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Mazda CX-3 2023 review: Akari LE petrol long-term | Part 1

The Mazda CX-3 is Australia's best-selling light SUV, but is its new Akari LE flagship worth it? (image: Justin Hilliard)

Please welcome my next long-term test vehicle, the 2023 Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD!

Just like the Suzuki Ignis GLX and Citroen C4 Shine I had through my garage earlier this year, the best-selling CX-3 is a city-focused SUV that I'll be putting up against our UrbanGuide criteria, meaning you'll soon find out just how well it stacks up around town.

I've got the keys to the range-topping Akari LE AWD variant for three months, so it'll be assessed during the upcoming holiday break, which I think you'll agree always shows any vehicle's merit!

The Akari LE AWD is priced from $39,690, plus on-road costs, which is a lot of coin for a light SUV. (image: Justin Hilliard) The Akari LE AWD is priced from $39,690, plus on-road costs, which is a lot of coin for a light SUV. (image: Justin Hilliard)

In the first instalment of this long-term review, I'll be taking a close look at what this CX-3 offers on paper, including its pricing and specification. In the second, I'll deep-dive into its design and practicality, while the third and final iteration will reveal not only just how well it drives day-to-day within the city limits, but also my final verdict.

Without further ado, the Akari LE AWD is priced from $39,690, plus on-road costs, which is a lot of coin for a light SUV. But it goes some way to justifying its premium positioning with features normally seen in high-end luxury cars – but more on them in a moment.

Note the example being assessed here is finished in sporty-looking 'Machine Grey' metallic paintwork, which is a $595 option, bringing the price as tested to $40,285.

It goes some way to justifying its premium positioning with features normally seen in high-end luxury cars – but more on them in a moment. (image: Justin Hilliard) It goes some way to justifying its premium positioning with features normally seen in high-end luxury cars – but more on them in a moment. (image: Justin Hilliard)

When it comes to rivals, the most expensive CX-3 goes tyre-to-tyre with European-designed light SUVs, including the Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Style FWD ($33,750), Ford Puma ST-Line V FWD ($35,890) and Renault Captur RS Line FWD ($40,800).

Aside from a free exterior colour, if you're looking to save some dollars, a FWD version of the Akari LE can be had for $2000 less. The only difference is the drivetrain, which is no biggy if you don't feel the need for all-wheel drive traction. For what it's worth, I don't.

Now, the Akari LE grade was introduced in December 2021, when it became the CX-3 range's new flagship, building on the continuing Akari by adding unique 18-inch alloy wheels and two-tone Nappa leather upholstery for just a $500 premium.

When it comes to rivals, the most expensive CX-3 goes tyre-to-tyre with European-designed light SUVs. (image: Justin Hilliard) When it comes to rivals, the most expensive CX-3 goes tyre-to-tyre with European-designed light SUVs. (image: Justin Hilliard)

That's right, this entry-level Mazda SUV has the type of cow hide you'd expect in the most expensive Audi, BMW and Mercedes models!

As mentioned, I'll take a closer look at the Akari LE's design next month, but while the Nappa leather upholstery is a really, really nice touch, it's also not a necessity.

So, you can easily forgo an extra $500 and instead opt for the regular Akari grade, which has the same standard equipment, albeit with lower-quality wheels and upholstery.

The example being assessed here is finished in sporty-looking 'Machine Grey' metallic paintwork, which is a $595 option, bringing the price as tested to $40,285. (image: Justin Hilliard) The example being assessed here is finished in sporty-looking 'Machine Grey' metallic paintwork, which is a $595 option, bringing the price as tested to $40,285. (image: Justin Hilliard)

Speaking of which, what other bang do you get for your buck? Well, both grades come with dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors (with heating), keyless entry, a sunroof and gloss-black lower-body trim with chrome accents.

Inside, the 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system features satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio.

There's also push-button start, a flip-up head-up display and heated front seats, including power adjustment and memory functionality for the driver.

Inside, the 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system features satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio. (image: Justin Hilliard) Inside, the 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system features satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio. (image: Justin Hilliard)

What's missing? Well, the six-speaker sound system does a decent job, but nearly all other flagship Mazda variants come with a Bose-branded set-up that's a class above. It's a shame to see the CX-3 miss out on that honour.

Similarly, the single-zone climate control should not only be dual-zone at this price point, but also partly digitalised.

Speaking of which, there's no digital instrument cluster to be seen, or rather any modern instrumentation whatsoever. Despite Mazda's attempts to keep it fresh, it just goes to show how old the first-generation CX-3 is, having been revealed in November 2014. I think we can all agree a lot has happened between then and now!

There’s no digital instrument cluster to be seen, or rather any modern instrumentation whatsoever. (image: Justin Hilliard) There’s no digital instrument cluster to be seen, or rather any modern instrumentation whatsoever. (image: Justin Hilliard)

On the all-important safety front, the Akari LE AWD has six airbags (dual front, front side and curtain), while its advanced driver-assist systems extend to autonomous emergency braking (with all-day pedestrian detection), adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, (low-resolution) surround-view cameras and front and rear parking sensors.

While lane departure warning is among the inclusions, lane-keep assist and steering assist are not, with those two other lane support systems sorely missed in 2022. Again, the original CX-3 is no spring chicken in automotive terms.

Along those lines, it's also worth noting that while the CX-3 has been assessed by Australia's independent vehicle safety authority, ANCAP, testing took place all the way back in 2015.

As mentioned, I’ll take a closer look at the Akari LE’s design next month, but while the Nappa leather upholstery is a really, really nice touch, it’s also not a necessity. (image: Justin Hilliard) As mentioned, I’ll take a closer look at the Akari LE’s design next month, but while the Nappa leather upholstery is a really, really nice touch, it’s also not a necessity. (image: Justin Hilliard)

Under the criteria then, it was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating. But keep in mind the goalposts have significantly shifted in the seven years since it scored an impressive 36.44 out of 37 overall, with key items like a head-protecting centre airbag now a priority.

When it comes to ownership, the Akari LE AWD comes with Mazda Australia's five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is on par for the new-vehicle market.

That said, key rivals like Kia offer a seven-year term, although its Stonic light SUV doesn't have the same semi-premium intentions, even in GT-Line FWD flagship form ($30,490).

This entry-level Mazda SUV has the type of cow hide you’d expect in the most expensive Audi, BMW and Mercedes models! (image: Justin Hilliard) This entry-level Mazda SUV has the type of cow hide you’d expect in the most expensive Audi, BMW and Mercedes models! (image: Justin Hilliard)

The Akari LE AWD also gets five years of roadside assistance, while its service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.

Needless to say, the distance is on the shorter side. Capped-price servicing is available for the first five visits, costing a reasonable $2084 in total, or an annual average of $416.80.

Under the bonnet, all new CX-3 variants, including the Akari LE AWD on test here, are motivated by Mazda's tried and true 2.0-litre 'SkyActiv-G' naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine.

As mentioned, I’ll take a closer look at the Akari LE’s design next month, but while the Nappa leather upholstery is a really, really nice touch, it’s also not a necessity. (image: Justin Hilliard) As mentioned, I’ll take a closer look at the Akari LE’s design next month, but while the Nappa leather upholstery is a really, really nice touch, it’s also not a necessity. (image: Justin Hilliard)

This version produces 110kW of power at 6000rpm and 195Nm of torque at 2800rpm. That's a hearty power output for this segment, but the lack of a torque-rich turbocharger or a fuel-saving hybrid option goes some way in limiting the Mazda's appeal in 2022.

Now, when it comes to fuel consumption, the Akari LE AWD's 44L tank accepts cheaper 91 RON petrol and averages 6.7L/100km on the combined-cycle test (ADR 82/01).

That's another point in the FWD version's column, as it's got a 48L tank and only requires 6.3L/100km. That said, the main focus of this UrbanGuide long-term review will be the former's claim on the urban cycle, which is 8.0L/100km.

In the second instalment of this long-term review, I’ll deep-dive into its design and practicality. (image: Justin Hilliard) In the second instalment of this long-term review, I’ll deep-dive into its design and practicality. (image: Justin Hilliard)

In my first month with the dearest CX-3, I averaged 9.1L/100km over 822km of driving, which mainly took place in the concrete jungle.

I would've achieved a much better result with more time spent on highways, which I'll endeavour to achieve in future instalments, so stay tuned.

And on that note, we've reached the end of part one! Safe to say I'm enjoying the Akari LE FWD so far. Yes, it's missing a few key features due to its age, but it's also surprisingly luxurious. Speaking of which, I look forward to exploring just how premium this CX-3's design is,  plus its practicality, next month. See you then!

Acquired: October 10, 2022

Distance travelled this month: 822km

Odometer: 2688km

Average fuel consumption this month: 9.1L/100km

$25,888 - $43,843

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