New Wheels on the Block

Buying a new car can suck.

With so many choices now flooding the Australian market in almost every segment, it’s not hard to become overwhelmed with the choices available to consumers and with every dealer clamouring for their slice of the automotive sales pie.

Luckily, I had already made a list of criteria that my new car had to have which, hopefully, would make the choice a little easier. And so it was that I found myself seated behind the wheel of a dynamic blue Mazda CX-3 sTouring for my first test drive of the new small SUV.

With SUV sales increasing dramatically over the past few years (35.4% of the Australian market in 2015, a 4% increase alone over 2014) and Mazda taking out second place for both overall sales (9.9%) and individual model (Mazda3 at 38,644 units), it’s not hard to see why Mazda chose to introduce their latest offering into a burgeoning market.

One only has to look at the outside of the CX-3 to see how the Mazda philosophy of “Kodo” has shaped the new model. With raked back lines, an aggressive grille, glass c-pillar and large wheels, it’s not hard to see how Mazda has taken the “Soul of Motion” philosophy to heart.

There’s no doubt that this is a good looking car.

Inside the good looks continue with comfortable “Maztec” seats (a funky sounding marketing term for trim that actually combines vinyl and cloth), ample front seat room, and an innovative dashboard with a large tachometre that grabs the eye but also displays speed readouts (not that you’ll be using it much — speed readouts are captured and displayed on a small Heads Up Display that avoids the need to look down and away from the road).

Bells and whistles about in the upper spec CX-3 sTouring, with climate control, Bluetooth©, iPod connectivity via two USB ports, rain sensing wipers, auto-on headlights and, most importantly, the brilliant MZD Connect system. Faux carbon fibre panels, soft to touch walls and dark hues complete the interior scheme.

The MZD Connect system is a fantastic new “command centre” for the new Mazda CX-3 range (Maxx and up), combining entertainment, fuel economy monitoring, navigation and reversing camera into one touchscreen that sits prominently in the middle of the dashboard. A silver rotary wheel with control buttons with clear BMW styling aspirations sit between the driver and the passenger and is able to control the whole system in addition to the steering wheel mounted controls.

In terms of space, the CX-3 is by no means the biggest kid on the block. Sharing a common wheelbase with the Mazda2 (albeit taller and slightly lengthened), it suffers from similar rear seat passenger constraints. But for a car that’s aimed at the young couple or single driver rather than the large family with kicking-the-back-of-the-seat-whilst-driving-you-insane children, the rear seats shouldn’t be an issue for short hops with passengers.

Boot space is ample with a 60:40 split folding back seat that translates into a competent amount of storage space that easily held my mountain bike (264L). The CX-3 does come with a clever hidden storage compartment in the rear boot made from a “false floor” that can be removed and put back again. Safety is another tick for the Mazda with a well earned five star ANCAP rating.

But let’s get back to driving.

Pressing the start button, the motor ignited with a minor vibration. The salesman assured me this was normal and would dissipate once the engine warmed up. Easing down the accelerator, the car moved off with a refined ease and I began my test drive.

The Mazda CX-3 comes with a punchy little SKYACTIV 2.0 litre petrol engine available in FWD or AWD that generates 192Nm of torque at 2800rpm, as well as a 1.5 litre turbo-diesel with 277Nm of torque between 1600 and 2500rpm. Mazda claims that the petrol engine can deliver an impressive 6.1L/100km however one does have to wonder how much they were feathering the throttle to achieve that result. The best that I have managed after six months of driving is 6.5L/100km which is still quite impressive from the small SUV.

Whilst it certainly isn’t the most powerful car on the market, the CX-3 delivers a good range of useable power that I found enjoyable and easy to use during my test drive around the suburban streets. Zippy with little noticeable lag, the CX-3 hummed through the streets as I sat listening to some awful Justin Bieber song on the radio. Talk about setting the wrong mood for a weekend drive!

One thing that the CX-3 does have up its sleeve is its fantastic “Sports mode”. This is delivered via a small toggle switch at the base and allows the engine to hold gear rations for longer, resulting in a surprisingly fast and aggressive driving experience — one that took me for a ride when I engaged it down a suburban street. Just don’t be surprised when your fuel consumption starts creeping up.

It’s not surprising that the CX-3 took out motoring.com.au’s 2015 “City Car” Award given its easy drive and reactive nature. The small SUV’s transmission handles changes in driving conditions with ease, the gear changes barely noticeable, the brakes gentle yet firm with plenty of stopping power should it be required and I found the steering light and quick to react.

One feature that will divide fans and critics alike is the inclusion of the new Mazda i-STOP feature on their vehicles. This feature switches off the engine when the car comes to a complete stop — say, at a red light — thereby supposedly saving fuel and emissions. It’s an interesting concept and I agree that it takes a certain amount of getting used to however I can’t say that I’ve had an issue with it — as long as you remember to allow the engine to switch back on before you try to accelerate!

Mazdas have long been critiqued as suffering from excessive cabin road noise and I tend to agree with this assessment when on the open highway. There is an amount of road volume when at higher speeds however nothing that would stunt conversation or require an excessive amount of volume increases on the stereo. Around town, where the CX-3 really shines, this noise is barely noticeable and shouldn’t cause an issue.

For a small SUV trying to find its place in an already very competitive segment, the Mazda CX-3 is definitely on the right road. Not as spacious as some of its competitors might have some buyers pausing, however those with smaller families or wanting a car just for themselves would do well to put this model on their list of potential purchases. More importantly the starting price for a CX-3 Neo 2.0L FWD petrol with a 6 speed gear box of $23,392 + ORC makes it very worthwhile indeed.

Pulling back into the dealer lot, I checked my list of “stuff” I wanted my new car to have. Good looks? Check. Lots of technology? Check. Able to hold a mountain bike for all those trips I’ll probably never get around to doing? Check.

Most importantly, grin factor?

Check.

As tested — Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD 2.0L petrol auto @ $30,616 + ORC

What we liked:

· Attractive looks

· MZD Connect system

· Punchy engine and nimble chassis

What we didn’t:

· Smaller boot space than competitors

· Above average road noise

· i-Stop takes some getting used to

Sales Data — FCAI

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