Mazda CX-3 First Drive

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As well as driving the new MX-5 this week, I was able to have a drive of the Mazda CX-3, the compact crossover based on the Mazda2 hatchback. It can be fitted with either the 2.0 litre SKYACTIV-G petrol which offers 118bhp or 148bhp, and a 1.5 litre SKYACTIV-D diesel, which offers 103bhp. Four trim levels are available; SE Nav, SE-L Nav, Sport Nav and the GT Sport, with prices ranging from £18,495 to £24,095.

What kit is included?

Even the base model SE Nav gets a good specification, with features such as cruise control, rear electric windows, 16″ alloy wheels, air conditioning, 7″ touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth and navigation – naturally – as standard.

Step up to the SE-L Nav (priced from £19,895) and you’ll get additional features such as climate control, automatic lights and wipers, LED fog lights, rear parking sensors, heated front seats, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking.

The Sport Nav (priced from £20,895) adds keyless entry, 18″ Gunmetal alloys, adaptive front lighting, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED rear tail lights, reversing camera, BOSE sound system, colour active driving display, heated steering wheel and half leatherette seats.

Last but not least is the GT Sport (priced from £22,895), the model tested here. Sitting at the top of the range, this adds further features such as 18″ Bright alloy wheels, roof spoiler, nappa leather and suede seat, plus an obligatory sporty styling to the outside. It also comes with free metallic paint, which is a nice touch, but I feel the Sport Nav will be enough to cater for most buyers.

Is it spacious?

As you will find out later, the CX-3 is a good SUV to drive but sadly space is not the car’s strong point. The boot offers 287 litres with the rear seats up and 1,197 with them folded down. Models without the BOSE sound system get an improved capacity of 350 litres with the seats up and 1,260 with them folded down. It’s not the biggest in class and some will want more space, but it should be acceptable for most buyers. There is underfloor storage as well for better versatility.

Space in the front is absolutely fine – the GT Sport has seats that adjust electronically and the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, so getting a good driving position was a doddle. Space in the back is not so generous though; as a tall chap I found myself quite cramped in the rear as the legroom was certainly at a premium. The headroom was more agreeable though, but I can’t imagine taller passengers being comfortable in the back for long journeys, not unless those in front of them are of short stature.

What’s it like to drive?

A lot of work has gone in from the Mazda engineers to ensure that the CX-3 is as light and as efficient as possible thanks to the SKYACTIV programme. Not only is this used for the powertrain, but it’s used for the chassis and the body as well. The result is a compact SUV that’s agile and light on its feet, meaning that it’s genuinely good fun to drive. With it having a naturally aspirated engine, it will need to be revved to make progress, but it’s a nice engine too use.

It can become somewhat droney as you get to the top of the rev range and the power runs out a bit, but it has a nice pull to it in the mid-range. 118bhp with 204Nm of torque is on offer here, which made not sound like much, but at not point did I feel like I was wanting for more power. 0-62 comes in 9.0 seconds and the top speed is 119mph. This power is mated to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual, but an automatic is also available if desired.

Mazda CX-3 First Drive
The 6-speed manual has a nice enough action, but it could be better

All-wheel drive is also available but only on the 148bhp 2.0 litre petrol which is fitted only in the Sport Nav model. This offers improved performance of 8.7 seconds to 62mph and a top speed of 124mph. There’s not much in it though, especially as the 148bhp offers the same amount of torque.

Therefore, I’d recommend the 118bhp unit as you’ll get better economy – 47.9mpg with 137g/km of CO2, compared to 44.1mpg with 150g/km CO2 offered in the more powerful unit.The diesel offers more economy still, with 70.6mpg and 105g/km of CO2 on offer. With just 103bhp on tap, don’t expect much performance as 0-62 comes in 10.1 seconds with a top speed of 110mph.

Mazda CX-3 First Drive

Through the corners, the CX-3 is a real treat as the body roll is kept under control and there is plenty of grip available. The steering is nice and direct, although I would have wanted a little more feedback. The pedals have a nice fell to them and the brakes are crisp, but the pedals felt like they were a bit offset to the right. Not a complaint, more of an observation.

I do have a small complaint with the gearchange though, yes it’s precise enough, but it’s not quite as sweet as I was expecting and it doesn’t feel quite on par with the dynamics offered by the rest of the car. That is but a small fly in the ointment though, as the car as a whole is fun to drive.

Mazda CX-3 First Drive

It’s a nice place in which to sit too – with it being the GT Sport model, there’s a generous lashing of Nappa leather, although I found the materials on the top of the dash to be harder than I was expecting. Everything is laid out well however, and at no point did I struggle with any of the controls, so the CX-3 is bound to be user friendly. Visibility on the whole is good, although the C pillars are on the thick side, but there I still found I have plenty of vision out of the car.

It’s a pretty comfortable place to sit as well. Yes, the suspension has a firmer set up, so it doesn’t glide over the tarmac like the Peugeot 3008 I currently have on test, but it’s not overly busy once you get it to speed. The ride does become a bit jiggly at lower speeds, although I feel the smaller alloys would help fix this problem. In regards to refinement, there’s not a lot of noise that enters the cabin, even with the bigger alloys fitted, and at cruising speeds the engine will work away in the background quietly. Like I said earlier though, it can become a bit droney if you rev the engine hard.

Mazda CX-3 First Drive

Final Thoughts

The compact SUV market is hotly contested right now and brands need to produce something pretty good to stand out. I think Mazda has achieved with the CX-3 as it’s a good looking SUV with a good amount of kit as well as impressive driving dynamics. The lack of space in the rear is definitely a mark against the car though, and buyers may want more luggage capacity, but for those looking for an SUV that drives as good as it looks, be sure to check out the Mazda CX-3.

Mazda CX-3 First Drive

Rivals

It’s safe to say the CX-3 will have its fair share of rivals, with the Nissan Juke being one of its main competitors. The Juke has a lower asking price, but also has a smaller boot as well as divisive styling, plus the standard kit isn’t quite as generous. You also have the Renault Captur, which again, is a cheaper car, but that won’t be as fun to drive, plus the interior is not as nice. It does however have a bigger boot, so that is something to bear in mind is luggage capacity is towards the top of your priorities.

Nissan Juke

Renault Captur

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