takes to hold buyers back from taking the plunge on a Countryman, or stretching even further to a Q2?
|Mazda CX-3 2017: Akari (AWD)|
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
The Akari tops the extensive CX-3 range, with this auto diesel all-wheel drive (AWD) lightening the offset account at $37,890, or around $18,000 more than the Neo manual 2.0 petrol, and some $7000 more than a front-wheel drive petrol. You can also have an AWD petrol Akari.
That will land you a fetching-looking machine with 18-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo with 7.0-inch touchscreen and DAB+, climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, electric driver's seat with memory, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, active LED headlights, partial leather interior (not all cow, in other words), head-up display, power folding and heated mirrors, seats with suede inserts, sunroof and comprehensive safety package.
The touchscreen is supported by Mazda's 'MZD Connect' media system, which is quite good. Ripping off good ideas from BMW and Audi, it is controllable by a rotary dial while on the move and touchscreen when stationary. It's the best of any Japanese head unit, but still goes without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and could do with a graphical update.
The only available option is the lovely 'Soul Red' metallic paint for a very reasonable $300, the rest of the seven colours are offered at no extra cost. This would not happen on an Audi or a Mini.
While only two years old, the CX-3 is still fresh. It looks terrific on the road, hugging close to the deck, and the 18-inch wheels are attractive units. The LED lighting also distinguishes the Akari from lesser spec cars.
Inside, it's all very much a lift from the Mazda2 this car is based on, with the same excellent design of the interior to maximise what little space is available. The materials are all quite dark, with rich red flashes thrown in to help lift the mood a little. The leather-like material seems pretty hardy and the fake suede very comfortable and especially warm in winter, while not butt-searing in summer.
The CX-3 does also suffer the silly instrument pack from the 2, but it has been fixed up a bit with clearer dials. The head-up display is much better, too, with high-res graphics that are much easier on the eye.
The CX-3 is not the biggest car in the segment and that's reflected in the rear-seat space and the small boot. If you're over 152cm (five foot) you're in strife in the back, with further drama if you want a drink, because there's no armrest or cupholders. Or vents. Having said that, it's comfortable, and the cabin is small enough for the air-conditioning to quickly sort out the temperature. And there are bottle holders in the doors.
Front passengers enjoy the use of a pair of cupholders and bottle holders in the doors as well.
The boot is the smallest in class at 264 litres, which is just a bit more than the Mazda2 it's sitting on. There is a clever false floor for hiding valuables or expanding space and with the 60/40 split fold seats down, the boot expands to 1174 litres.
The Akari's diesel engine is Mazda's own 1.5-litre 'SkyActiv-D'. Available only with a six-speed automatic but with a choice of front- or AWD, the four-cylinder turbo unit delivers 77kW and a more impressive 270Nm (considerably more than the petrol).
The 2017 iteration of this engine has had a thorough re-working to improve responsiveness and refinement. Successfully, as it happens.
The CX-3 can tow 1200kg braked and 800kg unbraked.
Mazda claims the diesel AWD returns 5.1L/100km, 0.3L/100km higher than the front-wheel drive. I got 5.9L/100km in a mix of high-speed highway running and bashing about in suburban and urban traffic; a pretty good effort.
As is Mazda's wont, the changes for 2017 are tweaks. The CX-3 was already a good machine, but had a couple of refinement issues, including road noise. In the case of the diesel, it was a bit clattery and not exactly the smoothest engine available.
Both of those have been attended to, which is pretty good going given the CX-3's relative youth. It's still not as quiet as a Nissan Qashqai, nor as stable on the rough stuff (the CX-3 makes do with cheaper torsion beam rear suspension) but it more than makes up for it with a tauter, more interesting chassis and better steering. The steering is further improved - although not as obviously as in the bigger 3 - with Mazda's 'G-Vectoring' tech, which helps the car feel more planted in the corners.
Part of the noise abatement is down to thicker glass and more under-carpet insulation, but the engine itself is far better than I remember. With a plucky 77kW, it's much more responsive to a floored throttle, but it's still no rocket off the line.
The 270Nm of torque makes it a very relaxed highway cruiser, sailing along in sixth gear, barely above idle, and overtaking is as impressive as ever.
The bottom line is, it's still plenty of fun and will compare well with more expensive European rivals while showing most of its Japanese competition the way.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
The CX-3 has six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls, city emergency braking (forward and reverse) and hill holder. The Akari picks up blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.
All CX-3s look after the young 'uns with three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points, one on each side of the rear seat.
All CX-3s carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the highest attainable.
The CX-3 is offered with Mazda's three-year/100,000km warranty package with optional roadside assist at $68.10 per year.
Service pricing is capped and you're expected to visit every 12 months or 10,000km.
It might be among the smallest of the growing mini-SUV crowd, but the CX-3 is a very strong contender. While the diesel edition might be priced close-ish to the petrol-powered Countryman and Q2, those cars can't match the Akari's safety package and overall feature set. The devil might be in the detail, but the CX-3 has a long spec list.
Unless you need the extra space of its rivals from Nissan and Honda, the CX-3 remains the best of the segment. The Akari might only make up one in 10 CX-3 sales, and the diesel a small chunk of that, but it's a terrific car. I'm just not entirely sure about the price...
|Akari (AWD)||2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$24,500 – 28,388||2017 Mazda CX-3 2017 Akari (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Akari (FWD)||2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$23,895 – 28,999||2017 Mazda CX-3 2017 Akari (FWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Maxx (AWD)||2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$18,990 – 22,999||2017 Mazda CX-3 2017 Maxx (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Maxx (FWD)||2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN||$16,990 – 21,990||2017 Mazda CX-3 2017 Maxx (FWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||8|
|Engine & trans||7|