In our view the new Mazda CX-3 is the best looking car in its class, and this is backed up by a good driving experience and impressive economy, especially in the case of the diesel model.
The compact crossover segment is the fastest growing car segment worldwide. Therefore Mazda wants a slice of the action – and the profits. Enter the Mazda CX-3 – which aims to provide another upwards leap in Mazda’s sales in the UK and elsewhere.
It would be fair to assume that the CX-3 is based on the Mazda3 platform, but it’s not – it’s based on the smaller Mazda2. Just to make life even more confusing, the Mazda CX-5 is based on the Mazda3 platform. Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s focus on one of the key strengths of the CX-3: we think it looks fantastic, particularly on the outside, where simple, unfussy flowing lines are the order of the day. It looks sporty and SUV-like at the same time. The interior also looks modern and uncluttered, and there’s a decent amount of space for this class of car in the passenger compartment and in the boot.
In terms of the engineering under the skin, there’s a wide variety of options. You can choose between petrol and diesel, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, and manual and automatic. There are also five trim levels. That really should provide something for everyone.
As with virtually all the other cars in this class, the relatively limited 160mm ground clearance is a reminder that this really is a car designed for the road, not for the mountains.
We think that the Mazda3 is the best car in its class to drive. The smaller Mazda2 is also good, albeit an understandably diluted-down version for cost reasons. So can the CX-3 live up to the expectations set by the rest of the range, and by its looks?
To find the answer to this question, on the CX-3 launch Mazda provided driving routes that encircled Kielder Forest in Northumberland. These are some of the best roads in the country, there were virtually no other cars in the area, and a variety of CX-3 models were available to test.
First up was the CX-3 two-wheel drive 120PS petrol automatic. This felt like a very refined, upmarket package overall. The powertrain was well suited to the roads, with good response from the petrol engine, and life was made easy by the automatic transmission. You could also change gear using steering wheel-mounted paddles, which helped to keep the car in the right gear for the many undulating corners. This model had a Sport setting on the transmission, which kept the revs higher, making the car more responsive.
We also tried the CX-3 two-wheel drive 105PS diesel manual. This also proved to be very capable – more so than you would imagine. The diesel engine feels more like a petrol, and with its extra torque (270Nm v 204Nm of the petrol), it feels like it could keep up with the petrol in cross-country driving. Although the petrol engine was impressive, the lower-revving diesel actually felt less frantic when pushing on.
Finally, we also tried the CX-3 all-wheel drive 105PS diesel automatic. This sounds like it has the potential to be one of the best powertrains in the range, however it felt the least responsive of all three.
With all the versions we tested, the ride quality struck a good balance: not too firm, not too bouncy – something that many manufacturers seem to struggle to get right with compact crossovers. And the car handled well for a high-riding crossover, although the tendency for understeer when pushed enthusiastically through corners is predictably present. The weighting of the steering and brakes is also well-judged.
The ‘infotainment’ system on the CX-3 has been carried over from the Mazda3. As well as a touchscreen, there’s an ‘iDrive’-like rotary controller together with buttons for key menu options located near the gear selector. As any regular Green Car Guide readers will be aware, our view is that touchscreens are a really silly idea in a moving car; Mazda’s system is much better.
The headline economy figure is the 70.6mpg combined, equating to 105g/km CO2 emissions, according the NEDC test, of the 1.5 SKYACTIV-D Diesel 2WD 105ps Manual. Although Green Car Guide reports on the real-life economy of the cars that we test over the period of a week, it’s not possible to provide an accurate figure on a launch event – even with the generous amount of driving time that Mazda provided. However, based on our recent week with a Mazda2 diesel, we would expect the CX-3 diesel to return good levels of economy in real-life.
The petrol auto has a slightly better official economy figure than the petrol manual: 48.7mpg (136g/km CO2) v 47.9mpg. Both of these figures are good for a compact petrol crossover. This drops slightly if you opt for the all-wheel drive petrol model, which comes with manual transmission, and which returns 44.1mpg, along with 150g/km CO2.
The diesel is available with all-wheel drive and either manual or automatic transmission; the diesel manual AWD returns 60.1mpg – so you lose 10mpg if you opt for all-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive. If you then choose automatic transmission, this figure drops further, to 54.3mpg.
The combination of petrol or diesel, manual or automatic, two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and five trim levels (SE, SE Nav, SE-L, SE-L Nav and Sport Nav) results in a total of 18 CX-3 models, with prices ranging from £17,595 to £24,695.
If your driving is primarily short urban journeys then the petrol-engined models are likely to be your best bet. If you regularly drive longer distances then the diesel would be worth considering.
Mazda has done an excellent job with the styling of the CX-3 – we’d certainly say it looks best in class. The interior environment is also a pleasant place to be, and there’s a decent amount of space for driver, passengers and luggage.
As well as in the area of design, Mazda is also on a roll in the area of vehicle dynamics. The CX-3 is good to drive, with fun being had on the roads around Kielder for a crossover.
Mazda is also producing cars that are efficient – especially in the case of the main model tested here, the front-wheel drive diesel manual.
The three areas above – attractive styling, good driving dynamics, and efficiency – are the three key areas that score well with us, and so the Mazda CX-3 gains a Green-Car-Guide rating of 9 out of 10.