25 September 2016

Review: Mazda CX-3

When I first drove the Mazda CX-3 on its international launch last year, I mused on the relative merits of the 2.0 petrol and the 1.5 diesel powerplants, writes Brian Byrne. The diesel has been as expected the biggest seller here, but for this review I’m driving a petrol version.

And I have to say, it reinforced my growing appreciation for the nominally less efficient ‘old school’ of petrol power, especially in cars at this segment point.

This is Mazda’s smallest SUV in a range of three globally, two in Europe (the large CX-9 7-seater is not available here, but my son in the US drives one and likes it very much indeed). In an Irish context, the small SUV is growing, is competitive — big hitters here are Opel’s Mokka and Puegeot’s 2008, for instance, and Renault’s Captur and Dacia’s Duster are up at the top of this tree — so for Mazda to be now in the space is important for the brand’s own growth here.

On that, it didn’t make the Irish company’s own expectations last year, which was mainly related to the time of the year it arrived, but so far this year sales are building nicely for them.

In the first instance the CX-3 is a very good looker, pulling on what Mazda dubs its Kodo design theme, so there’s no mistaking the car’s family pedigree beside other current models. Though based notionally on the Mazda2, like many such derivatives it actually sits closer to the Mazda3 above it. It won’t be mistaken for a lot of the others out there.

The inside is very Mazda, of course. And the review car, which was at highest level of spec, had a very tasty leather interior in black and off-white, which livened up nicely what tend to be darkish interiors from the brand. The quality of finish, outside and in, are as always from Mazda, exemplary.

I have, I know, been less than enthusiastic about Mazda’s instrumentation design in their cars at this level. But the truth is, the more I drive them, the more used to them I become. As there was a head-up display for speed and a couple of other things, I actually spent little time hunting around the dials and the top of dash screen. On that latter, management of its infotainment features was easily done with the rotary knob between the front seats.

It’s a spacious car in its place, to the point that I’d take it for myself against the larger CX-5 if given a choice. It offers the space and feel of a car a segment up from where it is notionally positioned. Excellent boot space too.

As I found on my original run in the CX-3, the ride and handling on a variety of road conditions proved superb. And the refinement people have excelled in providing a very quiet vehicle indeed, even on the kind of surfaces that we have in Ireland.

Which brings me back to the engines question I posed last year. Why is there not a 1.5 petrol option, as in the Mazda2? The brace of 2.0 petrols are 120/150hp, and do give the car a sporting oomph. But in a car that falls between supermini and compact, it’s a little too big for Ireland. Sure, there’s just a €90 difference in Road Tax between the petrol and the diesel. But I know people will balk at the petrol’s size, however frugal.

Having said that, I found the review car a real pleasure to drive, and practically quite frugal. There are four grades, with a starting price of around €21,000. The review car came in at over €26,000, but with much that was attractive.