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Mazda CX-3 shares much with its Mazda 2 baby brother
Mazda goes Juke hunting with its Skyactiv-generation baby SUV, but the rapidly expanding segment has other rivals to keep in mind now too
What is it?
A revised take on the supermini-sized, sort-of SUV, one that Mazda hopes will put some distance between the CX-3 and a constantly expanding field of competitors.
When it arrived in 2015, this competent crossover was something of a jack of all trades. It looked the part, drove well and was fairly economical, but didn’t really excel in any one area at a time when various rivals were championing practicality, value, and sheer niche appeal.
That’s set to change with this facelifted version, which has received a slew of mechanical upgrades in addition to visual tweaks and interior additions.
New coil springs and dampers have been fitted to the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension to sharpen the handling, the electric power steering has been retuned to be more responsive and the size of the front stabiliser has been reduced to improve roll response. So more than just a prettier face, then.
Driven this week
It’s also the first model to get Mazda’snew 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel engine, which replaces the 1.5-litre unit found in the outgoing model. Efficiency boosts come courtesy of revised multi-stage injectors and egg-shaped pistons, which make for better combustion. However, with 85% of UK customers opting for the petrol derivative, we’ve concentrated on that instead.
The 2.0-litre, four cylinder unit is available in either 119bhp or 148bhp outputs, and can be mated to a six-speed manual or an automatic gearbox. It’s tested here in its entry-level potency, combined with the automatic ‘box.
In the UK, the petrol CX-3 can also be equipped with four-wheel drive, but front-drive models like our test subject will almost certainly be the bigger sellers.
What’s it like?
Putting a greater focus on driver engagement creates a lofty goal, especially for a car category not renowned for its dynamism, but the CX-3 manages to impress on the road.
The steering may not be as sharp as Mazda’s sportier offerings, and lacks any real road feel, but it is nevertheless pleasingly weighty. It handles weight transfer without any dramatic pitching, and cornering is largely confident. Body roll isn’t as noticeable as some rivals, but is still there should you go searching for it.
The suspension tweaks have delivered a ride that’s still firm, but one that’s able to absorb shocks and imperfections without seriously unsettling the car.
The rev-happy petrol engine makes you feel like you’re making swift progress, but the encouraging sound can be deceiving; peak torque has long gone by the time you reach the high end of the rev range.
Engaging Sport mode sharpens up the throttle response, but makes the automatic transmission even keener to hold onto gears for as long as possible before shifting up. Manual shifts feel sluggish, but in a category dominated by downsized turbo motors, the CX-3’s naturally aspirated engine still has plenty of charm.
The diesel version delivers reasonable pace, with the small turbo working hard to maintain power. It’s refined at a cruise, but a little strained once you ignore the upshift indicator. The six-speed manual ‘box delivers clean changes with minimal force.
Inside the cabin, the CX-3 retains a premium, but not quite luxury vibe, with plenty of soft-touch plastics. The 7in infotainment screen hasn’t quite kept up with slicker rivals, and while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are welcome additions, they are available as an option rather than standard fit. Swapping the handbrake for an electric parking brake has saved space in the centre console, making room for a padded armrest.
Rear passengers get an armrest of their own, complete with cup holders, but leg room is still less than rival crossovers.
Exterior changes for 2018 are minor, meaning the CX-3 is best described as handsome, yet restrained. The slightly more prominent front grille and black trim around the pillars and fog lamps keep things fresh, though Mazda’s Kodo design language is far more subtle than rival crossovers.
Should I buy one?
As far as compact crossovers go, the CX-3 was already one of the more engaging ones, and the latest raft of updates have helped Mazda to pull even further ahead of the pack.
It can be rewarding, yes, but is still constrained by the mechanical restrictions of its bodystyle. As such, Autocar readers expecting true engagement may find it lacking.
The eye-catching Citroën C3 Aircross and Toyota C-HR continue to make more of an initial impression, and the Seat Arona is still the better all-rounder, but the CX-3 is now confidently the better drive – if only in the context of its class.
Mazda CX-3 Skyactiv-G 2.0 specification
Test location Andalusia, Spain Price £22,695 On sale October Engine 1998cc, 4cyls, petrol Power 119bhp at 6000rpm Torque 152lb ft at 2800rpm Gearbox 6-spd automatic Kerb weight 1213kg Top speed 116mph 0-62mph 9.9sec Fuel economy 46.3mpg CO2, tax band 140g/km, 29% Rivals Seat Arona, Nissan Juke, Kia Stonic
Driven this week