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Mazda's dinky CX-3 is a compact urban small SUV that's been much improved. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Mazda's appealing little CX-3 was designed to condense all the best bits of the larger CX-5 into a smaller package. Now, it gets a smarter interior, updated technology and the option of a new 1.8-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine. As before, it comes in front or all-wheel drive, and is offered in a line-up primarily built around petrol power. It's also light and it's good looking, with a chunky equipment list and reasonable pricing. What more could you ask for?
These days, if you're a car maker and design a supermini, then you really have to create a small Crossover from it too. You know, one of those small Nissan Juke-style models that offer extra attitude, a bit more usability, a higher ride height and something of an SUV feel. The market's full of them, this being Mazda's contender, the CX-3. Here's a model very much in tune with this Japanese brand's current vision for automotive design - it's so-called 'SKYACTIV' philosophy that's all about creating cars that are light, efficient, pretty and, above all else, fun to drive. In the metal, it looks an energetic little thing and over the years, we've found that it drives that way too thanks to willing SKYACTIV engines and light underpinnings that are carried over from the little Mazda2 this model's based upon. All this car really needed when it came to the mid-term wash 'n brush-up was a little extra safety and infotainment technology, plus a more class-competitive diesel option. All this features within the revised model range we're going to look at here.
Like most crossovers in this class, the CX-3 is offered with a choice of front or all-wheel drive chassis, and petrol and diesel engines. The petrol engines comprise 121 or 150PS 2.0-litre units which together will account for most UK sales. Available in all trims, with both manual and automatic transmissions, the 120PS powerplant with front-wheel drive is sure to remain the most popular petrol variant. The 150PS petrol unit is mated to an all-wheel drive chassis and a six-speed manual gearbox in Sport Nav+ trim. The key change here is the replacement of the previous 105PS 1.5-litre diesel engine with a 1.8-litre 115PS unit that adopts rapid multi-stage combustion, with new egg-shaped pistons that combine with ultra-high response multi-hole piezo injectors to increase combustion efficiency. As before, the diesel CX-3 can only be had with 2WD and manual transmission. Mazda's SKYACTIV design ethos continues to be key across the line-up, stripping unnecessary weight out of the engines, body, chassis and transmissions. While this sometimes means that road noise is a little higher than some rivals, huge paybacks come in sharper handling, stronger braking, keener acceleration and better efficiency. We mentioned refinement. Mazda has tried to improve that with this revised model with upgraded door sill trims, thicker sound isolation in the doors, enhanced rear glazing and an increase in the cabin headliner thickness. To meet the required focus on the driver engagement you'd expect from Mazda, new coil springs and dampers have been fitted, while the front anti-roll bar has also been changed. Combined with a recalibration of the electric power steering, the end result is more consistent weight transfer and improved shock absorption.
This remains on of the better-looking compact crossovers out there. All too often, cars in this class look gawky, too stubby, too tall and too narrow, with strange, hall of mirrors dimensions. Somehow the CX-3 just looks right, thanks to its cab-back body and long bonnet proportioning. The predatory headlights are anything but cutesy and the coupe-like roofline gives it a real sporting stance. For this revised model, there's s marter front grille, while darker side pillar treatment enhances the sweeping coupe-like profile. Mazda's signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint is also now available too. However, it's inside that customers will notice the biggest revisions, with a more comfortable, ergonomic and upmarket interior. Redesigned around the adoption of an electric parking brake, the centre console now flows more elegantly into the dashboard, while the Mazda Multimedia Commander has moved forward for improved usability. Comfort and functionality has also been improved with a padded armrest with console storage box underneath. The front seats benefit from use of high-damping urethane foam cushions that improve comfort and support, while the rear seats now feature a central armrest with built in cup holders. Out back, as before, there's a 350-litre boot with a flexible cargo board boot floor, which can be lifted to provide a flat load space when the standard 60:40 split fold rear seats are tumbled.
Prices start at around £19,000 and top out at around £25,000. The entry-level 'SE Nav+' models get 16-inch alloy wheels, plus heated and power folding mirrors, while 'SE-L Nav+' models add rear privacy glass and front LED fog lights. At the top of the range, the CX-3 'Sport Nav+' is one of the first cars in the class to come with LED headlights. With LED rear lights,18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels and chrome accent door sills it's sharp looker. All models get a 7-inch colour touchscreen, cruise control, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a multifunction steering wheel, while 'Sport Nav+' models also feature navigation with 3-years free European map updates, a reversing camera, Bose surround sound, smart keyless entry and a head-up display. Choose an 'SE-L Nav+' model and you'll find heated front seats, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers. There's a full complement of airbags, including curtain bags. Hill Hold Assist, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System and Dynamic Stability Control are standard across the range, while 'SE-L Nav+' and 'Sport Nav+' models feature Mazda's Lane Departure Warning System and Smart City Brake Support.
Mazda's almost fanatical devotion to stripping unnecessary weight out of its cars means that although many of its cars look pretty substantial, they can weigh as much as a car in the next class down. This has all sorts of beneficial effects, not only in terms of vehicle dynamics but also when it comes to efficiency. Case in point: the CX-3 front-wheel drive diesel variant. With emissions of just 114g/km, this model should regularly be able to return well over 60mpg. That's what many would expect from a tiny citycar rather than a crossover that can seat five. The 121PS petrol engine puts out around 140g/km of CO2, while the 150PS petrol unit manages 160g/km - or 152g/km in auto form. Just like the CX-5, residual figures have proved to be healthy. Insurance figures are also going to be reasonable as, thanks to that light weight, you get respectable performance without having the sort of horsepower figures that make insurance companies nervous.
A small Crossover needs to be more than just dynamic and frugal, with stylish cleverness an equally important attribute. This one seems to stack up well here, with pleasing looks, cutting edge safety electronics and the kind of interior infotainment cleverness you'd normally find only on a much more expensive car of this kind. Yes, there's a price to pay for all this attention to detail, one that may mean you having to stretch our budget a little further than you might have expected to for a car of this kind. We think this CX-3 is good enough to justify that though. It's not the most obvious class contender you could choose but it's undeniably, a very complete one.
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