2017 Mazda CX-3 2.0 SKYACTIV-G 120 FWD test drive: Beauty is a state of mind
It comes from afar, but it has enough attitude to enter the European arena without hesitation. But is it a winner already?
"Being sexy is all about attitude, not body type. It's a state of mind," said once the Indian actress Ameesha Patel, probably referring to something else than the small crossover segment.
But it's so applicable here: all the jacked up superminis are disputing this ever growing territory, and attitude plays, indeed, an (if not the most) important role. Nobody expects you to be impressively spacious, or absurdly fast.
Customers want a looker, and Mazda knows a thing or two about looks, so the CX-3 has a clear edge here. Furthermore, it sits on the Mazda 2 platform, a wonderfully put together little car. We took one for a spin to find out more about it.
Recommended for:young and single
Created for:highwayswinding roadsurban drivingall terrain
Hats off for:road handling
Bang for the buck:good
Despite being directly related to the 2, the CX-3 borrows its engines from the Mazda 3 to better cope with the weight gain. There are two petrol choices (a 2.0-liter in naturally aspirated, and turbocharged forms) and one diesel: the 105 hp 1.5-liter four pot.
Our tester is the 118 hp naturally aspirated, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. This is the only model driven by the front wheels exclusively — the other two come in AWD guise as well.
Mazda’s manual gearbox is one of the few examples where choosing between stick and automatic is a really hard choice; and not because the six-speed automatic doesn’t deliver. But the crispness of Mazda’s manual guarantees generous amounts of joy.
On winding B-roads, you’ll be surprised by the CX-3’s agility (comparable to the Mazda 2) despite the extra kilos, and the higher ground clearance.
The steering wheel feels properly weighted, and, again, the manual transmission is a peach. It responds with such obedience that, once you’re used to the slightly higher seat position, you feel just like driving a car that's as light and nimble as a supermini.
The Jinba Ittai (“rider and his horse”) spirit is also highlighted by the torque-lite naturally aspirated engine. Its rotational linear crescendo makes a driver’s heart rate raise accordingly, although velocity is not that easily achievable as it would let you think.
Surprisingly, the CX-3 scored a less-than-perfect four-star rating at the Euro NCAP crash tests mainly due to low marks (64/100) in safety assist technology.
Our tester (in Kizoku Intense guise) featured, besides the comprehensive standard equipment (six airbags, DSC, TSC, Tire Pressure Monitoring System) a couple of electronic adjuvants: the Lane Change, and the Lane Departure Assistants. The latter, despite responding promptly, warns the driver via the audio system without overriding it, so if you’re listening to loud music, you may not hear it.
Life is great behind the wheel; the front seats are comfy, there’s enough space regardless one’s stature, all the controls are within reach, and easy to get used to.
Squeeze to the rear seats, though, and you see Mazda 2’s limitations; compared to the supermini, the CX-3 is slightly roomier but not big enough to accommodate four adults in long journeys. The rear windows’ high edge looks neat from the outside but, for short occupants (i.e. children) the rear seats might feel a bit claustrophobic.
In terms of quality, Mazda had to compromise in order to be on par with its European rivals, so the aliminium-grey bits you encounter in the cabin are, in fact, plastics.
BUT, the overall quality is good, the most important elements (steering wheel, gear lever) are holstered in fine leather, and the leather/Alcantara mix you can fit on the seats is neat.
On the practical side, the CX-3 has more to offer over what the 2 promises. You have 350 liters worth of cargo space (about 100 more over the Mazda 2), and it can be extended to over 1,200 liters by folding the 60/40 rear bench.
If you find the 350-liter boot not roomy enough for you daily needs, avoid the Bose audio system; it sounds excellent, but its extra speaker (mounted in the boot) needs about 60 liters worth of space.
Mazda’s seven-inch infotainment system pleases you with a good response time, and a user-friendly interface, but, if you are the tech-savvy bloke, you might see its outdated graphics a hard-to-overlook drawback. Also, the smartphone connectivity doesn’t include Android Auto or Apple Car Play, although you have an alternative — an app called Aha.
The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated unit is the middle mark between the more powerful petrol engine, and the 1.5-liter diesel.
As usual, the Japanese manufacturer is upright when it comes to declared fuel consumption figures. The official mixed cycle for the CX-3 is 9.0 l/100 km (26 mpg US); our tester managed 8.7 l/100 km (27 mpg US) and I could’ve scored a much better rating — blame it on the gearbox’s tempting crispness.
Mazda doesn’t like fooling around with an infinite long options list, so it offers comprehensive trims (and packages). Our tester wore the Kizoku Intense trim, with some sprinkled extras on top, such as a driver power seat, and leather-and-suede upholstery.
And not much more was needed, to be fair. Aside the optional equipment mentioned above, there are only few things the range-topping Kizoku lacks: you'll have to pay extra for the sat-nav, the adaptive cruise control, the dynamic cornering light and some safety features.
The CX-3 is assembled in Japan, so Mazda is making great efforts to keep its models (this included) price-relevant for the European market. The compact crossover's starting price is around €18k, a bit spicy compared to its rivals; but it counterbalances the discouraging price tags with generous equipment offered as standard.