CAPE TOWN – These days, South African buyers looking for a B-segment crossover are positively spoilt for choice, with various compelling products – from the Renault Captur, Hyundai Creta, Suzuki Vitara, Ford EcoSport and Toyota C-HR – on offer. But, according to the past six months of Naamsa sales statistics, it's clear local buyers have taken a particular liking to the Creta and EcoSport.
Still, the Mazda CX-3 has averaged a commendable 318 registrations a month over the same period, proving a popular seller for the local arm of the Japanese brand (and not far behind the larger CX-5 in terms of sales). And now the crossover has been handed its second mild update since its launch to the South African market in December 2015. While it remains a good-looking compact crossover, we're here to ask whether it still has the substance behind its styling to maintain an edge over many of its competitors.
Some minor changes, then…
The Hiroshima-based automaker has opted for subtle changes both inside and out, with the current generation of Mazda’s signature Kodo design language still shining through. Noticeable exterior additions include new LED daytime running lights, revised dual-colour 18-inch alloy wheels and new black fog-lamp bezels, while the shield-like grille has gained metallic grey inserts. Chrome-look strips running along the lower nose as well as the side sills are perhaps an acquired taste, while round back the dual-exhaust exits remain, joined by LED taillamps now standard on Individual and Individual Plus models.
The sporty interior is near-identical to that of the Mazda2, while the leather-trimmed front armrest is a welcome addition (and something that was missed on CAR’s CX-3 long-termer). Under this armrest you'll find an additional set of cup holders, while the conventional hand-brake lever has been replaced with an electric parking brake switch. Overall, the cabin is well finished and seems solidly screwed together. Indeed, compared with the likes of the latest EcoSport, the CX-3 has a distinct edge in terms of perceived build quality. Still, a slush-moulded facia top would've been a welcome touch for this flagship Individual Plus model.
Any changes to the drivetrain?
The 2,0-litre naturally aspirated SkyActiv engine remains in service (here mated with a six-speed torque-converter transmission), with an unchanged peak power of 115 kW on tap at 6 000 r/min. Maximum torque, meanwhile, increases two units to 206 N.m, which is on offer at 2 800 r/min. Available exclusively in front-wheel-drive form, the CX-3 does experience a small degree of torque steer under hard acceleration from a standstill. Overall, the engine performs admirably, settling down nicely at the national speed limit with the large centre tachometer reading a hair under 2 500 r/min in sixth gear.
On the road
Mazda says the CX-3's suspension has been recalibrated fore and aft to offer a more compliant ride. While it's difficult to pick up on such nuances, the front axle certainly does a good job of soaking up bumps, despite the low-profile rubber wrapped round the 18-inch wheels. The rear, though, feels harder-edged, with the torsion-beam setup resulting in a sometimes restless ride quality over rough surfaces and sharp road imperfections.
The gearbox is alert to throttle inputs, swiftly changing down one or two gears when necessary, and operates smoothly at lower city speeds, too. One criticism is that on the open road the gearbox does not always make the best use of the engine's available torque, changing up what feels a little late. I thus often found myself using the paddle shifters to zip into top gear early.
Sharing its platform with the Mazda2, the CX-3 is not the largest in the segment; rear space is just about adequate for six-footers while the boot is class average. While four adults can fit comfortably, over longer distances the rear is better suited to children.
Still, there are a few small touches that make this crossover's cabin a comfortable space in which to spend time. For example, the interior sports a total of eight cupholders, while two USB ports will help prevent arguments about device-charging priorities. Soft-touch door inserts and leather-padded arm- and knee-rests are likewise welcome additions, improving overall comfort. A proper sunblind is also offered, allowing occupants to completely block out the harsh African sun when needed.
What about price and spec?
In Individual Plus guise, the CX-3 costs R404 200 ... which seems rather pricey. Indeed, for this sort of money, a larger base-spec CX-5 Active or Volkswagen Tiguan 1,4TSI Trendline could be had. The significant outlay does go a long way though, with an impressive list of standard equipment. The Individual Plus model features adaptive LED headlamps, auto-folding mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear emergency braking and driver fatigue monitoring. Other standard features available here (and on the R389 400 Individual Auto model) include a powerful seven-speaker Bose sound system, a head-up display, leather seats, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with navigation), a sunroof and a reverse camera with park distance control.
This updated Mazda CX-3 serves as a timely reminder of just how well accomplished the little crossover is. The fine tweaks and additions of this otherwise mild facelift are well considered and certainly add to the CX-3’s appeal, ensuring it will continue to sell well here in South Africa, despite a lack of engine options (the absence of a turbocharger may also discourage some buyers).
But for a young family, the CX-3 covers many, many bases. While this well-specced Individual Plus derivative seems expensive on paper, it just about justifies its price with an extensive standard specifications list. That said, there's better value to be found lower down the range.