The definition of the acronym SUV continues to expand. Manufacturers seem happy to slap the designation on such a broad spread of models, the term is on track to be nothing more than a tool of the marketing department.
From a marketing perspective, classifying a model as an SUV is a sure-fire way to generate interest in Australia, we are SUV-mad after all.
Nothing exemplifies the point more than the recently updated 2019 Mazda CX-3. It’s not an SUV in any traditional sense, yet it's undeniably popular with SUV buyers. We would designate the CX-3 as one of the most compact of crossovers. It’s closer in stature to a Mazda 2 than a CX-5. The laden ground clearance measurement of the CX-3 is only 12mm higher than the Mazda 2 hatch (155 and 143mm respectively).
While stature isn’t the CX-3’s forte, it sets the bar high when it comes to style. Like all modern Mazda designs, it has some genuine presence that will no doubt appeal to the fashion conscious. The aesthetically pleasing curves of the sheet metal give the little Mazda some serious clout in the battle for buyers.
A classy looking exterior is a must in a growing and highly competitive segment of the market, every mainstream brand has a dog in the fight. The Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Qashqai and the SsangYong Tivoli are all worthy of serious consideration if a small SUV is on your radar.
In something of an anomaly, we find ourselves piloting a CX-3 in Neo Sport guise, this is the entry trim level. Nabbing a base model press car is as rare as shark shit in the desert. With the automatic transmission, it’s listed at $23,790 plus on-road costs.
The standard equipment list includes autonomous emergency braking, rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, body coloured power mirrors, push-button start, electric park brake and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB+ digital radio.
From the outside, only the plastic covers trying to disguise the 16-inch steel wheels identify the Neo Sport as the range opener. All grades get a tweaked front grille for 2019 to keep things fresh.
More notable changes have been made to the CX-3’s interior, the centre console has been redesigned and now includes a padded armrest. Also elevating the level of comfort is the use of Urethane foam in the front seat cushions which provides greater support during long drives. For seats without electronic adjustment and separate lumbar support, they are remarkably comfortable.
Tall drivers will find negotiating the b-pillar during entry and egress annoying and those supportive seats are much closer to the ground than many would expect of an SUV.
Once inside, Mazda has delivered another thoroughly modern cabin adhering to minimalist principles with very few buttons. A splash of colour would be a welcomed sight to break up the monotonous dark tones.
Disappointingly, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not yet standard equipment, buyers can pay the dealer an extra $494.98 (recommended fitted price) to have the tech added to their car. While it’s not completely necessary, satellite navigation can also be added to the MZD Connect system for an additional cost.
These issues are only minor, the biggest concern is interior space. Again, this is a very compact crossover. The rear seat accommodation is tight, even with smaller adults up front.
It’s a similar story in the boot, the CX-3’s luggage capacity is only 264-litres. There is some added flexibility courtesy of a false floor in the cargo area to conceal valuables.
On the road, the CX-3’s drivetrain and chassis tune immediately prove why the car is as popular as it is.
Mazda engineers have reworked the engine to squeeze out some extra power and torque with outputs now rated at 110kW and 195Nm. In the Neo Sport, power goes to the front axle through a six-speed automatic transmission. There’s a high level of mechanical refinement on show here.
Throttle response is impressive, while the handling and body control benefit greatly from the car’s low centre of gravity.
Ride quality is respectable considering this is a car that leans towards a sporty suspension calibration. There’s also a predictable consistency to the way the CX-3 manages undulations on the road.
Around town, the CX-3’s diminutive proportions make it a pleasure to park, it’s going to find itself at home in the concrete jungle where its size can be fully exploited.
During a stint on the highway in inclement weather, the car’s noise, vibration and harshness levels were unexpectedly suppressed.
The pleasing level of performance offered by the Neo Sport didn’t adversely impact on efficiency. At the conclusion of our 560-kilometre test, the car displayed a combined consumption figure of 6.9L/100km which is only slightly above the official figure.
Mazda recently increased its ownership package by moving to a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and a capped-price service program that takes the car to 160,000km.
Most rivals are now offering 15,000km intervals between oil changes, however, the CX-3 requires maintenance every 12 months/10,000km with costs under the capped-price structure averaging $358 for each visit back to the dealer during the first five years.
The Neo Sport variant feels anything but an entry-level CX-3, with the dealer-fit smartphone mirroring option ticked, it will do what the majority of owners require it to do. While all grades carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating, moving up the range does open up more safety tech.
Stepping up to the Maxx Sport adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic headlamps and automatic wipers. It also brings 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, satellite navigation and a leather-wrapped steering wheel for an extra $1900 outlay. The Maxx Sport is the sweet spot in the range, and as such, Mazda expects it to account for 55 per cent of sales.
The CX-3 is another winner from Mazda, this is a brand with the Midas touch when it comes to SUVs and the 2019 model year is a stronger offering than the outgoing model. The impressive drivetrain and the improvements in cabin comfort are worth bragging about. Yes, an armrest is a big deal.
This isn't a model that resembles an SUV in any conventional way, it makes the most sense being shopped against small hatchbacks, buyers looking for a hatch to handle daily duties should definitely give it the once over.
Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport FWD Specifications
Price from $25,990 plus on-road costs (auto) Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol Power 110kW @ 6000rpm Torque 195Nm @ 2800rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 6.3L/100km Tank Capacity 48L Length 4275mm Width 1765mm Height 1535mm Wheelbase 2570mm Kerb Weight 1297kg Ground Clearance 155mm Turning Circle 10.6m Service Intervals 12 months/10,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre
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