In the early 2000s, the only crossover you can buy from Mazda was the Tribute. A few years back, you get to choose from either the full-size CX-9, CX-7 or the mid-sized CX-5. Today, you can get your Mazda crossover fix through this “fun sized” Mazda CX-3. In the near future, there will be a coupe crossover and possibly the return of the CX-7, as Mazda expands their crossover lineup with more CX-prefixed vehicles to cater to every buyer’s specific needs.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What we have here is Mazda’s first baby crossover, the CX-3. Locking horns against the other petite B-segment crossovers in a category which is currently dominated by none other than Honda’s famed HR-V, the CX-3 is built upon the Mazda2 platform. Yet, it’s slightly bigger in every dimension except the wheelbase, and it’s only about 150kg heavier. It’s not powered by the same 1.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine from the Mazda2 though, instead it’s powered by a 2.0-litre engine from the bigger Mazdas.
|Name||Mazda CX-3 2.0L Skyactiv|
|Engine||1,998cc; 4-cylinder direct injection, DOHC|
|Transmission||6-speed Skyactiv-Drive automatic|
|Max Power||154 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque||204 Nm @ 2,800 rpm|
|Price (OTR without insurance)||RM131,218.50|
The first batch of Malaysian-bound CX-3s only comes in a single variant, the 2.0-litre front-wheel drive, and all 2,000 units of them hail from Hiroshima, Japan. Retailing at RM131k, it sits at the wrong side of the price range for a crossover this size. Even so, at this time of writing at least, almost all of the allocated units have been spoken for. Some concluded that the CX-3’s good looks is enough of a reason for buying one, but surely there’s more to it than just looks, right? We examine it further.
Things are looking sharp for Mazda, not only for the CX-3 but the entire range of Mazda vehicles. Well, on second thought, maybe the oddball Biante excluded. Still utilising the Kodo design template, the CX-3 is perhaps the best looking B-segment crossover around. The Soul Red paintjob certainly helps, but even if you don’t opt for this crimson hue you will still get a swish looking compact crossover. Check out this one in Deep Crystal Blue for example, it’s no less stunning at all.
Like a vicious little bob-tailed kitten, the CX-3 is cute but with a dose of aggression. The muscular flanks and stocky yet athletic legs are primed and ready, the alert ears are represented by the pointy side mirrors with LED turn indicators, while the mean gaze comes from the full-LED headlamps that follow its prey even in the corners, waiting to pounce when the moment is right. Without any doubt the “soul of motion” is present on the CX-3.
From the pictures alone, the CX-3 looks big but it’s actually pretty compact, and quite literally so too. Measuring 4,275 mm long, 1,765 mm wide, it slots nicely in between the Mazda2 hatch and the Mazda3 hatch, but at 1,535 mm high it’s taller than both hatchbacks.
With the long bonnet, rising belt-line and tapering roof, it has coupe-like proportions. It’s no Range Rover Evoque but the CX-3 gets close to evoking that sense of sportiness for the price, especially with the shallow glass area that wraps around the back. Those overlapping lines between the rear quarter windows and the blacked out D-pillars are a nice touch too, and you won’t find these on any other Mazda vehicles. It’s the CX-3’s own distinctive feature.
There are no roof rails on this small crossover, but the CX-3 does have the obligatory all-round unpainted plastic cladding down below, complete with a couple of semi-circle cutaways at the back for the dual chrome tailpipes to peek out of. Boosting that sporting credentials are the integrated roof spoiler and a shark’s fin antenna, and a set of ravishing 18-inch alloys fitted with 215/50 R18 Toyo Proxes tyres. Tempted by the CX-3 already? Don’t go the the Mazda showroom just yet. There’s plenty more to talk about here.
As you climb into the driver’s seat, you could swear you’ve seen the interior somewhere before. And indeed, you’re right. It’s lifted straight off the Mazda2. Good news if you like the Mazda2’s interior, bad news if you don’t. But we struggled to find anyone who doesn’t like the interior. It looks premium and nicely put together even though some materials feel cheap to the touch, like the hard plastic used for the dashboard.
The smart leather on the dash offsets the iffy faux carbon-fibre pieces, while the suede bits on the seats and door panels bring the sportiness into the cabin. The designers also put effort in their attention to detail, evident through the contrasting stitching, the red piping on the seats and on the gear lever boot, as well as the brushed metal inlays featured around the door handles and surrounding the gear lever base.
As with other Mazda vehicles, a number of interior components are shared throughout the range. The heating and ventilation knobs, the semi-digital instrument cluster and the head-up display, the leather-wrapped steering wheel with shift paddles, the 7-inch touchscreen monitor on the dash and the rotary knob for the MZD Connect system are some of the many items inherited from the other Mazdas. But as always, everything melds together in a very cohesive manner.
When it comes to interior room, front occupants get enough space with good support from the manually adjusted seats but the rear passengers are not so lucky. They will be squabbling for their share of real estate in the back especially when a couple of vertically blessed persons are occupying the front seats. There’s reasonable headroom at the back, but three adults wouldn’t want to sit abreast for long periods of time, and legroom is not what you can call generous at all. As with the boot too, offering just 350 litres of space, it’s far from class-leading.
On the other hand, Mazda is quite generous with the equipment. On the safety front, the CX-3 is equipped with six airbags as well as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control System (TCS). Comfort-wise, there are stuff like the keyless entry, push start button, cruise control, automatic climate control, lights, and wipers, a glass sunroof, and not forgetting that sexy combination of leather and suede upholstery.
While there’s nowhere else to hide your loose items from sight other than the glovebox, the CX-3 is still a practical car. There’s an overhead sunglasses compartment, six cup holders, ISOFIX anchor mounts, and the rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat when you need to haul more stuff.
The familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder SkyActiv-G unit has found its way under the CX-3’s bonnet, but in order to make it fit the compact engine bay Mazda had to redesign the intake manifold which brings down the peak output figures slightly. Despite that, the CX-3 is still the most powerful compact crossover among its rivals with 154 hp and 204 Nm of torque, while the engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, driving the front wheels.
No official performance figures were provided, but some sources report that in this specification the CX-3 takes about 10 seconds to get from 0 to 100 km/h, and it will top out at 200 km/h. There’s no official fuel economy claim either, but the almost similar powertrain is rated at 6.5 l/100 km in the Mazda3 hatchback.
In the face of changing their motto from “zoom-zoom” to “be a driver”, Mazda hasn’t strayed one bit from their mission in creating an enjoyable driver’s car. Initially, we didn’t expect much from a high-riding crossover but we were impressed by the CX-3’s fluent handling. Very little was compromised from the elevated ride height, you can still hustle it into corners and the CX-3 will take it with minimal body roll. Being just a front-wheel drive car isn’t a problem too, there’s plenty of grip but you do get some understeer when pushed too hard.
In general, the steering is light and feels more at home in the city, which is where the CX-3 will spend most of its time in. The suspension is comfortable and copes well with the patchy roads of Klang Valley, while the 50-profiled Toyos provide some pliancy to the already composed ride.
But probably the best bit about driving a small crossover is the raised driving position. Combined with the diminutive footprint of the CX-3, those graduating from an A-segment hatch shouldn’t have any problem acclimatising to the CX-3. The view out of the driver’s seat is good except around the back but the availability of a rear view camera means you can still reverse park like a champion. The high ground clearance should lessen the worry of kerbing the bumpers too.
Out of town and into the highway, the 2.0-litre engine delivers enough grunt to get you well ahead of the national speed limit but cruising refinements is not its best trait. The ride itself is fine, it’s just that the cabin’s sound insulation could have been better. Wind and engine noise can be an issue, especially when you need to work the engine out to overtake the slower vehicles on the highway.
Thankfully, the engine and gearbox is responsive to your commands. We’ve sampled the 2.0-litre and six-speed auto combo in other Mazdas before, while it’s been slightly detuned here in the CX-3, the characteristics are still the same. It’s a sweet (and vocal) revver and the ‘box will react to even the slightest change from your input to the throttle pedal. The shifts are smooth and you can always override it by nudging the lever to “M” or via the steering-mounted paddles. Meanwhile, flicking up the switch near the gear lever gives you the Sport mode where it will let you stay in the powerband by delaying the upshifts.
If there’s anything that spoils the fun in the CX-3, it’s the i-Stop system. Although to be fair, as with other cars we’ve tested, we are simply not a fan of stop start systems, unless if it doesn’t judder the entire vehicle whenever the internal combustion engine springs back to life. However, Mazda’s i-Stop system is one of the easiest to live with; just by modulating the pressure applied on the brake pedal you can keep the engine running while stationary. We do believe that it helps with reducing fuel consumption, because the car registered below 8.0 l litres per 100 km during mixed driving, which is not bad at all.
IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
If you’re a hip and trendy individual who loves driving and your main priority for a compact crossover is style, then you’re looking at a fine specimen right here. The peppy nature of the CX-3 means there’s that driving satisfaction to be had even though you’re running some chores around town in the CX-3, as long as you don’t carry much stuff in it.
However, the limited cargo space also means that some will find it hard to justify the CX-3’s purchase, particularly married couples with kids. If you need space, a rival with the “Power of Dreams” would fare much better, or if you must have a Mazda badge on your crossover, the entry-level version of the locally-assembled CX-5 makes much more sense and not to mention, its almost identical price tag.
In this category there’s actually a number of contenders to choose upon, but we’ve chosen the Honda HR-V and the Renault Captur because of the former’s undeniable presence on Malaysian roads and the latter’s launch date for being the nearest to the CX-3’s Malaysian debut. All three models here drive the front wheels with no option for all-wheel drive. And immediately you can see that the CX-3 is the most expensive car in this trio, but it does have the most powerful engine and it’s fun to drive too.
Honda’s more affordable price tag is not the only reason why it has won the hearts of the majority of compact crossover buyers in Malaysia. It’s the biggest on the outside and on the inside, and the 1.8-litre engine delivers adequate power for most people. If you’re keen on the HR-V, do read our full review of the HR-V to find out whether it’s the car for you.
What about the Captur, then? The asking price for the Captur is slightly less than the top spec HR-V, and it has the cheapest roadtax thanks to its 1.2-litre turbo mill. It’s also the most economical, averaging just 5.4 litres per 100 km. Unlike the CX-3 and the HR-V, the Captur is only fitted with four airbags, two less than the Japanese duo. However, most of the equipment list are on par with the CX-3 and the HR-V, such as keyless entry and push-start button, a 7.0-inch screen, ISOFIX mounts, LED DRLs and cruise control. Check out our first drive impression to find out more about the Renault Captur.
|Mazda CX-3 2.0L SkyActiv-G 2WD||Honda HR-V 1.8 CVT Grade V||Renault Captur TCe 120 EDC|
|Type||inline-4, DOHC||inline-4, SOHC||inline-4, DOHC turbocharged|
|Type||Electronic Power Steering||Electronic Power Steering||Electronic Power Steering|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic||CVT||6-speed dual-clutch|
|Front||MacPherson Strut||MacPherson Strut||McPherson Strut|
|Rear||Torsion Beam||Torsion Beam||Torsion Beam|
|Front||Ventilated Disc||Ventilated Disc||Ventilated Disc|
|Rear||Solid Disc||Solid Disc||Drum|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyre||215/50 R18||215/60 R16||205/55 R17|
|Wheels||18-inch Alloy||16-inch Alloy||17-inch Alloy|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT|
|Max Kerb Weight||kg||1,211 kg||1,249 kg||1,180 kg|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||Litres||350 litres||437 litres||377 litres|
|Tank Capacity||Litres||50 litres||48 litres||45 litres|
|Consumption||litres per 100km||N/A||6.6 litres||5.4 litres|
|Max Speed||km/h||N/A||N/A||192 km/h|
|0 to 100 km/h||sec||N/A||N/A||10.9|
WILL I BUY IT?
It’s easy to fall in love with the CX-3 by the sheer looks alone, but it’s also good to know when beauty is not only skin deep. It’s beautifully built on the inside but more importantly, enjoyable to drive. And with that in mind, it’s pretty easy to conclude that if I were to buy a compact crossover, the CX-3 will definitely be my choice.