Better late than never - Kyle Cassidy | NZ Autocar

1 May 2015
Kyle Cassidy  | NZ Autocar

MAZDA MAY BE LATE TO THE SMALL SUV PARTY BUTWITH ITS NEW CX-3 IT HAS MADE A GRAND ENTRANCE. WE DRIVE BOTH PETROL AND DIESEL VERSIONS

Sometimes we car folk get a bit carried away with exactly where a vehicle fits into the marketplace, especially when it comes to SUVs. The smallest varieties make up a diverse set of vehicles, and it's where Mazda is set to make a push with its new CX-3. So what's it up against?

Well Mazda NZ doesn't consider the likes of the Juke, Trax or Ecosport as competitors but bigger offerings like Qashqai, ASX and S-Cross. These are larger for sure, but are around the same money and similar in engine size too. So it seems Mazda is confident its little tyke can stick it to them and as long as size isn't an issue it looks like Mazda's on to another good thing with the CX-3.

It's the fifth new model under the SkyActiv mantra and despite its name, it shares more in common with the Mazda2 than the larger 3. It uses a modified 2 platform, utilising the same wheelbase but is longer at 4.2m overall, 70mm wider, and taller as well with 155mm of ground clearance. The Mac strut front suspension has some geometry tweaks to suit the raised ride height and deliver improved ride comfort. The rear retains the.2's torsion beam set-up, even for the AWD model, and the location of the beam and its mounting points are designed to maximise wheel travel.

MichioTomiyama, CX-3 programme director, was on hand at the NZ launch and he says the CX-3 'takes the brand to a new level, creating the standard for the next era of Mazda products'.

The attention to detail does give this car a sense of sophistication that's unusual at this level of the market, and the overall styling is a key aspect too. We reckon it's the best execution of the firm's 'Kodo' theme to date and its master, Youichi Matsuda, was also present to explain his creation.

The short overhangs are said to give it an 'agile stance', the long bonnet 'a sense of power' and along with the big wheels (emphasised by the wheel arches) and the small glasshouse help the CX-3 achieve 'a size (or presence we presume he meant) beyond its dimensions'.

The interior, based largely on the Mazda2, is well finished and details like the deep red hue of the accent leather in Limited models give it an edge.

Apart from the hard tops of the door trim and the

lack of a centre bin/armrest, the cabins of the GSX and Ltd models we sampled on the recent launch were certainly well appointed and finished. There's a focus on the driver, as with all Mazda products, and an optimised seating position. Like the 2, the seats are supremely comfortable and supportive. It's in the rear where the CX-3 isn't as welcoming; it's compact to be sure, with tight leg room compared with those larger competitors, and the boot too, at 260L, is no bigger than a supermini's. You'll fit more in the average compact hatch.

There are three model grades starting with the $31,195 2.0-litre 2WD GLX, moving up to the GSX grade with three choices ($34,695 2.0 2WD, $36,695 2.0 4WD, $38,6951.5 diesel), and two Limited models (a $38,595 2WD 2.0 and the $42,595 4WD diesel). If you're wondering, the Mazda2 tops out at $28,995, and the Mazda 3 ranges in price from $32,795 to $50k.

The difference between the GSX grades of the CX-3 and 3 is just $900, the hatch being more expensive. This will see people looking at both vehicles, and for those not so keen on space, could see them tempted out of the Mazda 3.

All models feature Mazda's infotainment unit with a seven-inch screen and a reversing camera. The mid-grade GSX variants add 18-inch alloys, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, a head-up display, sat nav, climate air, a proximity key, and rear parking sensors. The Limited comes with even more safety features like auto high beam control, lane departure and forward collision warning systems with auto braking, LED headlamps, Bose premium audio and leather upholstery.

The Mazdacare package has been improved and now includes a five-year/ unlimited kilometre warranty (three years comprehensive /two years covering all major mechanicals) and five-year roadside assist, as well as the usual three years/ 100,000km of free scheduled servicing.

There are two engine options, with the 2.0-litre petrol outputting 109kW and 192Nm at 2800rpm. The same engine in the Mazda 3 makes 114kW and 200Nm at 4000rpm, the earlier arrival of the torque certainly noticeable in the CX-3. This is rated at 6.1L/ 100km overall for 2WD models and 6.7L/ 100km for the AWD variant. The CX-3 also gets a new 1.5-litre turbodiesel option. It makes 77kW, and 270Nm of torque from 1600 to 2500rpm. The diesel is only available with

AWD and is rated at 5.1L/100km. TheVBOX proved it to be no rocket, taking the best part of 12 seconds to crack lOOkm/h, and lOsec on the overtake. The petrol 2WD feels as though it would return a lOsec run to 100.

The 2.0-litre delivers enough poke for the CX-3 low down while it revs sweetly to release the power that the diesel lacks. The six-speed auto, the only gearbox offered, is a good un, especially in Sport mode where it holds onto gears when you momentarily lift off the throttle and downshifts under brakes. Even after a lengthy stint of (overly) spirited driving, the trip computer was registering around the 9.0L/ 100km mark.

According to Mazda, the segment average is 7.3, so the CX-3 is ahead of the curve there, and drinks 91 octane too, not bad going considering the high 13:1 compression ratio of the direct-injection engine.

We asked Tomiyama-san if the 2.0-litre engine would fit in the Mazda2 hatch (a Mazda2 MPS 20 perhaps?) but no, the engine is too big for the 2, both in width and height.

After the 2WD petrol, we found the AWD diesel to be less resolved on road. It's over 100kg heavier for a start, and while it's not corner shy, it doesn't take to them like the front driver with more roll, and a tendency to pitch and dive over undulations. While overall the torsion beam rear does a pretty good job on the ride quality front, the AWD model with the rear mounted diff can thump over bumps. We asked Tomiyamasan about this and found that the AWD models have softer spring rates to help cope with rough terrain that an AWD buyer might want to tackle, while the front driver is set up more for on-road handling, which explains it all. Given the front driver is more settled over bumps, it gives a smoother ride on highways. There's good steering too, just enough feedback to satisfy, and good stick in the bends from the rubber. The brakes, borrowed from the Mazda 3, impress too.

The AWD system is based on the setup of the CX-5, but apart from the wing mirrors, the CX-3 shares no components with its bigger brother. It's an on-demand system, some 27 sensors used to monitor the action and ensure the rear diff is triggered into action in time to minimise any loss of traction.

We reckon the GSX FWD 2.0 is the best option, the differences in cost and gas mileage will take forever to recoup the fuel savings for the diesel, and the extra torque isn't a convincing enough argument. And are you really going off-road in something like this? If so, buy a Jimny instead. In front drive form, CX-3 feels like a class-leading drive (though a back-to-back comparison will be needed to quantify that), it's efficient, the styling is nailed, and while the price is high, it seems justified by the long specification list. It's the interior space that will decide it for many, so try it on for size before signing off.

BT-50 commercialcare disclaimer

** is also available to new BT-50 owners where every scheduled service completed by Mazda specialist technicians for a 3 year/100,000km term (whichever wherever occurs first) will cost no more than $200 (incl. GST) per service for models built after 1 November 2012. *** 3,350kg applies to earlier models.

* whichever occurs first

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