If cars were creatures, the Mazda CX-3 would be a lady beetle with its distinct shape and stand-out colouring, buzzing around lush green meadows or summer gardens in full bloom. However, forget the bucolic backdrop, the pretty little sports utility vehicle is most at home in bustling urban centres.
So much so that the ‘townie’ has become a market leader since it first came to Australia in March 2015. Following in the tracks of the Mazda2 light car, addition of i-Activsense safety technology makes the latest CX-3 update the first vehicle in the small SUV segment to offer smart city brake support forward and reverse as standard equipment across the range of Neo, Maxx, sTouring and Akari models.
Further safety inclusions are blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert as standard on the Maxx grade up, while sTouring and Akari variants also get driver attention alert and traffic sign recognition.
The top-of-the-range Akari also comes with adaptive LED headlamps and front parking sensors.
Power comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol or a 1.5-litre Skyactiv-D diesel engine mated with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with a choice of front or all-wheel drive.
Prices start at $20,490, plus on-road costs, for the petrol Neo. The test vehicle was a 2.0-litre petrol Maxx automatic AWD, which comes to market at $26,890.
Based on Mazda2 hatchback underpinnings, the CX-3 holds firm to the maker’s Kodo ‘Soul of Motion’ styling, with the body flowing from a sturdy front, through a sleek centre section to a robust rear end.
The cabin maintains a sleek profile achieved by moving the A-pillars rearward and blacking out the D-pillars. Filling out the high-set front grille space are seven fins with silver front edges, which spread out from the centre brand mark to the signature wings present in all new Mazda products.
Headlight layouts vary from model to model with the on-test Maxx favouring a layout which puts the turn signals outside the main headlamp unit to create a narrow, sharp design that Mazda suggests mimic an untamed animal’s eyes gazing at its prey.
Blacked out sections of the rear window give the impression of a total glass surround, while the licence plate is fixed to the upper section of the bumper rather than the tailgate leaving room for the camera and other mechanisms.
Sixteen-inch alloy wheels on Maxx have deeply carved surfaces to match large-diameter tyres, reduce weight and create a solid stance for the vehicle, while twin tailpipes imbue a sense of power.
Cosy but not cramped is the best way to describe the CX-3 cabin, an opinion enforced by the limited views outside from a short ration of glass all round, the pay-off for the hatch’s swoopy profile. Boot space, at 264 litres, is also limited, although, with rear seat backs folded, expands to a usable 1174 litres.
However, the same cannot be said of the gear inside, with clearer gauges and improved legibility of the active driving display, alas the latter absent from the Maxx model.
The new steering wheel is a direct lift from big brother CX-9, with three levels of switches from the previous model being integrated into one level to match the way fingers move.
The multi-function commander control knob is close at hand on the centre console and, in connection with the 7-inch full colour touch screen display at the centre of the dashboard provides easy access to such things as audio and satellite navigation.
The audio system has been taken up a notch or two with digital radio (DAB+) and six speakers, while internet radio integration offers access to the likes of Pandora, Stitcher and Aha, plus radio data system information.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The test CX-3 Maxx took advantage of Mazda’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder Skyactiv-G petrol engine with stop / start. It was mated with a six-speed automatic transmission and had all-wheel drive.
The latter uses the active torque control system to detect slippery conditions when the driver tries to set off on an incline and sends some power to the rear wheels the moment the driver presses the accelerator pedal.
Sensors are always on the ball with road conditions, even when they switch suddenly, such as when the car drives through a puddle of water on the highway.
The latest CX-3 update makes it the first vehicle in the small SUV segment to offer smart city brake support forward and reverse as standard equipment across the range. The system detects vehicles in front of and behind the vehicle to help avoid collisions and mitigate collision damage during city driving and traffic jams.
A new forward sensing camera is designed to automatically apply the brakes in response to someone suddenly appearing at an intersection or from behind parallel-parked vehicles while driving at speeds of approximately 10 km/h or more, while rear bumper-mounted ultrasonic sensors to help mitigate collision damage when reversing.
Further safety inclusions are blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert as standard on the Maxx grade and above. Through use of lightweight materials and advanced body structures the CX-3 across the board delivers collision safety of a high level.
While top torque of 192 Nm isn’t reached till 2800 rpm, due to its light weight, the CX-3 is not short of action off the mark.
Fuel consumption hovers around 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle, according to Mazda. The test all-wheel-drive vehicle came up with figures of 8 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 5.3 on the motorway.
The not-so-sophisticated suspension lets the driver know when the car hits a bump . . . every bump. Apart from that, everything went smoothly with the Maxx, including parking in tight spots.
While space is limited, the boot includes a two-position cargo board that can be adjusted in height to match the load being carried. With the board at its taller setting the compartment can take a 75 cm suitcase.
The location also leaves space beneath the board to take small items. In its lower position, there is full use of the space which has room for two 67 cm suitcases.
The CX-3 has been the segment’s best seller going on for almost two years, and despite any shortcomings, without any deep insight into how buyers choose vehicles, I can’t see the upgraded version losing much ground in the near future.
AT A GLANCE
SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda CX-3 Maxx 2.0-litre petrol, 6sp automatic, AWD SUV)
Capacity: 1.998 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 109 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 192 Nm @ 2800 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 91 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 6.7 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 146 g / km. Euro V
DRIVELINE: Six-speed automatic, AWD
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4275 mm
Wheelbase: 2570 mm
Width: 1765 mm
Height: 1550 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 1344 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 44 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc
Three years / unlimited kilometres