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Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD petrol auto 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Mini-SUVs are currently the iPhones of car world, with the major manufacturers falling over themselves to lay their hands on a small hatchback and jack the hell out of it. Early contenders were Nissan with the Juke, sister company Renault with the Captur and Holden with the Trax. Mazda stood back for a bit, happy with the CX-5's whirlwind romance with slavering buyers and then, once they had their breath back, dropped the CX-3 into the lineup.

It was, predictably, very well received. Thing is, it's based on the perfectly excellent Mazda2, which is also good looking, critically acclaimed, not much smaller - and quite a bit cheaper. There has to be more to the CX-3 than a bit of ride height and sheetmetal… surely?

Price and features

There are 14 - that's right, 14 - separate models when you add together the different engines, transmissions and number of driven wheels. The range kicks off with the $19,990 Neo manual with steel wheels, and yet the same petrol engine as the top-of-the-range Akari AWD, which weighs in at $35,290 (another $2500 gets you a diesel).

In between are petrol and diesel versions of the Maxx and sTouring, each available in front or all-wheel drive with a choice of the 2.0-litre petrol or 1.5-litre diesel, both with four cylinders.

The 2, if you're interested, kicks off at $14,990, has one engine, two transmissions, two bodystyles and the top of the range is $22,690 for the Genki auto hatch.

Our CX-3 for the week was the second-from-top sTouring spec in front-wheel drive auto, which wears a $28,990 price tag. For that you'll get the five-door hatchback complete with handsome 18-inch alloys, climate control, sat nav, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, LED headlights and front foglights (is this Australia's cheapest mini-SUV with standard LED headlights?), heads-up display, leather trim (some real, some not), power everything, auto headlights and wipers and a rear spoiler.

A six-speaker stereo is powered by Mazda's MZD Connect. The stereo itself is fairly tinny but the MZD interface is one of the better ones - if you're going to do it yourself, learn from the best in BMW's iDrive, then add your own twist.

Options include the $1030 Safety Pack (which adds autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert) and, as ever, Mazda's gorgeous Soul Red paint for a bargain $250.

Practicality

As it is based on the 2, the numbers are fairly similar. The boot is a meagre 264 litres (the Carsguide pram did not fit, which makes you wonder how it will appeal to parents), increasing to 1174 with both rear seats folded down. The load area is a good, clean shape, though, with straight up and down sides but also a high loading lip. There is a false floor, too, so you can hide things like laptops underneath or remove it completely for a bit of extra volume.

There are only two cupholders on board and they're for front-seat passengers, the rear goes without even an armrest, let alone cupholders. Each door will hold a small bottle, bringing the total to four. There's a small space under the climate control dials into which an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy will almost fit and where you'll find the USB and power ports.

The sTouring is probably where the range starts to look almost premium.

There's also a small bin under the armrest, but that's it. Small car, limited space, it's all a bit of a squeeze.

Design

The CX-3 has to be the best looking mini-SUV on the road. Much of this is down to Mazda's flowing Kodo design language but there's also a critical difference on the CX-3 - it isn't jacked up to silly heights like some others.

The sTouring is probably where the range starts to look almost premium, with smartly applied metallic finishes on the outside, filled in blanks on the front bumper and those cool 18-inch alloys.

Our car came in "Meteor Grey" (dark metallic grey). Paint like this, when applied in Europe and even in other parts of Japan, usually comes with a hefty premium, but apart from the very pretty Soul Red, you can choose any colour you like from the available palette without being hit with a charge. Meteor Grey doesn't do much for the looks because you don't get to see the lovely creases and curves as much. Light metallics are the go here.

Inside is...dark. Really dark. Not because no light gets in - although the upkick in the rear windowline and generally slammed look do shrink the amount of glass - but because it's so grey in there.

The trim is grey, the plastics are grey, the carpets are grey, the headlining is lighter grey but it's all grey. Sure the sTouring gets some daggy, Eighties-style racy red flashes on the door and console, with a bit of red stitching in the dash, but it's just dreary.

That - and the silly dash design aside - it's a very good cabin. It's really well put together, just about everything meets up where it should and it doesn't feel cheap, so it's a shame a lack of final detailing fails to lift things a bit higher. All the more odd given how crisp the sheetmetal execution is. This problem isn't restricted to the CX-3, though, most of the Mazda range suffers from it, especially in the lower reaches.

Engine and transmission

Our sTouring had the 2.0-litre petrol SkyActiv and six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels only. The engine produces a fairly lazy 109kW and 192Nm to get the 1226kg CX-3 moving (all-wheel drive models weigh about another 70kg).

The CX-3 is rated to tow 1200kg braked and 640kg unbraked.

Fuel consumption

Mazda claims 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle and we averaged 8.6L/100km. Our week with the car included a fair bit of city and suburban driving, some 80km/h bursts and a lot of low-speed manoeuvring while being filmed and photographed, so the result isn't too bad.

Driving

The CX-3 is surprisingly good fun if you've never driven a 2. If you have driven a 2, you'll be surprised in a slightly different way. Let me explain.

The 2 is a cracker of a little hatchback - doesn't weigh very much, has a perky 1.5-litre engine and the combination of the two means a fair amount of fun. They share excellent steering and suspension tunes (they're not identical, but feel as good as each other), while the braking and composure in corners means you can put a smile on your face whenever the mood takes you. Like the 2, the CX is a good laugh around town and tackles the commute or the long drive - or anything in between - with glee.

The glee is tempered somewhat by the boring and eventually grinding drone of the SkyActiv engine. Despite a hefty 2.0 litres in a very small car, the modest outputs mean you have to keep the engine working, which means keeping the right foot down a bit. Which means noise.

Thankfully, the transmission helps keep the engine in the right band, so that if you're pressing on, it'll stay with you.

Passengers will also be pleased with the body control and overall ride comfort, less so by the legroom and darkness imposed by the high windowline.

It is a little noisy inside, though - the 215 tyres roar on more surfaces than I'd be happy with, the big wing mirrors rustle over 70km/h and there's a decent thud on medium-to-large bumps. The engine we've already covered. City speeds are fairly quiet, though.

The sat nav needs a special mention - while the directions and mapping are okay, there's also a voice which tells you you're coming up to a speed camera. For some speed cameras, you get one warning and you're left to your own devices. Some get you five warnings, which seems a bit excessive. Unlike some other cars, the database seems up to date, though.

Safety

Six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls, brake assist, brake force distribution all add up to five ANCAP stars, the highest available score.

Additional safety features such as autonomous emergency braking are part of the optional Safety Pack.

Ownership

Mazda offers a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, but if you want roadside assistance, you'll have to pay.

Fixed-price servicing alternates between $284 and $312 over 16 services, with intervals at 10,000km or every 12 months, whichever comes first. There's a long list of additional items that aren't included (some are time-based, others depend on distance travelled), starting at a measly $15 for engine oil through to a slightly staggering $318 for a fuel filter change (albeit at 150,000km).

The first 16 services will cost you $4768 (plus additional items). If you keep the car for five years and cover 75,000km, you'll need seven services and that will be around $2072.

Verdict

Is the CX-3 an expensive, jumped-up 2? Well, yes. But also no. Because it's quite a bit more than a 2 on stilts and it is competitively priced against the competition. It's that easy.

It has all the good things of the 2 - style, fun chassis, reasonably cheap to run and own, while building on each of these qualities. The jump in price is reasonably hefty for a slightly weedy 2.0-litre petrol engine and a bit more ride height, but when you get in, you feel like you've paid your money for more car and a strong individual identity. Which is quite clever of Mazda, really. No wonder they’re kicking so many goals, and so much local butt, in this country.

You're probably not really comparing the 2 to the CX-3 if you're looking, but you're buying a more substantial, more zeitgeist machine in the CX-3, as well as the best looking and probably the best all-rounder of the bunch.

And the sTouring? Add the Safety Pack, leave out all-wheel drive and for under $30,000, you've got the best value in the segment.

Is a mini-SUV like the CX-3 for you, or do you prefer a hatch like the Mazda2? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD petrol auto pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$21,888
Based on 292 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,990
Highest Price
$27,824

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Akari (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $23,790 – 27,824 2016 Mazda CX-3 2016 Akari (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Akari (FWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $22,250 – 26,990 2016 Mazda CX-3 2016 Akari (FWD) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (AWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $16,940 – 21,780 2016 Mazda CX-3 2016 Maxx (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (FWD) 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $18,569 – 23,999 2016 Mazda CX-3 2016 Maxx (FWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$15,990

Lowest price, based on 292 car listings in the last 6 months

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