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First Drive: Mazda CX-3 1.5 SKYACTIV-D 105PS Sport Nav 4WD Auto (2015-2015)

£18,995 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£18,995
Brake horsepower
105bhp
Fuel consumption
70.0mpg
0–62 mph
10.10s
CO2
105g/km
Max speed
110Mph

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What’s this?
 
It’s the little brother to Mazda’s likeable CX-5 crossover. This CX-3 is a smaller, supermini-based car squarely aimed at the Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka.

The CX-3’s handsomely proportioned, chunky body sits on the platform of the new Mazda 2,
which is Good News. We’re fans of the 2’s deft handling and general
cheeriness, brought about by a hefty dollop of Mazda’s weight-saving
‘SkyActiv’ engineering.

It’s Mazda’s philosophy of saving weight to improve agility and help the ozone layer, too. It’s paid dividends not just in the new MX-5 roadster - which we expected to be a hoot - but the 2, 3 and 6 family too. So, a
tidily styled crossover on those underpinnings promises to be a very
good little car.

Well?

Sounds silly, but there’s
good news about the CX-3’s drive before you so much as start the engine.
Still intent on perfecting its ‘horse and rider in harmony’ mantra, the
CX-3 embarrasses all its rivals for driving position adjustment. The
steering wheel telescopes and raises generously, and the supportive seat
goes pleasingly low. Immediately, you’re that bit more integrated into
the car, not perched up on a barstool.

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And once you have
actually set off, the CX-3 is a decent steer. The controls haven’t been
over-lightened, so you appreciate the weighting of the quick steering
and direct, short-throw manual gearbox. It resists understeer more
gamely than some rivals, and grips stubbornly. It’s quite firmly
sprung at the rear though - the CX-3 reacts to bumps like a
front-suspension mountain bike, by cushioning the front axle but
bounding up at the rear.

You’re not exactly going to take it for
a dawn thrash on a Sunday, but the Mazda’s easily as capable as the
Juke. Just with a better driving position.

What about the engines?

Only
three to choose from. The 1.5-litre turbodiesel is a vocal
four-cylinder unit that develops 105bhp and 199lb ft, good for a claimed
70mpg and 105g/km. The petrols defy convention by shunning turbos,
Mazda adamant that its 2.0-litre engine in 118bhp or 148bhp tune is the
smarter choice in ‘the real world’, thanks to sharp throttle response
and more realistic fuel economy.

Weirdly, the petrol engine is
happiest at low revs, where you find moderate shove but little noise. A
cursory trip to north of 4000rpm summons a thrashy drone from the motor -
not that pleasant. And sure, the turbo shove of a VW Tiguan is a mite
more convenient. It’s not a deal-breaker, just something you have to
adjust your driving style for.

And on the inside?

Mazda
has got its head down and set about improving the cabin quality. The
CX-3’s basic dashboard is lifted straight from the 2 supermini, which
itself owes a tip of the hat to the MX-5. A good start, then.

The
dials, head-up display and air vents are clustered tightly around the
view ahead. There’s the usual ‘floating’ touchscreen standing atop the
scuttle, and recent improvements to the iDrive-style rotary controls
have made navigating it that bit more user-friendly.

Dubious
material choices marginally blight the cockpit - textured plastic mimics
a sort of carbonfibre effect, and there’s other plastic masquerading as
metal. But it does feel driver-centric and sporty, with lashings of red
to lift the ambience without looking contrived.

What about space?

More
than a Nissan Juke or Vauxhall Mokka, and on a par with the Renault
Captur and even funkier Citroen C4 Cactus. Children will have no
complaints, and four adults on-board is possible without leg cramp and
cricked necks. Boot space pitches in at 350 litres, but our main bugbear
is a side-effect of the styling.

That arching beltline and the
chunky rear pillars look ace, but they conspire to limit light into, and
visibility out of, the CX-3’s rear. Dead behind is okay, but the
over-the-shoulder view is irritatingly limited. Mind you, the Jeep
Renegade and Nissan Juke suffer exactly the same annoyance.

Enough to put you off?

Certainly
not. Looking smart is half the battle won for a titchy crossover, but
the CX-3 holds cabin space, well-judged equipment and good handling to
help strengthen its case, despite the price: the cheapest CX-3 comes
loaded with toys like touchscreen-nav, cruise control, heated electric
mirrors and 16-inch alloys, but costs from £17,595. Bold move. A
fully-loaded automatic diesel CX-3 sporting all-wheel drive, LED lights
and intelligent wipers knocks on the door of £25k.

It’s a
crowded class, this jacked-up supermini game, but even with that price
tag and those noisy engines, Mazda has stormed into the mix with a
proper contender.

What do you think?

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