What is it?
It’s Mazda’s just-released 2017 CX-3 small SUV and it’s rocketed to segment leadership in the safety stakes.
These days, vehicles in the small-car segment are very much of a muchness, offering as they do similarly specified cars and prices within a few dollars of each other.
The challenge therefore for the car companies is how to make their offerings stand out from the rest.
According to Mazda, one of the ways is via standard safety equipment and as the company’s marketing boss Alistair Doak says it is obvious that safety technology is important to new car buyers.
The company has responded by offering smart-city-brake support – and other so-called iActivesense safety technologies – as standard equipment across the new CX-3 range.
Doak says the decision demonstrates Mazda’s commitment to driver and passenger safety and it certainly plants the baby SUV on the top rung of the segment.
The new line-up kicks off with the Neo and climbs up the pecking order to the Maxx, the sTouring and then the range-topping Akari.
The baby SUV also comes with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-safety alert as standard from the Maxx grade up, while sTouring and Akari versions are also blessed with driver-attention alert and traffic-sign recognition.
Also on the safety menu are ABS brakes, front driver and passenger airbags, front side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags, dynamic stability control, traction control, an emergency-stop signal and hill-launch assist.
Akari buyers will also enjoy adaptive LED headlights and front parking sensors.
Like its bigger brother, the CX-5, the new CX-3 also comes with Mazda’s excellent G-Vectoring control system that uses the engine to enhance chassis performance.
Buyers have the choice of petrol or turbo-diesel engines and six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions.
All-wheel-drive is optional on all variants except the Neo.
What’s it cost?
Pricing starts at $20,490 for a manual front-wheel-drive Neo and tops out at $37,890 for the all-wheel-drive Akari diesel automatic.
Overall prices have risen between $200 and $500 but Mazda points out that this is more than compensated for by additional equipment, especially in the safety department.
The CX-3’s beefed-up safety credentials are the most significant element in the first upgrade package since the vehicle made its Australian debut just over two years ago.
Mazda’s SUV sales performance over the past decade has been seriously impressive, confirmed by the fact that 10 years ago, just 11 per cent of the brand’s sales were SUVs.
Today, the CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9 combine to deliver a figure of 43 per cent.
So far as the CX-3 is concerned, year-to-date sales of small SUVs below $40,000 are actually down by 6.3 percent but the arrival of the new Mazda offering should improve things.
Mazda research shows that 56 per cent of small SUV buyers shop in the $25,000-$30,000 band and this suits the company just fine.
What this means is that the second-from-the-bottom Maxx is expected to account for 55 per cent of total CX-3 sales.
What’s it go like?
As a driver’s car, the CX-3 behaves so much like a hatch-back you don’t realise you’re in an SUV.
The steering is perfectly weighted, turn-in is predictable and while the ride is on the firm side (especially with the bigger wheels on the Maxx), I’d describe it as sporty rather than harsh.
The petrol engine is a 2.0-litre double-overhead-cam 16-valve “four” with 109kW of maximum power at 6000rpm and 192Nm of peak torque that arrives at 2800rpm.
Mazda claims a fuel consumption figure of 6.3L/100km for the FWD manual, 6.1L for the FWD automatic and 6.7L for the AWD automatic.
Opt for the intercooled turbo-diesel (it has the same engine configuration) and you’re looking at 77kW of power at 4000rpm and 270Nm of peak torque that is on tap from a lazy 1600rpm all the way to 2500rpm.
The fuel figure for the automatic is 5.1L/100km while it drops to 4.8L in manual guise.
For this fan of turbo-diesel engines, it’s somewhat surprising just three per cent of CX-3 buyers choose the “oiler” as their powerplant of choice.
The other interesting statistic is that just 10 per cent of all CX-3 buyers will specify the excellent six-speed manual gearbox and most are happy with front-wheel-drive variants.
Still, you can’t say that Mazda is stingy with model choices when it comes to CX-3 – or for that matter any of its other offerings.
In recent years Mazda has copped plenty of criticism over annoying cabin noise … you know, the stuff generated under the heading of noise vibration and harshness or NVH.
To its credit, the company is one of the best listeners out there in motoring land and listen it has.
As with all Mazda’s latest-release models, NVH has received a significant amount of careful attention and the new CX-3 is no exception.
Engineers have modified the suspension bushes and incorporated extra sound-deadening materials in all the right places to minimise the amount of road, engine and wind noise that enters the cabin.
During a relatively short media-launch drive program, my co-driver and I could pick the improvement and found we did not have to raise our voices to be heard at 110km/h, even on some quite coarse bitumen on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Other than the aforementioned safety kit, even the entry-level Neo comes standard with a reasonable inventory of goodies.
These include chrome exhaust tips, power, body-coloured and folding exterior mirrors, power windows, a rear spoiler, a rear wiper, air conditioning, cruise control, remote central locking, a trip computer, vanity mirrors, a four-speaker AM/FM tuner, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio connectivity and rear-parking sensors.
In the storage cubby-hold department, the new CX-3 has one map pocket behind the front-passenger seat, an open bin at the base of the centre stack, four small buy useful door pockets, a good-sized glove box, two cup-holders at the rear of the centre console and a small open bin behind them, also on the console.
With the rear seats occupied, there is 264 litres of cargo space but if you fold the rear seat-backs flat, this rises to an adequate – albeit not class-leading – 1174 litres.
Even the higher-specified Maxx – the car in which we did the media-launch drive – has plenty of hard, shiny plastic all round the cabin but it does have a nice padded section running across the dash above the glove box on the passenger’s side and above the air-conditioning controls on the centre stack.
So far as comfort is concerned, the new CX-3’s front seats are well shaped and pretty supportive and a height-and reach-adjustable steering wheel means the driver can easily dial up his or her ideal driving position.
The rear seats however lack the legroom found in some of the competition.
Looking at the model range as a whole, it’s not hard to see what the Maxx is expected to be the sales winner.
Although just one step up the ladder from the Neo, it comes with a significant amount of additional features for what we see as an extremely reasonable if bigger price tag.
Maxx buyers can look forward to 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and leather for the gear-shift knob and handbrake, a roof-mounted sunglasses holder, a seven-inch colour touch-screen display for the MZD Connect system and a six-speaker audio system with a DAB+ radio, Internet integration via Pandora, Stitcher and Aha.
Also on the menu is multi-function commander control, radio-data system program information, satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera.
One thing my co-driver and I really missed was a front centre armrest.
One continuing negative is the miserly three-year unlimited kilometre warranty which continues to compare poorly with the likes of Hyundai and Kia with their five-and seven-year warranties respectively.
That said, the brand’s national dealer network should have no trouble continuing to find homes for around 1500 CX-3s each month.
What we like?
- Great Mazda styling
- Across-the-range class-leading safety credentials
- Plenty of engine and drivetrain choices
- Noticeable NVH improvement
- Slick-shifting automatic transmission
What we don’t?
- Limited rear legroom and cargo space
- No front-centre armrest
- Miserly three-year warranty
- No paddles for automatic
- Space-saver spare
Holden Trax, from $23,990
Have to the admit the latest version is not too bad.
Honda HR-V, from $24,990
Excellent, underrated offering. Quiet, comfortable and a pleasure to drive.
Suzuki S-Cross, from $22,990
Really like this car and it’s right on the money. Lots of room with lots of go from the 1.4 turbo.
Deal or no deal?
In summary, Mazda has made a great little SUV even better and certainly safer with the class-leading addition of autonomous front-and-rear emergency braking.