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Driven: Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.

Driven: Mazda CX-3
The Mazda CX-3's styling will win acclaim but there's more to it than surface appeal...

   



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Mazda CX-3

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Good points: exterior styling, classy cabin finish, tidy driving manners, strong real-world economy.

Not so good: tight on rear space, small boot, occasionally over-firm ride, straight-line performance.

Key Facts

Model tested: Mazda CX-3 1.5 Skyactiv-D Sport Nav
Price: range starts from 17,595; car as tested 22,555
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 105/km (Band B, 0 VED first 12 months, 20 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 70.6mpg
Top speed: 110mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
Power: 105hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 270Nm from 1,600- 2,500rpm

Our view:

When talking about these compact SUVs - or crossovers - the line of distinction between the two is increasingly blurry these days; it's often the case that you come to the same conclusion: that they're largely brilliant cars. There are very few vehicles in this section of the market that are out-and-out bad, so choosing between them can often come down to things like brand loyalty or the model in question having one clear strong suit that strikes a particular chord with a specific buyer.

And in the case of the Mazda CX-3, the Japanese marque's first entry into this smallest SUV segment, it's very clear to see what that strong suit is. The brand's 'Kodo' (soul of motion) design ethos can be found on everything from the 2 city car up to the big 6 hatch, MX-5 roadster and CX-5 SUV, and while that leads to a range that's chock full of great-looking machines, the CX-3 could be the jewel in the glittering crown. Sure, there are other small crossovers/SUVs that are striking (the Nissan Juke being the obvious one, while the Skoda Yeti has its own inimitable styling), but we're clear on this: the CX-3 is the best-looking crossover of the lot.

It's hard to know what draws your eye the most. We love the front end, with the brand's grille design and narrow light clusters working well, but that's arguably the least interesting aspect of the car. The sides are defined by the usual sweeping lines of Kodo, but it's the one descending between and bisecting the door handles that is the masterstroke; it means the flanks reflect a lot of varying light, making for a dramatic visual feature. It's bolstered by big but not gauche 18-inch alloys on this Sport Nav model, the CX-3's lovely 'floating' roof (created by a blacked-out C-pillar) and attractive rear design. All of this masks the Mazda's physical size and makes it look more like some sort of sports car, rather than a diesel-powered family crossover, without any penalty in terms of limited visibility out when you're inside. Quick note on the exterior for avid Mazda spotters (if there are such people): if you can't read the boot badge, the easy way to tell a CX-3 from a CX-5 from distance is that its number plate is recessed into the rear bumper, rather than sitting between the taillight clusters as on the CX-5. Don't say we're not full of useful information, eh?

The interior doesn't let the CX-3 down either, certainly in terms of the fit and finish or the aesthetic. It's a lot of the same hardware as in the Mazda2, including the instrument cluster, the little folding glass screen on top of the dash for the head-up display (HUD) and for much of the switchgear on the steering column and door cards. The CX-3 gets a few nice extra touches to enliven it, including a bar of stitched leather running across the fascia, colour highlights on the seats and door cards and the exterior paint finish repeated in rings in the air vents.

It's a smart cockpit, bereft of any details that age it save for the 'blue-white LCD'-style displays for the HUD and the instrument cluster; at least all the digits are clear and instantly readable. If there are any criticisms of the Mazda's interior, they revolve around space. Even at the fullest extent of adjustment, the driving position won't suit the tallest adults, while the back bench is tight too and the boot - despite being middling by class standards with 287 litres - seems smaller than it is, thanks to the slope of the hatch, the shape of the aperture and the angle of the rear seats' backrests. Cargo space is an absolutely colossal 1,197 litres with the seats folded down, however, so the CX-3 has practicality if required.

The sporty promise hinted at by the stunning exterior is translated into the drive, because within the first few miles a few things become apparent. On partial throttle openings, it feels amazingly perky for something toting only 105hp. That's a corollary of its short gearing (0-62mph in 10.1 seconds is respectable for a small engine in a tall car) and reasonably low kerb weight of 1,275kg. Sadly, if you decide to extend the 1.5-litre Skyactiv-D out to the 4,000rpm redline, no really significant acceleration is forthcoming, but the engine remains quiet and smooth nevertheless. The turbocharger itself, though, makes a muted hooting noise that's audible at lower driving speeds; it's unusual to constantly hear a blower like that these days.

However, there are very few cars that have such perfectly placed - and judged - pedals for heel-and-toe downshifting than this diesel crossover. It's the most bizarre and perverse thing, but even the clumsy can rev-match near-seamlessly when coming down the gearbox. You don't need that feature, of course, on a car like this, yet it speaks of Mazda's admirable desire to embrace its sporting nature. To that end, the CX-3 has very good steering, excellent body control and decent road holding manners. It's just a shame that its ride feels overly firm on too many occasions - the damping isn't bad for motorway work but the short wheelbase, low weight and the lack of body roll make for a car that can feel nervous and oddly bouncy on poor country backroads.

Still, a real-world economy return of 56.3mpg across 242 miles, at a lowly 32mph average (meaning we didn't do a lot of long, economy-boosting motorway runs), cements the CX-3 as another suitably impressive crossover to add to a very, very long list of such things. It might be in danger of being lost among the crowd, then, if it weren't for those startlingly good looks, and we think Mazda will sell plenty of these motors as a result of its hugely enticing appearance. The best news here is that, with the CX-3, beauty isn't only skin deep.

Alternatives:

Honda HR-V i-DTEC: more impressive than the bigger CR-V, this has a great cabin, Magic Seats and a fantastic 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine with 120hp. Not cheap, though, as the diesel starts from 19,745.

Nissan Juke 1.5 dCi: in high-ranking Tekna specification, meaning it comes with practically everything, it costs 19,675. Distinctive appearance, bigger boot, but still not massively roomy in the back.

Vauxhall Mokka 1.6 CDTi: the 'Whisper' diesel version is the one to go for, but while it's a perfectly pretty and spacious crossover, it's not as exciting to look at as the Mazda, the cabin is less interesting and it doesn't drive as well as the CX-3.


Matt Robinson - 2 Nov 2015



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2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.



2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda CX-3. Image by Mazda.
 






 

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