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

The Akari LE AWD is no different to drive than any other all-wheel drive CX-3 variant. (image: Justin Hilliard)

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Urban score

3.5/5

And just like that, my three months with the Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD have come to an end. But will I miss it? Yes, and no.

Before I get into why, in the second instalment of this three-part long-term review, I first promised to go into detail about how the semi-premium light SUV drives.

And in that regard, the range-topping Akari LE AWD is essentially no different to any other all-wheel-drive CX-3 variant, or front-wheel drive version for that matter.

That means the Akari LE AWD is a more than capable city cruiser, but it also has its flaws.

On one hand, the CX-3 only measures 4275mm long (with a 2570mm wheelbase), 1780mm wide and 1535mm tall, meaning it's a great size for tackling the urban jungle.

Now, while I've previously noted that those smaller dimensions limit its practicality, they do, however, inspire confidence in tight city car parks and the like.

  • The range-topping Akari LE AWD is essentially no different to any other all-wheel-drive CX-3 variant, or front-wheel drive version for that matter. (image: Justin Hilliard) The range-topping Akari LE AWD is essentially no different to any other all-wheel-drive CX-3 variant, or front-wheel drive version for that matter. (image: Justin Hilliard)
  • The CX-3 only measures 4275mm long (with a 2570mm wheelbase), 1780mm wide and 1535mm tall, meaning it’s a great size for tackling the urban jungle. (image: Justin Hilliard) The CX-3 only measures 4275mm long (with a 2570mm wheelbase), 1780mm wide and 1535mm tall, meaning it’s a great size for tackling the urban jungle. (image: Justin Hilliard)
  • The Akari LE AWD is a more than capable city cruiser, but it also has its flaws. (image: Justin Hilliard) The Akari LE AWD is a more than capable city cruiser, but it also has its flaws. (image: Justin Hilliard)
  • While I’ve previously noted that those smaller dimensions limit its practicality, they do, however, inspire confidence in tight city car parks and the like. (image: Justin Hilliard) While I’ve previously noted that those smaller dimensions limit its practicality, they do, however, inspire confidence in tight city car parks and the like. (image: Justin Hilliard)

That said, parking is made somewhat challenging by the Akari LE AWD's steering, which is surprisingly heavy from lock-to-lock at low speed.

Yep, you have to work the wheel quite a bit, which makes the CX-3 feel more like a truck and less like a city car. Of course, the electric power system, therefore, performs better at higher speed, where it affords plenty of stability, be it travelling in a straight line or around bends.

Perhaps those characteristics shouldn't come as a surprise, as Mazda models tend to have a sportier edge to them, but the Akari LE AWD is still no sports car.

Handling-wise, it's quite good when pushed hard, with body control strong thanks to its relatively low ride height, and grip plentiful due to the permanent all-wheel-drive system on hand.

But as I've said before, I'd save the extra money and get the standard front-wheel-drive version if you're predominantly within the city limits.

Parking is made somewhat challenging by the Akari LE AWD’s steering, which is surprisingly heavy from lock-to-lock at low speed. (image: Justin Hilliard) Parking is made somewhat challenging by the Akari LE AWD’s steering, which is surprisingly heavy from lock-to-lock at low speed. (image: Justin Hilliard)

And then there's the CX-3's ride, which isn't great around town. The passively damped suspension set-up consists of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear.

Now, that combination is common for a city car, but it's not particularly well executed here. I have the misfortune of having a cobblestone shared driveway as part of my daily commute, and it's my least favourite part of my travels with the Akari LE AWD. Bone-rattling is one way to describe it.

Of course, higher-quality surfaces are kinder to occupants, with the comfort offered improving as speed increases. But as we know, potholes and coarse-chip roads have a tendency to rear their ugly heads. In those situations, the CX-3 reminds everyone of one of its key limitations.

Comfort also takes a hit due the Akari LE AWD's high noise levels. Mazda models have been infamous for their NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) challenges for years and years, but the CX-3 is a reminder of how far the brand has come in recent times.

Simply put, the light SUV is noisy around town and even noisier on highways... like, seriously. The road, tyres, engine and wind combine to make quite the racket, and the insulation on offer doesn't do enough to quieten the ‘symphony' being conducted. Again, newer vehicles from the brand are much better.

Speaking of the engine, the Akari LE AWD isn't exactly a speed demon. As a reminder, it comes equipped with Mazda's tried and tested 2.0-litre 'SkyActiv-G' naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine.

The light SUV is noisy around town and even noisier on highways... like, seriously. (image: Justin Hilliard) The light SUV is noisy around town and even noisier on highways... like, seriously. (image: Justin Hilliard)

With electrification disappointingly not available in the CX-3 line-up, it produces up to 110kW of power at 6000rpm and 195Nm of torque at 2800rpm.

The former is quite good for this segment, but you (genuinely) have to stick the boot in to achieve it. The latter, on the other hand, pales in comparison to turbocharged rivals.

And that brings me to a key point. Under the bonnet, the Akari LE AWD is behind the times. Again, there's no hybrid option or turbo-petrol alternative. And even when this version of the SkyActiv-G was contemporary, it was still a little rough around the edges.

As mentioned, you really have to rev it, which might be fine in an MX-5 roadster, but in a city car, it feels a little backwards.

What does hold up its end of the bargain, though, is the six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. That number of gears isn't a lot this decade, but the CX-3 does a commendable job of changing ratios smoothly.

At times, it can hold on a little too long, but it's otherwise calm and just does its thing in the background, or you can take control by pushing into 'Manual'.

The Akari LE AWD isn’t exactly a speed demon. As a reminder, it comes equipped with Mazda’s tried and tested 2.0-litre 'SkyActiv-G' naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine. (image: Justin Hilliard) The Akari LE AWD isn’t exactly a speed demon. As a reminder, it comes equipped with Mazda’s tried and tested 2.0-litre 'SkyActiv-G' naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine. (image: Justin Hilliard)

Of course, if you want to spice things up, you can engage the Sport drive mode with a flick of a switch.

The Akari LE AWD won't magically transform into an MX-5, but its shift patterns change, with the transmission chasing higher engine speeds, and therefore, more power.

I rarely bother with it, even when merging onto or overtaking on highways, where the CX-3 can take its time to accelerate.

And if you make a habit of pushing the Akari LE AWD hard, its fuel consumption will, of course, climb. 

In the previous two instalments of this long-term review, I averaged 9.1L/100km each time. Even with my heavier right foot, that's not a superb return for a city car. So, did I manage to best that mark in my last month with the CX-3?

The CX-3 was a great city car when it entered the Australian market in March 2015. And Mazda has carefully improved it in the years since. (image: Justin Hilliard) The CX-3 was a great city car when it entered the Australian market in March 2015. And Mazda has carefully improved it in the years since. (image: Justin Hilliard)

Well, given a good chunk of that time took place over the 2022/2023 holiday season, I was able to drive the Akari LE AWD further than I normally would.

All in all, I covered 1134km across the usual metropolitan areas, but also a lovely summer's day trip to Rosebud on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and back.

This extended time behind the wheel helped me reduce the CX-3's petrol intake to 8.8L/100km for this instalment. But overall, I averaged 8.9L/100km over 2550km of driving.

Neither are great results considering rivals like the Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid (3.8L/100km on the combined cycle) are out there.

Acquired: October 10, 2022

Distance travelled this month: 1134km

Odometer: 4410km

Average fuel consumption this month: 8.8L/100km

So, what's my final verdict on the CX-3 Akari LE AWD? Firstly, the CX-3 was a great city car when it entered the Australian market in March 2015. And Mazda has carefully improved it in the years since, including the more recent introduction of the luxurious Akari LE AWD. After all, there's a reason why it's been the best-seller in its segment since what feels like the dawn of time.

And even in 2023, the CX-3's exterior design still holds up, remaining a pleasant sight in traffic. And the Akari LE AWD flagship genuinely surprises with its high level of premium features. But there's no escaping the fact that this is a light SUV that feels a generation old on the technology and powertrain fronts – because it is.

But that won't stop many people from buying it. Would I, though? Look, it wouldn't be my first choice, as once a city commuter's tasted electrification, it's hard to go back.

So, until Mazda introduces a second-generation CX-3 with hybrid and (hopefully) fully electric powertrain options, I'll keep admiring the first-generation model's looks when going bumper to bumper.

But for those that have similar thoughts and are growing impatient, there's always Mazda's generation-newer CX-30 small SUV. It's one size larger and has mild-hybrid capabilities, which – if you're asking me – is at the very least, a step in the right direction.

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VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Urban score

3.5/5
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