Mazda's new CX3 small SUV could easily have been just a cut down version of its bigger brother, the CX5.
After all, the CX5 has been a huge success for Mazda world-wide. And it leads its segment in this market with Mazda NZ selling around 2600 of them a year here.
But the CX3's chief designer insists this latest Mazda model is completely different.
"We didn't want to make a small CX5," Youichi Matsuda told media at the New Zealand launch of the new model last week.
So the Mazda team started on a blank sheet to create a vehicle that was completely different, a car with a cutting edge profile and with a presence that defined categories.
The end result was the CX3, a small SUV built on the same platform as the Mazda2 but with a feeling that it's as least as big as the car maker's next vehicle up the range, the Mazda3.
The CX3 comes in a range of six models, two and four wheel drive, three standards of trim and powered by a choice of petrol or turbo diesel. Prices start at $31,195 and end at $42,595 for the top of the range all wheel drive Limited diesel.
The car is the fifth and most extreme interpretation of Mazda's Kodo design theme, a styling form that is now used right through the Mazda range and is characterised by the bold, thrusting front end, large gaping grille, short overhangs and a wedge shaped profile with its sculptured wheel arches. It sits on huge 18-inch alloys, easily the largest wheels in its class, and one of the car's more macho features.
The whole package is designed to give the CX3 the same animal presence of its larger brother as well as a sensation of speed and power and makes the CX3 look sleek and ready to spring into action. It's light years away from the box-like vehicles that also feature in this segment of the market.
At the heart of the CX3 is a 2-litre petrol engine or a 1.5-litre turbo diesel unit, Both also help to make the vehicle feel a class bigger than it actually is.
The petrol unit delivers 109kW of power and some 192Nm of torque, easily enough to give the 1330kg CX3 more than adequate acceleration and good highway performance.
But the turbo diesel with its 77kw and a brilliant 270Nm torque output puts the sparkle into the performance giving the CX3 the feeling that there's something like 2.5-litres under the bonnet. So it's not surprising that Mazda use the petrol engine for the front drive models, keeping the diesel unit for the all wheel drive cars.
Both engines are matched to a six speed automatic, creating another benchmark in this segment. Six speeds mean there is always a ratio for the right moment so it helps get the best from the engines.
And all models feature an idle-stop feature to help boost the fuel economy figures.
Suspension is all very conventional, MacPherson strut at the front with torsion beam at the rear. But then the CX3's platform is basically the same as that used by the Mazda2.
The all wheel drive system is similar to that used in the larger CX5 with an active torque control coupling so the car stays in front drive until the extra traction from the rear wheels is needed. However the only other features the CX3 has in common with the CX5 are the exterior door mirrors, identical in both models.
It's not difficult to see the similarity of the interior of the CX3 with its Mazda2 and Mazda3 hatchback cousins.
There is a similar seven inch screen mounted in the centre of the car's fascia on which all major controls for the entertainment, audio, phone, navigation and vehicle settings are displayed, controlled through the large commander control just behind the gear shift in the central console.
Like the system in those other models it's very intuitive and easy to operate, another plus for the new model.
Another feature that helps make driving easier is the heads-up display in front of the steering wheel putting a digital speedo and navigation instructions right into the driver's view.
The CX3's interior has a classy feel to it with three standards of trim ranging from the fabric lined GLX model, the leatherette GSX and the leather Limited. And its that top end model that has a luxury feel to it with its colourful interior trim that includes red and white highlights through the cabin.
But that use of white is a bold move likely to polarise some of its audience with its higher maintenance. Others will just accept that because it looks so good. It's different and its modern looking.
Mazda sees the CX3's cabin dimensions as a big plus for the model and the front seats have been pushed as far apart as possible to make the most of the interior space.
They are some 27mm further apart than in the Mazda2, another reason this vehicle seems so much bigger than its cousin. And the rear seats sit some 37mm higher than the front seats so passenger visibility front and rear is excellent, afeature that will make it appeal as a family wagon, despite Mazda NZ aiming the car at empty nesters and older professional buyers.
Whatever the market the CX3 seems set to be a sales winner, with its interior space, state of the art appointments and up-to-the-minute styling.