24 October | Rob Maetzig
In the middle of this year, Mazda New Zealand did something quite significant with its CX-3 small SUV - it stopped selling diesel models.
Lack of demand was the reason behind this decision. As several other car companies have experienced, the increasing cost of New Zealand's Road User Charges on diesel models is resulting in fewer and fewer motorists being bothered with them. Instead, they're finding it far more convenient to own a petrol vehicle.
In the case of the CX-3, although it was a smooth little operator, it was around 100kg heavier than its petrol-engined equivalent, which made it a lot slower. But as they say, when one door closes another one often opens. And Mazda NZ has made sure this can happen with the CX3 by giving the petrol models a substantial facelift, introducing them at the same time as it has dropped the diesels.
The company has also increased the selection of petrol models, including a "leather" version of the mid-spec GSX model. So now there are a total of five petrol CX-3s to choose from GLX, GSX, GSX Leather and Limited models with front-wheel drive, and one GSX with all-wheel drive.
So guess what CX-3 we've just been driving? We'll give you a clue - it's not a diesel.
Actually, it's the Limited, which is the CX-3 that has benefited the most from the facelift because it has received the whole suite of safety, driving dynamics and specification enhancements that are included in more limited form in the lesser models.
All the CX-3s now have Mazda's excellent G-Vectoring Control which finely controls engine torque based on steering and accelerator inputs, and that results in improved handling and ride comfort during cornering.
But the system is also now aboard every other Mazda passenger car on sale in New Zealand, so these days it is no big deal - just part of the very good safety systems aboard the brand's vehicles.
What is special about the Limited version of the CX-3 is that it comes with all the i-ActivSense technologies seen in the likes of the Mazda 3 and Mazda6 and which help in recognising hazards, avoiding crashes and reducing the severity of impacts.
They include Advanced Smart City Brake Support which operates when the vehicle is going forward at speeds up to 80kmh and backwards up to 8kmh, and if it judges that a collision is going to occur, it either primes the brakes for a faster response or takes over the braking altogether.
The Limited also has Radar Cruise Control which automatically adjusts vehicle speed to maintain a safe distance from a vehicle ahead, and Driver Attention Alert.
All these so-called active safety features are helpful, and its nice to know they're there. The Limited also boasts Traffic Sign Recognition which detects the road roads and displays them on a new full-colour Active Driving Display which flips up above the instrument binnacle so it is right in the driver's line of sight.
So does all of this help make the facelifted CX-3 Limited a better drive? The G-Vectoring Control certainly does, and so does a few other improvement including a re-tuning of the electric power steering to give the driver better feedback during turning, and the front and rear dampers have also been adjusted in the interests of better driving stability.
And as for all the other new stuff - well, from a safety perspective it's nice to know it's there.
The CX-3 has always been an interesting and highly appealing Mazda. Built on the same platform as the Mazda2 hatch and essentially with the Mazda2 dashboard, it is a large enough small SUV to be able to accommodate the seats from the Mazda 3. And under its bonnet is a de-powered version of the same engine as that aboard the 2.0-litre versions of the Mazda 3.
In the Mazda 3 hatch and sedan the engine develops 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque. In the CX-3 the figures are 109kW and 192Nm, with that torque peaking at 1200rpm lower down the revolutions band so the vehicle can offer more flexible SUV-like motoring.
The vehicle does have a Sport Mode, which is operated using a switch on the centre console, which adjusts the transmission shift and engine throttle controls to deliver sportier driving experience. But that mode also increases fuel consumption, so the idea is to use it only when you desire a bit of driving fun.
You can have fun in this vehicle, too. Although very little has been done to the exterior as part of the facelift, from the visual perspective it remains one of the most distinctive small SUVs on the market. And of course there is all that new safety specification. It really adds to the appeal of what may still be the best little SUV around.