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Mazda CX-3 2023 review: Akari LE petrol long-term | Part 2

The Mazda CX-3 may be well aged, but it's still a good looker, especially in Akari LE form. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Welcome back for the second instalment of my UrbanGuide long-term review of the Mazda CX-3 Akari LE AWD!

Month two was a quieter one for me, with less time spent behind the wheel, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t started to form stronger opinions on the best-selling light SUV.

As promised, in this instance, I’m going to unpack exactly what I think about the CX-3’s design and assess how well it performs in the practicality stakes. Also, I’ll give you a brief update on the Akari LE AWD’s fuel efficiency. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Read the other long-term review instalment

The first-generation CX-3 has been around since November 2014, and given the five-to-seven-year life cycles most models have these days, it’s getting quite long in the tooth.

That said, the CX-3’s exterior has aged rather gracefully. As one of the earlier examples of Mazda’s signature 'Kodo' design language, it has stood the test of time and remained a stylish standout on the road.

Put it next to the CX-30 small SUV, though, and it’s apparent the CX-3 isn’t nearly as new as its larger sibling. For example, Mazda’s all about mesh grille inserts these days, while the CX-3 still opts for horizontal bars. But the surrounding chrome trim has carried on, neatly intersecting with the headlights and their distinctive LED DRLs.

The CX-3’s front end is otherwise unremarkable, which is something you can’t say about its curvaceous side profile. The intersecting body lines are prominent, particularly towards the C-pillars, where one of them noticeably rises to make a statement alongside the shapely glasshouse. Then there’s the CX-3’s roofline, which starts to become steeply raked near the tailgate.

Mazda's CX-3 has stood the test of time and remained a stylish standout on the road. (Image: Justin Hilliard) Mazda's CX-3 has stood the test of time and remained a stylish standout on the road. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Now, the Akari LE AWD flagship variant on test here stands out from the crowd here with its unique 18-inch alloy wheels, which have a swish multi-spoke design and a metallic grey finish.

It and the one-step-below Akari grade also come with gloss-black trim with chrome accents for the lower body, covering the bumpers, wheel arches and side skirts. This combination certainly elevates the CX-3’s look into premium territory. I’m a fan.

I’m also a fan of the CX-3’s rear end, which is perhaps its biggest tribute to the model it’s based on, the enduring Mazda2 light car.

Yep, it’s easy to confuse the two from behind, but that doesn’t make the CX-3 any less good looking. In fact, this is its best angle, in my humble opinion.

The combination of gloss-black trim with chrome accents for the lower body add to the CX-3's premium look. (Image: Justin Hilliard) The combination of gloss-black trim with chrome accents for the lower body add to the CX-3's premium look. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

The (slightly) elevated ride height is apparent at the back, but the CX-3 adds to its SUV-ness with upright bodywork with well-placed lines. Then there’s the chunky bumper and dual exhaust tailpipes. But I especially like the tail-lights, which add a pinch of sportiness. Not too shabby, Mazda.

Head inside, though, and the CX-3 isn’t as impressive. Compared to the CX-30, the CX-3 is living in the past. It’s a generation behind and it shows.

The first thing that catches my eye is the 7.0-inch central touchscreen, which also offers a friendly rotary dial as another input method. Not only is it undersized, but it runs Mazda’s old MZD Connect multimedia system, which still has a skeuomorphic design.

Now, some of the other technology offered isn’t that bad, as the CX-3 does feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, albeit of the wired variety. The Akari LE AWD also scores built-in satellite navigation.

Upfront is an undersized 7.0-inch central touchscreen. (Image: Justin Hilliard) Upfront is an undersized 7.0-inch central touchscreen. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

But let’s face it, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere and without mobile reception, you’ll get your maps fix from the smartphone mirroring instead – and so you should.

Then, ahead of the driver is an old-school speedometer and tachometer. Yep, there’s no multifunction display or digital instrument cluster to speak of here. That’s disappointing, as the two analogue trip computers you do get are far from contemporary.

Hey, at least there’s a head-up display! Well, yes, there is. Only problem is it’s one of those cheap-looking retractable plastic screens that’s being projected onto instead of the windscreen. And it’s only good for a digital speedometer and the traffic sign recognition. Not to mention it’s so small I keep forgetting to use it.

A positive in being aged is the fact the CX-3 still has physical climate controls! It’s a relief to drive a vehicle with dials and buttons these days, as so many newer models (from other brands) have gone down the dark path of fully digitising functions that worked better manually in the first place.

Ahead of the driver is an old-school speedometer and tachometer. (Image: Justin Hilliard) Ahead of the driver is an old-school speedometer and tachometer. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Otherwise, the CX-3’s interior looks pretty good for an entry-level SUV from a mainstream brand. And this is particularly true of the Akari LE AWD, which positions itself at the top of the range with two-tone Nappa leather upholstery, which lusciously covers the seats, armrests, door and dashboard inserts, and centre console.

'Dark Russet' (brown) and 'Ivory White' is the combination here, and it’s one I quite enjoy. Much better than the hard plastics that are otherwise prominent.

Practicality-wise, the CX-3’s first row (surprisingly) offers a lot. The central storage bin is far more customisable then you’d expect, with the front section featuring a flip-out cupholder, while the middle bit has one of its own, although that partition is completely removable. Then the space at the rear can be covered by the armrest – but not fully enclosed.

There’s also an open cubby ahead of the gear selector, with two USB-A ports, a 12V power outlet and an SD card reader (remember those?) handily positioned above.

Practicality-wise, the CX-3’s first row offers a lot. (Image: Justin Hilliard) Practicality-wise, the CX-3’s first row offers a lot. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Even the glove box is deep, albeit narrow, meaning you can fit more than the owners’ manual in it. And the front door bins are each capable of accommodating a large bottle and other smaller items.

In the second row, the CX-3 has a lot less to offer. For starters, you can forget about USB ports, or even directional air vents, they’re not there. There’s also only one map pocket, on the front passenger seat’s backrest.

What you do get is a fold-down armrest with two cupholders, while thirsty passengers will also be comforted by the rear door bins, which can each swallow a large bottle – but nothing more.

Speaking of rear occupants, there better be only two of them, because there isn’t a whole lot of room to go around. Behind my own 183cm driving position, my legs brush up against the driver’s seat, while my head also gets very cosy with the roof.

There isn’t a whole lot of room to go around in the rear. (Image: Justin Hilliard) There isn’t a whole lot of room to go around in the rear. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

It’s even more uncomfortable if you dare to seat three adults abreast, so don’t. A narrow bench and a larger transmission tunnel will do that.

Now, while this isn’t a FamilyGuide review, it’s worth mentioning the CX-3’s rear seats can accommodate child seats, with two ISOFIX and three top-tether anchorage points on hand.

That said, fitting them in the tight space provided can be quite the challenge, so hopefully your Tetris skills are good.

You’ll also need to be a master of working within tight spaces in the boot, where there’s just 264L of cargo capacity on offer. But drop the 60/40 split-fold rear bench and you get a much more usable 1174L.

  • There is just 264L of cargo capacity on offer. (Image: Justin Hilliard) There is just 264L of cargo capacity on offer. (Image: Justin Hilliard)
  • Drop the 60/40 split-fold rear bench and you get a much more usable 1174L. (Image: Justin Hilliard) Drop the 60/40 split-fold rear bench and you get a much more usable 1174L. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Either way, there’s a decent load lip to contend with if the false floor is in place. Remove it and loading bulkier items becomes more challenging, especially if the second row is stowed, as a large hump in the floor is exposed.

At least loose cargo can be secured with the four tie-down points on hand. Bag hooks would be nice, too, but they’re absent for now.

Meanwhile, a space-saver spare wheel is located underneath the boot floor. As always, full-size rubber would be appreciated, but anything beats a tyre repair kit.

Finally, when it comes to fuel consumption, I once again averaged 9.1L/100km. Like last time, my travels were largely confined to the city limits, with 587km covered for the month.

During its second month of ownership, the CX-3 averaged 9.1L/100km of fuel. (Image: Justin Hilliard) During its second month of ownership, the CX-3 averaged 9.1L/100km of fuel. (Image: Justin Hilliard)

Given Mazda claims the Akari LE AWD drinks 8.0L/100km on the urban cycle, that’s still not a bad result, with my heavy right foot and all.

Next month, in the third and final instalment of this UrbanGuide long-term review, I’ll be finally assessing how well the CX-3 drives in the urban jungle, and I’ll throw in my opinion on its highway performance.

And then it’ll be time to bid farewell to the Akari LE AWD with my final verdict. See you then!

Acquired: October 10, 2022

Distance travelled this month: 587km

Odometer: 3275km

Average fuel consumption this month: 9.1L/100km

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