Mini SUV’s are an interesting class of car. Usually, a car maker will take a smaller car already in their line up and put it on stilts. Infact, most car makers do this. Some with more success than others, but we will touch on this later. Somehow, people prefer this over their normal, ground hugging counterparts. Perhaps its all down to the feeling of being a little higher up which gives the driver a sense of safety. Crossovers and Mini Crossovers are not a new thing. They all started a long time ago by the French in the late 90’s. The cars of note are the Renault Megan Scenic and the Citroen Xsara Picasso. Both of which sold very well for both makes, more so the Citroen. Now a days, there everywhere. In 2015, Mini SUV’s and Crossovers have a 22 percent market share in the UK. Knocking 21 percent off the hatchbacks market share in the same year. Either way, whatever these car manufacturers are doing, they are doing it right.
But, as the focus shifts to this style of car. And an arm waving mosh pit (similar to what you would see in the London Stock Exchange trading floor) of manufacturers wanting to take your money and have you hop into their latest offerings, something goes missing, Driving fun. These cars are high, bouncy and some of them completely unsporting, and a lazy attempt by some to just make their voice heard in the crossover room. Which is completely opposite to what the hatchback market was years ago. But as safety regulations bit, and hatchbacks became heavier. People were not that fussed about driving dynamics or having fun behind the wheel as much as they were. As long as it did the shop and the weekly A to B runs reliably nobody complained. So, jumping into a crossover will not be too much of a shock.
I got the fortune of getting a hold of a Crossover, a Mazda (its the only cars we can get our hands on just now, we are a small media outlet remember) CX-3. And it wasn’t a request, it was a kind gesture by my local Mazda dealer whilst my Mazda 6 gets its brakes sorted. I asked If I could keep it over night, “no problem” was the response. I was handed the keys and presented with this strikingly proportioned, metallic blue, unmistakably Japanese, mini SUV. Which brings me to the first thing I want to talk about. And as I said earlier on, this is based on the Mazda 2 city car. Quite amazing how Mazda have made this possible.
As I just mentioned before, unmistakably Japanese! And most importantly, unmistakably Mazda. I really like the look of this thing. Its cute, yet somewhat aggressive looking. It follows Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design philosophy which takes inspiration from animals. If thats the case, the CX-3 can be my pet Piranha for the evening. long nose, short back with that swooping line you see on Mazda’s these days. The front has the trademark Mazda grill that looks like it could swallow up anything in its path along with the headlights. Its really nicely proportioned and it stands out. Especially in the white colour of the same model my loan was parked next to.
Same goes for the interior. Very nicely designed with a long dashboard and a nice leather stitched bolstered front. The material choice feels very versatile and has been applied to take the impact and abuse of family life. After all, the car will be bought mostly by young families. Air vents to the left and right are of the ball and socket design with the airflow switch placed in the middle and an interesting red outline. Very similar to what you would find on a lot of new Mercedes models. There is a strange vent in the middle of the dash board which can be moved up and down and side to side but cannot be turned off. The reason for this was not to block the infotainment screen.
Upon jumping inside you realise you sit low in the CX-3. With the gearbox nicely placed and everything in reach of the driver. Seats are comfortable and easy to adjust. There has been much talk on Mazda’s instrument cluster design. Its very simple! Speedo in the middle, 2 LCD screens side to side show you fuel, revs and MPG. A new update which is coming out soon will have the rev counter in the middle with an integrated, digital speedo. Now thats Porsche 911 tactics and I wish all cars had this feature. With everything its a great driving position to say the least. Down to your left are the control for the infotainment system. It took me a bit getting used to as its done rather by feel. A nice little palm rest is provided to give you a more ergonomic use of the controls. In general, its a really nice place to be.
Clutch in, stab the starter button and the first thing you hear is a superb rasp from the engine on cold start. Not what I was expecting, but it is very sporty. Once it all warms up it becomes very quiet and smooth. The dying breed of a manual handbrake is present and from the get go you notice how easy the CX-3 is to drive around town. Steering is very light but direct, the clutch is light with a gradual bite mid way up and the throttle has been nicely tuned not to be too sensitive. Its also easy to park, visibility out the back is high but parking sensors are provided on all models. So is stop/start technology which cuts in very nicely and there were times I couldn’t even hear it restart. Totally seamless. Another thing that hugely impressed me was the phenomenal turning circle the CX-3 has. It turns on a coin on tight roundabouts and for a front wheel drive car its simply excellent! On the motorway things do get a little noisy. But its not too noisy that it would put me off the car at all if i were to buy one myself. It settles down and becomes a nice, comfortable cruiser with plenty of shove for over taking. The lane departure warning system keeping you in check. You can turn this off if you wish and have the option off two noises it makes when you stray over the lines. A simple beep or a sound that mimics the noise your tyres make when you drive onto the hard shoulder. The system can also have it sensitivity adjusted. Before we move onto the most important part about the way the CX-3 drives. The only small issue I found which is worth mentioning before I move onto the genius of the CX-3 is it does get a little unsettled over sudden changes in road surface. It does not like to be thrown into a rough patch on the road as it does get quite firm. Its such a small niggle but its my only gripe.
Now, here is the most important part of this review, and where I was most impressed by the CX-3. Its also quite important as the CX-3 has a trick up its sleeve that other crossovers don’t have, which will not only attract a newer, younger customer base. But give avid crossover lovers a different view on what a crossover could be not what it has to be. The CX-3 comes into its own once away from the hustle and bustle and your going down a twisty B road. Mazda has a very unique DNA that appears in all of its models. Its a simple philosophy and it all revolves around weight. Make the car lighter and you get a better driving experience and better fuel economy. Dare I say it, the CX-3 feels like a chunky MX-5. It also has the same 2.0, four cylinder engine that you will find in the MX-5 and it works just as well in the CX-3 as it does in the famous roadster. Press your foot down and you get an induction bark that you could never tire of. It reminds me of that ‘braaaarr’ noises that a Clio 182 can produce. Although rev happy, most of the power comes in early around 3 thousand RPM and will continue to pull you to 6 thousand. You do have to stir the gears if you want to achieve the 0-60 time of 8.7 (which we achieved bang on) But its hugely enjoyable to do so. And with such a sweet, again, MX-5 like feel to the gear box. You do nothing but want to change gears in the CX-3.
This is where Mazda’s engineering comes into work. The front is on standard springs and the rear on a torsion bar. Now that may not sound like the most sporting of set ups but it works brilliantly here with the chassis. Which, I shall remind you, is based off the Mazda 2 city car. From what I’ve been told there were updates to the suspension and geometry for 2017 that make the car even better. Turn in is progressively positive thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control (GVC) which, is the first system of its kind to manage the torque output of the engine based on steering inputs. This sets the car up for a corner, reducing torque to give the car a more weight bias over the front wheels to give you more turn in grip, and it really works. You can fee the wight shift from front to back depending on throttle inputs. Whilst where on the subject of steering. It transforms at higher speeds to give you much better communication, along with a bit more weight which gives you plenty of confidence to explore the CX-3s stupendous amount of grip. Once you have turned in, The body keeps reasonably flat, and It sticks and sticks until you get gradual loss of weight from the steering, and a vibration through the seat to warn you your getting close to the edge. Yes, this is a crossover, mini SUV where you get feedback through the seat. And I’m not joking! It doesn’t push wide suddenly either, It will gradually push itself out if your giving it too much throttle mid bend. Giving you plenty of time to correct it with a slight lift. The CX-3 has a curb weight of only 1,339 kg. To put that into perspective the Vauxhall Mokka weighs a whole 100kg more with the same size engine. Not only does the CX-3’s handling make it a capable crossover that can put a smile on your face, it also makes it a highly safe one to drive. If you manage to crash a CX-3, Someone, or a meteor hit you. The car receives a 4 star safety rating. But its nice to know that the CX-3 can keep you from having an accident due to its dynamic abilities. And I don’t think you could find a safer crossover than this one. End of.
Owning and Running
The CX-3 is a car a lot of people are going to consider, especially for die hard crossover fans. Its looks are the first thing that pull you in and there really is only 3 models, 2 engines and 2 drivetrains to choose from. SE Nav, SE-L Nav, Sport Nav, there is even a GT model to chose from but we are omitting this as its a limited run. Engines are a 2.0 petrol pushing 120 BHP. Or, a 1.5 Turbo diesel with 104 BHP. The diesel will undoubtedly give you the best MPG, 70.6 to be exact. We would personally go for the petrol 2.0. The noise, quietness, effortless power, the fun and the fact the government is wrongly cracking down on diesels (branding them as cancer inducing tractors) makes it the obvious engine choice. Mazda claim 47.9 MPG, we managed 42.3. Which isn’t far off the their claim. You can get the CX-3 with four wheel drive as well. This would add even more stability to the car and for the winter months in Scotland where we are based, there is a bit of sense in owning such. But we would personally stick with the front wheel drive as it is cheaper and it doesn’t hurt the fuel economy as much. Automatics are available but we really wouldn’t bother as it does take the whole point of the this car away from it. The diesel model will cost you £160 in road tax for the first year, and then £140 after that. The petrol, £200 for the first year then £140 after that. The diesels range from insurance group 14 up to 15, depending on model. Same bands apply for the petrol models.
As for equipment there really isn’t much to option. Cruise control, satnav, bluetooth, rear park assist and the cool torque vectoring system are all standard features on all models. Leather seats, lane departure warning, Bose speaker system and automatic city braking are really the only three options you get on the SE-L. The Sport Nav gets directional LED headlights, reverse camera. Leather seats, Bose, and front and rear park assist. You also bigger wheels, leather and the aforementioned Bose sound speaker. Which speaking from experience, is a must! Especially if you are a music lover.
Practicality time! The boot isn’t bad. This really is a car for a young families with babies and toddlers. and some of its rivals do have bigger boots. the CX-3 offers 264 litres of boot space which is plentiful for most. There is no load lip either so sliding stuff in and out of the car is not an issue. There is also brilliant storage up front with a cavernous glove box and central arm rest. Back seat headroom is excellent and anyone tall can sit comfortably in the back for long periods of time. ISOFIX is included.
So, if you can tell that I am really impressed by the CX-3, your not wrong. its a superb all rounder with a bit of a bias towards a sporty drive. And I will repeat again, it really does drive so well. And it will make you grin when you take it down a B road. It will not be for everyone, but then again cross overs aren’t for everyone. But this is the perfect crossover for someone who wouldn’t usually consider one to get behind the wheel of one. It looks good, its good on fuel, its practical, Its a blast to drive, its comfortable, its easy to park, its easy to drive around town, its quiet (comes up for air) And, you cannot question Mazda reliability, this thing will never go wrong. Is there anything at all that annoys me with it? Not really, the slightly smallish boot, slight road noise and the car becoming unsettled over rougher ground is about it. But nothings perfect. And these are traits that do not distract you from how good the CX-3 really is.
So how much does it cost then? Well the model we were given (SE-L Nav 2.0 Petrol) costs £19,850. And for what it offers practicality, drive, and standard equipment is a totally fair price. My local dealer (Eastern Western Mazda, Edinburgh) are currently offering 3.9% APR PCP with a £1500 deposit contribution from Mazda, this up to 42 months. Which if you ask me is a great way of getting a CX-3 and its the way most car purchases are going. Our pick would be a Sport Nav with the 2.0 Petrol. This would cost £20,840. But I believe with all the further options you get its well worth the little bit extra.
After all my time with the car, I was sad to hand it back. And I don’t say that about many cars. If I were to go on holiday tomorrow with a rental car booked and they gave me anything other than a CX-3, i would complain (only kidding.) But joking aside. This is the class leader in my pack of crossover Top Trumps. And trust me when I say this, if you are in the market for a cross over, make this the first one you look at. Cause it will be the only one you will want.
Mazda CX-3 SE-L Nav with the Skyactiv 2.0 120 PS
On road price £17,595
Our test £19,850
0-60 – 8.7
CO2 – 137g/km
Top Speed – 120 MPH
Rating – 4 and a half stars
By Clarke Mackinnon