First Drive: Mazda’s Compact CX-3 Brings Style But Is It Premium Enough?

Small crossovers are a relatively new discovery but the huge momentum of the segment kind of forces every manufacturer to have a contender in it. Enter the Mazda CX-3.

This is perhaps the most commercially crucial model Mazda has introduced this year, because the CX-3 is entering one of the hottest and most popular segments of the market, the so-called B-SUV category.

Based on the recently launched 2 supermini, the Mazda CX-3 offers for starters a much more mature and well-accepted design than most of its competitors. You can safely suggest that the CX-3 is a looker, a compliment rarely given in the segment. By adopting the Kodo design language, the CX-3 just looks muscular in an inoffensive way and cleverly sharp whereas the majority of the competition fails to do so.

From The Inside

The cabin is a nice place too. Sure, the dashboard looks about the same with the Mazda 2 but it’s a lovely, clean design which makes the driver feel the centre of attention and the driver’s seat can be adjusted low enough to make you feel more connected with the car. Quality is not the very best of the class but the materials used in the cabin create a nice atmosphere, with the more expensive versions giving a more upmarket feel, helped by the extended leather inserts and the vivid colour options.

Skyactiv What?

The biggest question mark so far was the engines simply because there are no small turbocharged petrol units on offer. Mazda instead offers the CX-3 with a choice of two (118hp and 148hp) 2.0-litre petrol engines and one 104hp 1.5-litre diesel unit and says that the basic 2WD petrol model will be the most popular of the range, which uses a naturally aspirated 118hp (120PS) 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine mated to a six speed manual gearbox.

Thanks to the high compression ratio of 14:1, the 118hp Skyactiv-G unit offers a combined 47.9 mpg (5.9l/100km) of fuel consumption and 137g/km of CO2 emissions while the torque on offer is a solid 150lb-ft (204Nm) available at 2800rpm. 0-62mph (100km/h) comes in 9.0 seconds while top speed is 119 mph (191 km/h).

On The Road

My worries about the engine quickly disappeared after the first few miles with it. The pull from low revs is way more convincing than the spec-sheet suggests, with the 2.0-litre unit proving to be smooth and with plenty of torque from low-down. The low kerb weight of 1,270kg (including a 75kg driver) certainly helps too.

In fact, the whole car just feels agile and alive, with great body control and good levels of grip. The firm suspension keeps the body roll in check without sacrificing the necessary compliance you want from a daily-driver. The accurate steering is nicely weighted and the short-throw gearbox is -in true Mazda fashion- without a doubt the sweetest unit you can have on the class, with precise and crisp gear shifts.

The ride suffers a bit from the 18inch wheels, allowing bumps and potholes to make their presence known in a harsher way than the cars fitted with smaller wheels do. Wind and road noise are generally kept in low levels while four adults can fit with relative ease, but taller people might feel a bit confined at the rear, especially on longer trips. This is a high-riding supermini after all.

Fun To Drive, Great To Look At

Overall, this is definitely one of the sportiest compact crossovers, engaging the driver in a way most of its competitors simply can’t. And despite the modest 118hp figure, performance is brisk when you keep the engine on the boil, which is something you would want to do because of that snappy and delightful gearbox.

But the Mazda CX-3 has a lot more going for it than the interesting handling. It has an attractive design inside-out, good quality and a surprising powertrain which helps its case a lot more than imagined.

It’s All About The Money

Which leads us to the price tag: the Mazda CX-3 is clearly priced as an upmarket proposition, starting at £17,595 in the UK market for the base 2WD petrol model and all the way up to £24,695 for the 4WD Diesel Auto Sport Nav version, bringing it closer to cars like the Mini Cooper Countryman, which makes it significantly more expensive than the likes of Renault Captur, Citroen C4 Cactus and Nissan Juke.

Whether the handsome looks and the fun-to-drive character prove to be sufficient for premium buyers remains to be seen, as the new Mazda CX-3 undertakes a difficult task in a really crowded segment.

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