Mazda seems to be on a roll lately, serving aces one after another. First it was the CX-5, then came the new 6, 3, 2 and now, the much anticipated compact crossover Mazda CX-3 is debuted, a little over a year after its global expose at the LA Auto Show. The new CX-3 shows off a new evolution of the KODO design language that first saw light in the CX-5 a couple of years ago, with an overall sharper and keener front end.
As with all new Mazdas, the CX-3 also gets the SkyActiv treatment that encompasses the chassis, transmission and power plant. However, unlike its older brethren, the CX-3 makes do with a slightly detuned version of the company’s SkyActiv-G 2.0-liter mill that is good for 154hp @ 6,000rpm and 204Nm @ 2,800rpm (as opposed to 162hp/210Nm for the current Mazda 3). Mazda’s SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed autobox with torque converter is tasked to deliver all that power and torque to the front driven wheels. As this is a CBU unit, the CX-3 comes with i-Stop idling stop system as standard. It remains to be seen if (and when) the CX-3 eventually gets localized (CKD) whether or not Mazda Malaysia would leave or remove the i-ELOOP feature like they did for most of their locally assembled models.
Being a mere 4,275mm long, the new Mazda CX-3 is a true compact crossover, where you won’t easily mistake it for its larger sibling (CX-5 – 4,539mm) even though they inherently share their base DNA. It is also quite a bit lighter than the CX-5 too, weighing in at only 1,211kg compared to the 1,457kg CX-5 2.0 2WD.
On the aesthetic front, the new CX-3 as mentioned embodies a more evolved KODO design language, as well as being equipped with one of the latest LED lighting system ever incorporated into a Japanese mass mobile as yet. Adaptive front LED headlights follow you around as you turn the steering wheel to keep your path properly and constantly illuminated even while negotiating a bend. Daylight running lights light up in the day to alert other motorists of your presence while LED rear lights perfectly complement the overall snazzy appearance of the car. Shod with 18-inchers, the test car came with low profile Toyo Proxes rubber in 215/50 R18 configuration. Overall, the CX-3 ticks all the right boxes as far as looks and kit are concerned, and Bermaz has played their cards right to spec the car according to the demands of the young and trendy target market. As is the norm for CBU Mazdas, the CX-3 also sports a sunroof, automatic wipers and powered wing mirrors; such luxuries may not make it to the CKD model in future, just like what happened to the 3.
Taking a look inside, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of déjà vu as the CX-3 is so closely related to the Mazda 2 that it seemed like all they ever did was to blow out the wheel arches and raise the car a couple inches while curving out the roofline to create a new model. In essence I may be right, but upon closer appreciation I felt that the CX-3 was quite a bit larger than the 2 in spite of the shared chassis.
One trick to give a car apparent “space” is to raise the roof to alter perception. As a result, the test car didn’t feel as cramped when compared to the Mazda 2 with a much sportier roofline. It is at the back though that the CX-3 could not hide its humble underpinnings. Rear space is just about adequate for people under 170cm but if you’re above that height you’re out of luck. I certainly wouldn’t recommend riding at the back for long journeys as the rather straight up posture will punish your lower back immensely. And the rear space is a definite no-no for claustrophobes due to the swooping rear windscreen. Having said that, I am going to venture a guess that Mazda didn’t specifically target overweight, taller than average, married with kids prospects for their new compact crossover. Rather, I can see how a single young man or woman would want something chic and snazzy such as this beauty to bring along to clubs and other fancy places to impress their mates. Putting space (or the lack thereof) aside, one can’t help but fall in love with the beautifully appointed interior trappings that embodies the lifestyle of a Zoom-Zoomer.
Finely crafted leather trimmings with red stitching adorn the compact but purposefully spartan dashboard. A large 7” infotainment screen takes centerstage, flanked by retro-styled air vents. The seats are a complex mix of smooth and perforated leather and suede, while the door panels get red stitching too. Other parts within the dash and door trim areas are also laced with aluminium inserts for a mix of luxury and modernity seldom found in mass production Japmobiles. Once you’ve been inside a Mazda you will then realize just how pedestrian everything else is. Mazda cars have hands down the best interior design and quality that rivals every other mass brand up to the RM200k mark, and can be said to be nipping at the heels of Lexus in terms of cabin quality. Even the infotainment system is far superior than anything the competition could possibly muster. The included 6-speaker setup is tight, controlled and very musical with an expansive soundstage that is punchy without being overbearing on the overall tonality. That’s another nail in the coffin for aftermarket audio installers who are almost extinct now.
Out on the road, the CX-3 behaves itself very well, turning in tightly when asked. Handling more like a compact sedan rather than a crossover, the CX-3 deserves praise for its neutral steering and pleasant demeanor, even though it does have a mean streak when that pedal hits the metal. Such is the technical wizardry of Mazda’s tech team that their engines can perfectly behave themselves one minute while transforming into a fire-breathing dragon with the slightest provocation while overall returning a combined fuel economy figure of a mere 8.5l/100km or 11.76km/liter.
An output of 154hp to move a 1.2-ton vehicle makes for spirited driving. The 6-speed autobox is spaced well enough to negate hunting in between gears, but there was that odd once or twice that I felt my gear choice was more appropriate. I suppose that’s why they slapped on a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Surprisingly, the cabin was quieter than the CBU Mazda 3 that we tested a few years ago; so I reckon a few years of improvements have worked well in favor of the new baby. A nifty little lever under the gear column lets you choose between Normal or Sport modes, which essentially alters throttle and gear change behavior.
The linearity of the CX-3 in the straights and the nimbleness around corners showcase the superiority of Mazda’s handling department, in spite of it being a MacPherson front and rear trailing arm combo. I suspect the excellent, low-profile Toyo Proxes tyres played a major role in keeping the CX-3 from getting out of line in quite a few occasions. However, a modern sedan will probably out-corner the CX-3 because of its height disadvantage, but comparing apples to apples, and having tested both the HR-V and this, I can say the latter takes corners more assuredly and faster than the former. Failing which, hard punters will rest assured with the inclusion of all the major acronyms (ABS ,EBD, EBA, TCS, DSC, HLA and ESS) to keep them safe and sound. 6 airbags made by a factory other than Takata are actively waiting to cushion you and your loved ones from harm in unforeseen circumstances.
At a little over the RM130,000 mark, the CX-3 isn’t for the weak of heart. At this price segment, the competition is wide open, body styles notwithstanding. This new baby crossover is touted as a worthy challenger to the throne currently held by the HR-V, but even with all its luxurious appointments and sportier design and handling, will the CX-3 be able to rock the compact crossover boat in meaningful numbers? In the current challenging environment, many a Mazda fan could be looking the other way due to a lack of funds in spite of Mazda’s apparent superiority and premium segmentation. Aside from the prohibitive price (which will come down when the CKD program kicks in), the Mazda CX-3 is indisputably the most beautiful and competent compact crossover you can buy for under RM140 Grand.
Text and images: Greg Yang