The Chronicle


Mazda’s cheapest SUV is more compact than its rivals, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of buyers



The Mazda CX-3 is a clear sales leader in the baby SUV class, attracting nearly twice as many customers as its nearest rivals. Based on the compact Mazda2 hatchback, the CX-3 competes against newer rivals such as the Toyota Yaris Cross, Hyundai Venue, VW TCross and Kia Stonic.

The CX-3 is one of the older cars in its category, which is a double-edged sword. While customers are not getting cutting-edge tech and digital dashboards, they are likely to be well aware of the car, having seen hundreds – if not thousands – on the road.


We tested the CX-3 in Maxx Sport trim, which is one level up from the basic Neo Sport. Priced from $29,990 drive-away with a six-speed automatic transmissi­on, the Maxx Sport adds 16-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitoring and satnav to the standard model’s long features list. Safety gear includes front and rear auto emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert.

A one-touch electric handbrake and pushbutton start are nice touches, while infotainme­nt is taken care of by a 7-inch touchscree­n with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a digital radio. Modern omissions include LED headlights (reserved for more expensive models) and wireless phone charging or smartphone mirroring.


Mazda offers six CX-3 models ranging from the $24,990 Neo Sport to the fully-loaded Akari LE that tops out at $39,990 drive-away. The CX-3 comes as standard with a manual transmissi­on, while a six-speed auto adds $2000 to the bill. All-wheel-drive loads another $2000 on top of the auto. While most brands charge for premium paint, five metallic tones are free with Mazda, or you can pay $495 extra for premium red or grey paint.


Powered by a 2.0-litre non-turbo that uses 6.3L/100km to make 110kW and 195Nm, the CX-3 has adequate punch for a car this size. The six-speed auto is also a winner, shifting more smoothly at low speeds than dual-clutch autos favoured by some rivals.

The engine is more vocal than modern turbo rivals and has to be revved hard to deliver its best. As one of the oldest cars in the Mazda lineup, the CX-3 hasn’t benefited from the brand’s fanatical attention to noise suppressio­n in recent years. There’s more wind, road and engine noise than the best in class.


Sports car handling is hard to find in highriding crossovers. The CX-3 is one of the better options in its class, helped by accurate steering, responsive brakes, and firm suspension that resists excessive body roll. The trade-off is that it’s firmer on bumpy roads – the Mazda3 is a much more polished machine. The grunty engine and smart auto make it a willing accomplice in the cut and thrust of urban traffic. A high seating position offers an expansive view of the road ahead, though overthe-shoulder vision is less impressive. Back seat space isn’t great for adults, and the boot has less room than many alternativ­es for this price.

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