LOOK OUT FOR CLASS ACT FROM MAZDA

CX-3 cross­over gives its ri­vals run for money by de­liv­er­ing big with an ex­cel­lent small pack­age

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - FIRST DRIVE ANDY EN­RIGHT

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. The mar­ket could do with a small cross­over like that.

In the metal, it looks an en­er­getic lit­tle thing and Mazda prom­ises us it’ll drive that way, too. We’ll be putting that to the test but if the SKY­AC­TIV dy­nam­ics are de­liv­ered as ad­ver­tised, then this will be the first small cross­over to match the class-lead­ingly ag­ile Nis­san Juke in that re­spect.

There’s a lot of prom­ise here then, un­der­lined by con­nec­tiv­ity and cabin qual­ity car­ried over from the lit­tle Mazda2 this model’s based upon. CX-3 own­er­ship also comes with pre­mium pric­ing though and most sales will be of a petrol model with an en­gine much larger than buy­ers are used to see­ing in this seg­ment. So, can it all add up? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

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 120 or 150PS 2.0-litre units which to­gether will ac­count for around 50% of UK sales. Avail­able in all trims, with both man­ual and au­to­matic trans­mis­sions, the 120PS pow­er­plant with front-wheel drive is sure to be the most pop­u­lar petrol variant.

The 150PS petrol unit is mated to an all-wheel drive chas­sis and a sixspeed man­ual gear­box in Sport Nav trim. The 105PS 1.5-litre diesel en­gine will power pre­dom­i­nantly front-wheel drive mod­els, al­though the range-top­ping Sport Nav is all-wheel drive and is also of­fered with both man­ual and au­to­matic trans­mis­sions.

Mazda’s SKY­AC­TIV de­sign ethos strips un­nec­es­sary weight out of the en­gines, body, chas­sis and trans­mis­sions and 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.

De­sign and Build

Is there a bet­ter-look­ing compact cross­over than the Mazda CX-3? If there is, we don’t think we’ve seen it. 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.

Ma­te­ri­als qual­ity will be bet­ter than you’ll ex­pect if you haven’t parked your pos­te­rior in a Mazda for a few years and the cabin is more spa­cious than any car this short (and with such a long bon­net) has any right to be. In fact, we ended up won­der­ing how its ri­vals were get­ting beaten time and again on var­i­ous in­te­rior space met­rics by the CX-3. But they were.

There’s 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. The rea­son why rear seat space is so gen­er­ous be­comes ap­par­ent when look­ing into the CX-3’S fifth door. The 350-litre boot isn’t any­where ap­proach­ing class-lead­ing. For the sake of com­par­i­son, a Nis­san Juke of­fers 354-litres, a Vaux­hall Mokka 362-litres and a Re­nault Cap­ture 377-litres.

Mar­ket and Model

Prices start at un­der £18,000 and top out at just un­der £25,000. The en­try-level SE mod­els get 16-inch al­loy wheels, plus heated and power fold­ing mir­rors, while SE-L mod­els add rear pri­vacy glass and front LED fog lights. At the top of the range, the CX-3 Sport Nav is the first car 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 three years free Euro­pean map up­dates, a re­vers­ing cam­era, Bose sur­round sound, smart key­less en­try and a head-up dis­play. Choose an SE-L 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 and Sport Nav mod­els fea­ture Mazda’s Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing Sys­tem and Smart City Brake Sup­port.

Cost of Own­er­ship

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 105g/km, this model has an of­fi­cial com­bined econ­omy of 70.6mpg. That’s what many would ex­pect from a tiny city­car rather than a cross­over that can seat five.

If the CX-5 is used as a yard­stick, resid­ual fig­ures will also 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.

Sum­mary

Buy­ing a su­per­mini-based cross­over usu­ally boils down to one key ques­tion. “Will I look a prize plum be­hind the wheel of it?” All too of­ten the an­swer is yes, and buy­ers in­stead choose a more anony­mous su­per­mini al­ter­na­tive that doesn’t draw at­ten­tion to it­self.

The Mazda CX-3 has enough about it that it never looks self-con­scious or try-hard. The styling works, the brand is solid and sen­si­ble with all the right en­gi­neer­ing cred­i­bil­ity and the prod­uct it­self is un­ex­pect­edly de­light­ful.

Un­ex­pected, that is, if you’d never tried the CX-5. Mazda re­ally just needed to de­liver more of the same in a smaller pack­age in or­der to suc­ceed and that’s ex­actly what they’ve done.

Yes, it has a broad range of ri­vals, but how many of them are go­ing to pass the plum test?

Think on that one for a while.

Solid brand: the Mazda CX-5 is a sturdy ri­val to all its com­peti­tors

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