First Drive: Mazda CX-3 1.5 SKYACTIV-D 105PS Sport Nav 4WD Auto Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

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

£18,995 when new
Published: 18 Mar 2015


  • BHP


  • 0-62


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  • Max Speed


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.


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.

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.

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