MAZDA CX-3 INDIVIDUAL PLUS AUTO URBANE URBANITE
Compact crossovers are an odd species. Though not big or capable enough to be taken seriously as true all-terrain vehicles, they lure disenchanted hatchback buyers hankering for bulk, a more commanding driving position and something just plain different. Join the queue.
Mazda's CX-3 ticks all the aforementioned boxes. But besides that, it also has a zippy, growly yet refined powertrain and sharp handling that makes it a fun car to drive around town.
A kind of smaller clone of its bigger CX-5 stablemate, it leans more towards the car-oriented end of the crossover spectrum. It's got some of the crossover look – though less so than some competitors – that is intended to resonate with its owner's presumably outdoors, active lifestyle.
From the driver's seat, The CX-3 does seem to have more in common with Mazda's passenger car line, which is after all what it's based on. It sits a modest 160 mm or so off the ground and overall doesn't have quite the purpose-built look and feel of a family crossover, which might ordinarily have features such as roof rails.
If bothered by the thought of moving from small-car comfort and convenience to a cabin designed more around utilitarian practicality, fear not: the CX-3 will feel entirely familiar and car-driver-friendly. The interior presents a refined ambience with leather/cloth trim and sensibly laid out controls.
Front accommodation is ample, but taller passengers might feel a little short-changed at the rear, considering the way the roofline slopes downwards. Given the vehicle's perceived role, perhaps some more stowage space would have been a good thing, especially in the boot.
Although some vehicles in this price bracket – and that includes crossovers – are turning towards downsized engines using turbocharging, the normally aspirated Skyaktiv direct injection 2,0-litre petrol engine relies on the adage that there's no substitute for cubic inches. As a result, a smooth flow of torque is available across a wide band for easy low-speed lugging. Fuel economy is actually not bad, considering.
The “learning” auto box seems quicker than most to respond to one's driving style. So, if you suddenly start throwing the CX-3 about, it's quick to respond by downshifting more eagerly and holding on to a lower gear for longer to provide engine braking as you enter a bend.
Part of the driver aid suite, by the way, is G-vectoring, which uses the engine's torque to maintain optimum body position and thereby improve handling. A side-benefit of this is said to be reduced driver fatigue because you don't have to keep tweaking the steering.
Ride is controlled and verging on firm, without being harsh, on its 18-inch alloy wheels. As a result the driver can feel quite confident about picking up the pace when necessary. The electrically assisted steering is light yet precise, with sufficient feedback from the wheels to keep driver involvement levels high.
Our colleagues at CAR were moved to describe the whole experience as engaging and I'd be inclined to agree.
The Individual Plus model tested here is one of the more recent additions to the CX-3 range. As the flagship model, it comes with a comprehensive standard specification that includes Sat-nav, stability control, brake support, blind spot and lane departure warning and infotainment system with touchscreen interface.
I can't see the CX-3 being bought primarily for treks to out-of-the way campsites or extended jaunts on farm tracks, but in fairness it's aimed at a more urban lifestyle. There, attributes such as sleek styling, wieldy drivability, ease of access and refined interior and ride add up to a crossover with sporty intentions that is much more in tune with urban warriors. – A NTHONY DOMAN