22 April 2015
Dave Moore | The Mirror
When you look at the four-wheeled boxes normally foisted upon us as crossovers and SUV, Mazda's newcomer seems almost voluptuous by comparison, says DAVE MOORE.
Mazda has launched its gorgeous new CX-3, the carmaker's very first small SUV.
If being the prettiest model at the segment's party is not enough, the Mazda also fronts-up as the only offering in the sector with so many choices of power unit and drive train. Under its muscular Kodo-designed exterior the CX-3 is available right now in New Zealand in AWD or FWD forms, and with manual and automatic six-speed transmissions, as well as with a choice of 1.5-litre turbodiesel SkyActiv D turbodiesel or 2.0-litre SkyActiv G engines.
The model doesn't exactly scrimp on specification, for as well as Sat Nav and alloy wheels, every CX-3 offers MZD Connect, the company's simple, easy-touse smartphone connectivity set-up and has its state-of-the-art i-ActivSense active safety technology available.
It could be said that the CX-3 is the CX-5's little brother, but the newer, smaller car does so much more with the Kodo.
It's easy to say that the car is set to tackle the Juke, EcoSport and Trax models already in the segment, but the shape of its pleasinglyproportioned, muscular and family-familiar body suggests that the only real competition this car is going to have is the Honda HR-V which is still months away.
Where many of the lightweight SUVs out there seem to be what their title suggests, lightweight, one of the first things you notice about the CX-3 is its meaty steering heft and excellent range of seat and wheel adjustments. While the seating up front has a generously tall hip-point for easy access and egress, the seating position is contrived to sit you "into" the seat rather than balance you "on" it. It's a pleasant feeling and after spending some time in the Mazda2 recently my hands and fingers found all the controls easily. Seated high, but not too high and snugly enough to have a secure, wellcosseted driving position, the CX-3's feel-good factor is palpable.
The rear bench's base is higher-set than the front bucket's and is shaped and belted for up to three. And while you could be forgiven for thinking that the tapered roofline might interrupt overhead space, my 1.88 metre frame had no problem.
The cloth and leather used in the cabin, even the white hide option feels and looks good and with an info screen that has iPad levels of tactility, you never get the impression that this is a junior version of anything else, it's what it is, just segment smaller.
The driving experience reflects the solid maturity of those first impressions. It responds as if it is a tallish sports hatch, with a biddable, neutral chassis that does a fine job of deferring understeer and which passes over holes, rills and bumps with all the authority of the larger CX-5.
There's not a skerrick of bump-steer and while the all-wheel-drive version of the car felt a touch more planted at the rear in driving rain as we coursed through Hamilton's and Cambridge's myriad roundabouts, both versions of the car are tidy, wellbalanced handlers. After several hours at the wheel, the twinge-free exit proves that the driving position was as good as that first impression suggested it should be.
Compared with the larger CX-5, the load area is possibly the most disappointing part of the CX3, but against its same-sized peers it's about average.
Small to medium dogs will find the accommodation more than adequate. The luggage shelf is easy to detach and stow, and there's additional space for hideaway items under the hatch floor.
A big question for potential CX-3 owners is whether it should be a diesel or petrol buy. The 1.5-litre diesel unit has a lot going for it, including the fact that even when cold it's a quiet unit.It's no rocketship, however, but it's a relaxed 100kmh cruiser and its midrange delivers fuss-free overtaking unless you're a in a real hurry.
That's where the familiar SkyActiv petrol unit comes in.
It already makes a fine fist of propelling the Mazda 3, Mazda6 and CX-5, and in the CX-3 it's more of the same.
However, with a consumption score of 6.1l/100 km (FWD) or 6.7l/100 km (AWD), the petrol unit isn't exactly a gas guzzler, and from our calculations it would be a coin-toss as to which is more suitable cost-wise over a three-year 60,000km ownership plan.
We like this car. It scores a bullseye in the fastest growing segment in the car business with looks, handling and pricing that will make it the yardstick as new models in the form of SsangYong's Tivoli, the Honda HR-V and an as yet unnamed Toyota product come through.
The new Mazda's sixmodel lineup is spread through logical steps starting at $31,195 for the front-wheel-drive CX-3 2.0-litre SkyActiv petrol GLX and topping-out at $42,595 for the all-the-fruit 1.5-litre SkyActiv turbodiesel Limited model.
Every New Zealand CX-3 takes a six-speed automatic transmission.