TINY DANCERS: Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport AWD and Toy­ota C-HR 2WD

Wheels (Australia) - - Features -

AUS­TRALIA’S sec­ond-best-sell­ing small SUV has much go­ing for it – strik­ing de­sign, stylish in­te­rior, great seats, strong per­for­mance, qual­ity en­gi­neer­ing – but the Mazda CX-3’S big­gest ace is choice. Noth­ing else in its class of­fers the daz­zling smor­gas­bord of petrol, diesel, front-drive, all-wheel drive, auto and man­ual flavours. Six­teen all up, in fact.

Lots of choice, and within that lies some real gems – namely the AWD, since it up­grades the rear sus­pen­sion from the FWD’S tor­sion beam to a De Dion set-up. Yes, it’s also auto-only, but in this case that hardly mat­ters.

In late 2015, an stour­ing AWD auto chase car in our Mazda MX-5 meets Toy­ota 86 GTS com­paro as­ton­ished all with its abil­ity to keep up with the hard-charg­ing sports cars over de­mand­ing moun­tain roads, dis­play­ing un-suv-es­que han­dling and road­hold­ing prow­ess, backed up by a punchy, rev-happy 109kw/192nm 2.0-litre heart and quick-shift­ing six-speed torque-con­verter auto that in Sport mode held on to each ra­tio right up to the lim­iter.

We still talk about that CX-3’S ath­leti­cism in the of­fice to­day. But it wasn’t with­out flaws. At the time, we com­plained about tire­some en­gine and road noise in­tru­sion, but Septem­ber’s Se­ries II facelift – with its up­graded cabin fin­ish, spec­i­fi­ca­tion, power out­puts and chas­sis tune – has qui­etened things down a tad on both fronts, while the $27,690 Maxx Sport AWD auto’s 16-inch rub­ber takes the edge off the firm ride as well. Lusty, lively and lovely to be­hold, Mazda’s lit­tlest SUV up­start in this guise fits like a glove – a form-fit­ting fenc­ing one for spar­ring with warm hatches.

In con­trast, the Toy­ota C-HR man­ual’s coupe-on-stilts styling sug­gests a re­turn to the su­per­fi­cial ‘form over func­tion’ soft­ness from the brand’s more comic

back-cat­a­logue tat like the ’90s Paseo, es­pe­cially as the 85kw/185nm 1.2-litre four-pot turbo seems in­con­gru­ously tiny be­neath that broad bon­net. A CVT with or with­out all-wheel drive are the only other op­tions, too. So not ex­actly spoilt for choice.

Yet the C-HR’S rigid body is un­der­pinned by the com­pany’s im­pres­sive all-new Toy­ota New Global Ar­chi­tec­ture (TNGA) struc­ture that el­e­vates the other Ja­pa­nese small SUV a league or two higher than most for sus­pen­sion sup­ple­ness (there’s a dou­ble wish­bone rear-end back there), steer­ing con­nec­tion and chas­sis re­fine­ment. If it wasn’t for the anime looks, you’d swear such flu­ency is only the prove­nance of the French. If only most pre­mium SUVS of­fered such cul­tured man­ners.

There’s more. The son-of-’86 six-speed man­ual shifter is a joy (thank­fully, as it needs to be rowed quite reg­u­larly to get the most from that slick turbo pow­er­train), the el­e­gant dash is a state­ment in sparse, solid, con­tem­po­rary de­sign, the gen­er­ous pack­ag­ing pro­vides am­ple space for adults as well as heaps more cargo ca­pac­ity than the lim­ited CX-3, while stan­dard kit in­cludes adap­tive cruise con­trol, auto-high beams and AEB.

A small-suv com­par­i­son cham­pion within these pages, the C-HR feels and drives like it’s been ov­erengi­neered. That said, as with most cars with well-sorted steer­ing and sus­pen­sion, the Toy­ota’s chas­sis al­ways seems like it could do with a lot more power. That un­usual up­swept side glasshouse and shal­low rear win­dow also limit re­vers­ing vi­sion, forc­ing an over-re­liance on the cam­era sited within a very dated and fid­dly cen­tre touch­screen. The Corolla’s lat­est mul­ti­me­dia sys­tem can­not come soon enough. Never mind. It all still works fine.

In a nut­shell, then, the base C-HR man­ual at $26,990 is fun to just let loose in, with an ea­ger and will­ing pow­er­train, steer­ing con­nec­tion and re­ac­tions to carve through cor­ners quickly and sus­pen­sion travel to glide over ur­ban bumps beau­ti­fully. Don’t be fooled by the bold and brash ex­te­rior looks; this Toy­ota small SUV is any­thing but su­per­fi­cial.

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