Mazda's CX hits the spot

Steve Sharpe drives Mazda's compact SUV the CX-3

The company’s first compact SUV appeared with a fanfare of TV ads, and with a line-up of no less than 18 models. The tagline was that the new CX-3 “brings new levels of sophistication, style, driving pleasure and equipment” to the growing small SUV market.

Small SUVs have enjoyed a surge of popularity over the last few years, with cars like the Nissan Juke, the Renault Captur and the Peugeot 2008 selling well, so Mazda brought out the CX-3, a larger, more muscular version of the Mazda2 to fill in the gap between that car and the larger CX-5.

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The CX-5 is a great looking car and the CX-3 shares that appeal.

It’s an incredibly stylish, well-proportioned and curvy SUV.

The prominent front end isn’t too bulbous, with flanks pinched towards the base of the doors, while the high window-line gives bulk to the body, conveying a impression of strength, and the wheel arches are flared by plastic trims.

The tapering windows and a roof that appears to float due to glossy black pillars lend a sporty look as well.

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It’s one of the most stylish little SUVs around, and will undoubtedly prove popular on looks alone.

Inside the cabin the stylish feel continues. The majority of the controls are placed between the front seats, while a good-size media screen juts out from the sloping dashboard.

The predominantly dark colour scheme in my Sport Nav trim test car was lifted by glossy crimson inserts on the door plastics and inside the circular air vents.

There’s also soft-touch suede and leather highlights which add a further touch of class.

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It’s all very easy to operate, with the sat nav / media screen being operated either by a rotary dial below the gearstick or a light-touch touchscreen.

The console is split horizontally into two, with a luxurious cushioned surface making up the lower section, with an extra air vent tucked away in the line which divides the two.

It looks great and feels solid and well put together. Quality is impressive throughout and even the harder, less cushioned surfaces look good.

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Take the CX-3 out onto the road and you soon feel comfortable. The seats are wide and supportive while the driving position, unlike some compact SUVs, isn’t particularly raised up, which gives the car more of a hatchback driving feel than an SUV.

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There’s plenty of legroom and headroom in the front although things are a little more snug in the rear -– after all, despite its rugged intentions the CX-3 is much the same size as the Mazda2.

However, it does feel roomier than the back of a Nissan Juke.

The boot compares well with its rivals, although like most other compact SUVs it’s smaller than a comparable size conventional hatchback.

But it’s on the move where the Mazda impresses. Out on the road the CX-3 is one of the best handling little SUVs you’ll come across.

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Steering is precise and well-controlled, cornering is neat and tidy and body lean has been well taken care of, so that there’s an enormous amount of fun to be had on winding lanes and B roads. The suspension is quite stiff, which benefits the handling, and the CX-3 grips the road throughout the bend, allowing you to emerge fully in control.

There are two engine choices for the CX-3 – the 1.5-litre SkyActiv-D diesel, also found in the Mazda 3, or the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol, which is already offered in the 6 and the CX-5.

Both come with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes and, depending on the trim level, you can pick between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

I drove the 2-litre two-wheel-drive Sport Nav model, and it’s a cracking drive. Although the 0-60 figures of nine seconds don’t look too hot, the six-speed transmission is so smooth, slick and well-spaced that the CX-3 supplies impressive burst of speeds in all gears.

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SUVs have to be all-rounders and the Mazda ticks boxes for town driving and motorway cruising.

In town the CX-3’s dimensions means it’s a doddle to manoeuvre in and out of city streets and parking spaces.

The view out of the rear is somewhat limited because of the small rear window and tapered side windows, but you learn to live with it easily enough.

On longer runs the ride is generally quiet, with the engine noise which you can hear being a pleasant one, but as the speed rises so does the noise.

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The cabin seems fairly windproofed but there is noise coming through the floor and the tyres. That stiffened suspension which provides so much for the handling has the drawback of creating a firm ride, which is especially noticeable on rougher stretches of motorways and A roads, but it does a decent job of absorbing the lumps and bumps of the North East’s roads.

We Brits do love our SUVs and now these smaller versions are becoming equally as desirable.

The CX-3 is more expensive than many of its rivals, and will probably cost more to insure, tax and service than some cheaper alternatives, while many rivals can offer better economy figures – my test car had official figures of 47mpg, which will translate to fewer in the real world. But Mazda have made sure that there is plenty of equipment on offer, even for the cheapest versions.

Opting for the entry-level SE models will get you alloy wheels, air-con, DAB, Bluetooth, cruise control, electric windows and a 7in touchscreen media system.

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Splash out for a mid-spec SE-L cars and you can add climate control, heated seats, automatic headlights and wipers and rear parking sensors, while top-spec Sport Nav models like my test car get larger wheels and part leatherette trim, sat-nav and a Bose sound system. Options on my car included powerful LED lights, LED running lights, reversing camera and a useful head-up display.

Throw in Mazda’s reputation for reliability along with a stylish exterior and interior, great handling and a flexible all-round performance, and you have a package that’s hard to fault.

There are more roomier alternatives out there - and some families may be forced to think bigger – but the Mazda’s funky looks, great drive and long list of gadgets should ensure it features high on anyone’s list.

FACT file

Mazda CX-3

Engine: 2-litre petrol

Transmission: six speed manual

0-60mph: 9 seconds

Top speed: 119mph

Economy: 47.9 mpg combined.

Price: £20,495