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Mazda CX-3 review

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What is it?
First serious Mazda entry in burgeoning B-segment crossover market.

Key features:
Distinctive looks, premium feel, sporty performance.

Our view:
The Mazda CX-3 boasts the right blend of practicality, sportiness and an upmarket feel in a distinctive package.

Mazda is on a major growth programme right now – the last couple of years have seen a host of new models from the Japanese brand, all boasting the combination of the ‘Kodo – soul in motion’ family design language and the SkyActiv powertrain and chassis technology that have made Mazda cars far more efficient.

Already this year we have seen a new Mazda2 and in August the much-awaited all-new MX-5 roadster will launch, but what the brand has not had up to now, and which it needs if Mazda is to again break the 50,000 UK sales a year barrier, is a contender in the currently hottest sector of all – B segment crossovers.

Enter the Mazda CX-3, a smaller sister to the CX-5 that has already proved a major success for the brand. While the CX-5 is Mazda’s answer to the Nissan Qashqai, the CX-3 will rival the Nissan Juke.

Mazda UK’s managing director Jeremy Thomson sees the CX-3 as a car to bring customers to the brand from a host of rivals, including he believes the German premium marques. “Customers are very segment loyal but they are not manufacturer loyal,” he says.

“The Vauxhall Mokka for example, only 13 per cent of owners would consider other Vauxhall models, so you have to have a compelling model to retain your existing customers while appealing to the conquest element.”

This he believes he has in the CX-3, which is built on the underpinnings of the Mazda2 supermini. “There are two types of B SUV, those that are coupe orientated and the much taller SUV type. We are in the former group – our car has a long bonnet, with sporty, sharp looks, but in dimensions similar to its rivals.”

The CX-3 certainly does present a distinctive stance, the Kodo family style instantly recognisable in the front-end treatment, the wraparound windows and ‘flying’ roof. And this according to Thomson appeals to Mazda buyers who traditionally do not want to follow the crowd in their choice of vehicle.

It certainly looks a lot more sporty, a lot less big SUV than rivals, but once you slip behind the driving seat you still feel as if you are sitting in a high-up, commanding driving position.

The dash will be familiar to those who have sat in a Mazda2, which is no bad thing because it is a very effective environment – the right amount of controls, easy to reach in a sensible layout.

And in similar form to the 2, the standout impression of the CX-3 cabin is quality. Thomson makes no secret of the fact that he expects the car to appeal to a premium audience – its price reflects that, significantly more than perceived rivals such as the Renault Captur or the segment-busting Nissan Juke. And it shows in the car – leather and chrome detailing abounds in an interior that feels distinctly plush.

In terms of space, front-seat passengers will have no worries, there is plenty. The coupe style and the fact that this is based on a supemini floorpan, if longer, wider and taller in its overall dimenions, does translate to a rather more cosy rear, while boot space, at 350 litres (extendable to 1,260 with the rear seats folded) is adequate rather than generous.

Much has been written about Mazda’s SkyActiv technology, which has taken a different stance to achieving the right balance of performance, economy and emissions. In the CX-3 it is expressed in three different engines – a 2-litre petrol in 119 or 147bhp variants, and a 1.5-litre diesel with 104bhp. All but the smaller petrol are available in front or all-wheel drive, and all but the larger diesel are also offered with an auto gearbox alongside the six-speed manual.

The Car Expert tried out the 119bhp petrol and the diesel, both in front-wheel-drive form. Both are competent units, with the eco credentials that are essential in todays market, but it is the petrol engine that impresses the most. It’s an eager unit that suits the CX-3 image of a sporty crossover. Against it the diesel feels a little more course, a little more laboured.

This is greatly aided by a highly responsive chassis. The CX-3 holds the road really well, staying upright through bends despite its high shell and gripping with confidence, though the slighlty firm ride does make itself felt in the cabin on less than smooth road surfaces.

The CX-3 launches in three trim levels, SE, SE-L and Sport Nav (the first two also offering Nav options), and at prices ranging from £17,595 to £24,695. Highlights of the standard equipment on entry-level models include 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, power-folding mirrors, see-me-home headlamps, manual air conditioning, a seven-inch touchscreen-based multimedia system that includes a DAB radio and app integration, cruise control with a speed limiter.

Move up the range and extra niceties are added such as parking sensors on mid-range models and a reversing camera on the top Sport mode, heated front seats, auto wipers and lights, and perhaps most impressively the Active Driving Display, a very effective head-up display in front of the driver.

Overall, the Mazda CX-3 ticks plenty of boxes. It boasts the right blend of praticality, sportiness and an upmarket feel, in a package that is usefully distinctive in a market rapidly becoming congested. It should do well.

Mazda CX-3 – key specifications

Models tested: Mazda CX-3 2.0-litre 120hp 2WD Sport Nav, 1.5 105ps 2WD SE-L Nav
On sale: June 2015.
Range price: £17,595-£24,695.
Insurance group: 13E-19E
Engines: Petrol 2.0 x 2, Diesel 1.5.
Power (bhp): 119/147, 104.
Torque (lb/ft): 150/150, 199.
0-62mph (sec): 9.0*/8.7, 10.1*.
Top speed (mph): 119*/124, 110*.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 47.9*/44.1, 70.6*.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 137*/150, 105*.
Key rivals: Vauxhall Mokka, Renault Captur, Nissan Juke.
Test Date: June 2015.
* With manual gearbox

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.