HIROSHIMA, Japan – There has never been a better time to be in the market for a small SUV/crossover. There are offerings from Ford, Renault, Nissan, Suzuki, et al and buyers can choose any model that suits their needs and tastes perfectly – although I suspect brand loyalty remains the decisive factor in most motorists’ purchasing decisions…
And now, for the first time in its history, Mazda will offer a small SUV to South African buyers: the all-new CX-3. It may only go on sale in a few months’ time, but CAR was fortunate enough to sample the newcomer in Japan ahead of its local introduction.
What is it?
As is the case with many of its rivals, such as the Ford Ecosport and Renault Captur, the CX-3 has a unibody construction and is based on the platform of one of its brand’s other products. In the case of the CX-3, it’s the Mazda2 light hatchback, with which it shares its underpinnings, right down to the wheelbase.
The newcomer’s exterior design was inspired by Mazda’s Kodo design language. The ornate headlamp clusters feature striking LED accents and the cab-forward design is quite evident in the CX-3’s profile. The slim side-glass execution lends it a dynamic edge.
In keeping with the SUV-styled theme, the Mazda’s side sills and lower sections of the bumpers are kept black, which works particularly well in combination with a white paint finish. Suffice to say the CX-3 has the prerequisite raised ride height and chunky wheels. In my opinion this is one of the better-, if not the best-looking, vehicles in its class.
The CX-3 also borrows the Mazda2’s interior treatment, which is a boon. The facia design is stylish and finished in high-quality materials. The interior is not only very user-friendly and practical; based on my initial impression, it’s arguably class-leading.
Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system with a 7-inch full-colour touchscreen is standard on the CX-3, but if you and your front passenger aren’t enamoured with touchscreens then you can revert to using the rotary controller positioned between the front seats. The driving position is quite high and offers good all-road visibility.
Under the skin
For the foreseeable future Mazda Southern Africa (MSA) will only offer the CX-3 with a 2,0-litre, normally aspirated, inline four-cylinder engine. The powerplant is similar to the SkyActiv unit utilised by Mazda3 models; it develops 115 kW and 204 N.m of torque.
Initially the 2,0-litre engine will only be offered in combination with a six-speed automatic transmission. This is an astute move, because it means that the CX-3 will be one of a few self-shifting models in its segment, which could make it a popular choice.
On the go
At Mazda’s Miyoshi proving ground I was given the opportunity to drive a slightly lower-spec (88 kW) CX-3, with the automatic transmission that’s destined for the local market.
The first on-road attribute that I noticed was a relaxed ride quality, which was probably flattered by the test unit’s large profile wheels. The automatic transmission has a smooth shift quality and you can easily opt for a gear that you find suitable (rather than let the ECU decide) by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Even though the UK-spec car I drove produced 27 kW less than what the local model will, it offered as much performance as most small SUV buyers should need. I therefore believe the 115 kW version will prove more than adequate for local conditions.
Mazda has been in the ascendancy in South Africa since the brand’s local distribution became independent from Ford’s a few years ago. Since then, we’ve seen a number of commendable product introductions from the Hiroshima-based manufacturer.
In a recent CAR comparative test, the CX-5 2,2 DE Active beat a popular Korean rival and on other occasions, we’ve found Mazdas very competitive in other market segments.
The CX-3 is yet another model that will help Mazda re-establish itself as an alternative to established, volume-selling brands on the local market. Not only is the small SUV/crossover very good looking, but the CX-3 will offer buyers an automatic transmission, which other automakers will be taking close note of.
Power:115 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque:204 @ 2 800 r/min