A more spacious – if garish – interior
Small crossovers like the Mazda CX-3 are all the rage, and with good cause.
The upright seating position doesn’t only give you easier access to the seats and a better view when you get there, it also gives a more spacious interior thanks to the more upright seating position and taller roofline.
So the Mazda CX-3 should prove a boon to anyone who only needs a relatively small car but would appreciate the advantages a car like this offers.
However, the first surprise comes when you open a door. While the exterior of the CX-3 is discreet and beautifully finished, the interior shoves gaudy firmly to one side, bustling its way firmly into the realms of downright vulgar.
I’ve never been a fan of white leather, but when it's teamed with maroon leather trim and fake carbonfibre, you can count me very firmly out.
Luckily darker colours are available, although no one is ever going to mistake the Mazda’s interior for that of a Germanic car.
Which is a shame, because there is a lot to like if you can turn a blind eye to the colour palette. The majority looks to be constructed of fairly high-grade plastic, and while some of it feels cheaper than it looks, it’s well screwed together and is likely to prove robust and durable.
A lot of thought and careful design has gone into the ergonomics too, and neat little details abound like the wrist rest that makes using the rotary controller much easier and more accurate.
The interior is quite small, though. I did squeeze three not-very-tall teenagers in the back, but they all struggled for hip- and legroom.
The boot isn’t as big as a family would need either; you might fit luggage for two in there but three squishy medium-sized suitcases is about your limit.
It’s probably best to view the Mazda CX-3 as a two-plus-two rather than a full five-seater, then.
Sprightly, comfortable and precise
Otherwise, it’s all good news. The little Mazda rides and handles very well indeed, offering a decent balance between comfort and precision. The ride might be a little firm compared to some of its rivals, but the payoff is more sporting handling than the sector more usually offers.
The 118bhp engine didn’t feel as powerful as it might look on paper – especially given the car’s relatively lightweight – but it feels sprightly enough on the road even if the top-end punch that you sometimes need for quick, safe overtaking never really materialises. It can sound a little gruff, but only a little, and the overall refinement is very impressive.
Fuel economy to think about
Impressive, as is its parsimonious thirst. In a market where the claimed fuel economy and the real-world experience of owners can vary by a huge margin, the CX-3 returns 88% of the claimed fuel economy, which is a very welcome break from the norm.
Mazda eschews the current vogue for small, highly-tuned engines, preferring to “right size” its cars, believing that a larger, unstressed engine can return better real-world fuel economy than a smaller engine that has to be ridden hard to get any semblance of performance.
It might be right too; the 42mpg that CX-3 owners are experiencing in everyday use is, let us not forget, one that would have been the sole preserve of a diesel-engined vehicle in the not-so-distant past.
With petrol engines like this - and the current diesel-engine woes being endured by the industry, a state of affairs driven solely by its stupidity and greed - the days of the oil-burning passenger car could be closer than we think.
The CX-3 might look expensive compared to its rivals, but it is well equipped.
There are some deals to be had in the showrooms but you can forget about trying to haggle thousands off the sticker price; industry reports suggest that you might be about to get a thousand pounds or so off, but larger discounts simply aren’t being offered.
Four ways to save money buying a new car
Power – 118bhp
Torque – 150lb ft
0-62mph – 9 seconds
Top speed – 119mph
Kerb weight – 1,155kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 47.9mpg
Honest John real world fuel consumption – 42mpg
CO2 emissions –137g/km
VED class – Band E
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,200kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £20,495
Price as tested - £21,965
If you need a supermini-sized crossover then the Mazda CX-3 is well worth exploring. It rides and handles well and should reward its owners with decent fuel economy into the bargain. Four-wheel-drive is available, but you might not need it…
The best of the rest
If you do need four-wheel-drive, then the Suzuki Vitara is the car to go for. It’s tough, rugged and fantastic to drive.
The Dacia Duster is very cheap to buy and moderately cheap to run. If you can live with a Soviet-era interior, they’re almost indestructible and can be bought with a seven-year warranty.
Buying a secondhand Mazda CX3
The mildly updated Mazda CX-3 arrived in UK showrooms in spring 2018.
Featuring upgrades to the i-ACTIVSENSE safety systems plus the introduction of G-Vectoring Control (GVC), some subtle suspension revisions, and more sound insulation, the changes were relatively minor.
While there is no doubt that the new model is the (slightly) better car, choosing the old one could save you around £7,000 on a like-for-like basis - and the only tangible drawbacks will be a few thousand miles on the odometer and the number ‘67’ on the registration plates…