The two faces of Mazda’s CX-3 - Paul Owen | Sunday Star Times

19 April 2015
Paul Owen  | Sunday Star Times

Coming late to the compactcrossover class has enabled Mazda to inject more pizzazz into the new CX-3 than its rivals. Paul Owen finds that there are two sides to the new SUV-lite.

NO NEW car distributor likes to launch its latest product at the start or the end of a year, but I reckon January would have been perfect for the launch of the new CX-3. For the month takes its name from Janus, the Roman god equipped with two faces so that he looked both into the future and back to the past. The incoming sixmodel CX-3 range is just as double-sided in terms of the duality of the driving experiences available. Courtesy of different suspension tunes, front-drive models drive like the compactcrossover equivalents of an MX-5 sportscar, while the softer-sprung 4WD versions aren't quite as in tune with the on-road expectations of enthusiastic drivers.

The noses of the latter therefore bounce and nod like the heads of those little toy dogs that once populated the rear parcel shelves of many cars when asked to hold a line through a bumpy bend at open road pace. So much so, that I question why Mazda has decided to offer 4WD in this, the most urbane of all crossover segments.

Slash your way to a campfire of 4WD club members in the back hills of this country, and you'll find that most of the Hokonui moonshine drinkers huddled around it have usually driven there in an old Nissan Patrol, Mitsubishi Pajero, or 80-series Land Cruiser.

There's never a new crossover vehicle within range of such fire-lit debates about the merits of 1080 poisoning programmes, let alone one that's as compact as a supermini.

So the essential question potential buyers of the new CX-3 need to ask themselves is this: do I really need 4WD to successfully scale the speed bumps in the local supermarket carpark?

Ah, but what about securing access for snowsports, you ask?

The CX-3 isn't quite the right vehicle for ripping to Ruapehu or clambering up Cardrona. Being based mostly on Mazda2 hatchback underpinnings, it adheres faithfully to the compact part of the class terminology despite being 200mm longer and 100mm wider when compared with the platform-donor Mazda.

With the rear bench erect, there's just 264 litres of luggage space available. That's hardly enough to cart all the essentials of a skiing holiday if said rear bench is required for human cargo. I'll concede that Queenstown-based rental companies might do good business hiring out new 4WD CX3s to visiting couples over short terms, but forget about it any time friends and family want to come along to spoil the honeymoon.

By eliminating the three 4WD models among the six new CX-3s, I've saved consumers the $2000 premium charged for all-wheeldrive as well as the further $2000 charged for the rather tardy 77kW/ 270Nm 1.5 litre turbodiesel engine option which is only available with four-wheel-drive.

What's left are three front-drive 2.0 litre petrol crossovers that are more capable of living up to the sporty looks of the CX-3 than the spongy-riding all-wheelers. This is arguably the most intriguing of all compact crossover designs, the swoopy intersecting lines of the body playing with light and shadow in an eye-catching way. It therefore deserves to offer a driving experience that is as equally engaging, and this is exactly what the front-leading 109kW/192Nm 2.0 litre models deliver.

The suspension setup of these surviving CX-3 models of the highly-personal cull is absolutely superb. Bumps are blotted out completely with no effect on the ride attitude of the Mazda, and none of the after-effects that so disconnect the wheels of the allwheel-drive version from the road.

The CX-3 also has an exploitable measure of rear-wheel-steer engineered into the geometry of the rear torsion beam suspension.

It'll therefore tighten the cornering line instantly when the driver either gets off the throttle midbend or adds a touch of left foot to the brake pedal. The agile steering has obviously been inherited from the highly-chuckable Mazda2.

Petrol models also get a sports button that wakes up the six-speed automatic gearbox from its more somnambulistic focus on saving fuel. This negates any need for the driver to take manual control of ratio selections by jauntily downshifting when braking, and keeping the willing engine in its fast 'n' frisky top-third of the rev range.

The 'Skyactive' petrol engine has a compression ratio equivalent to that of many sports motorcycles to extract more energy from fuel. This is reflected in the impressive 6.1 litres/100km fuel use figures of front drive petrol CX-3 models.

Of course, the all-wheel-drive diesels better that with their 5.1 litres/100km lab rat results, but you pay such severe penalties in driving pleasure for that fuel saving that you've got to wonder whether it is worth it.

As with most recent Mazdas, the CX-3 models come well-stocked with stuff at every specification level and the price includes a three-year free servicing contract allied to a five-year warranty.

The front-drive petrols start at $31,195, rising to a $38,595 Limited version that can out-boast all its rivals for fitted equipment. If you really must have an all-wheel-drive diesel CX-3, you'll pay either $38,595 for the GSX specification or $42,595 for the Limited, but be warned: these represent the backwards-looking face of Janus.

There's never a new crossover vehicle within range of such fire-lit debates about the merits of 1080 poisoning programmes, let alone one that's as compact as a supermini.

MAZDA CX-3 2.0 GSX Drivetrain: Transverse, front-mounted front-wheel-drive with six-speed automatic transmission.

Output: 1998cc DOHC direct-injection inline four producing 109kW at 6000 rpm, 192Nm at 2800rpm.

Performance: Maximum speed 200 kmh, 0-100kmh 10.0 seconds ( est.), 6.1L/100km, 142g CO2/km, Euro 5 emission compliance, Towing capacity: 1200kg.

Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam. Electric power steering.

Vented front disc brakes and solid rear discs. 18-inch alloy rims with 215/50 tyres.

Dimensions: L 4275mm, H 1550mm, W 1765mm, W/base 2570mm, Fuel 48 L, Weight 1259kg.

Pricing: $34,695

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