Mazda’s name might be most associated in the UK with a sporty little two-seat roadster but for the last decade it’s be pouring efforts into carving itself a share of the SUV market. The early CX-7 was a rare sight on our roads but its replacement – the CX-5 – has been finding favour in increasing numbers and the CX-3, launched in 2015 is helping establish the brand as a serious player in the market.
Mazda CX-3 GT Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 137g/km
It’s a handsome little(ish) car. Mazda set a lot of store by their Kodo design language, and rightly so. Its clean lines and sharp details make for a strong look that stands out in a crowded segment.
Our test car’s looks were boosted by the styling kit that comes with the GT Sport trim. Unique front, side and rear skirts and a black rear roof spoiler give it just a touch more presence on the road.
The GT Sport level is based on the Sport Nav model but adds unique 18-inch alloys and full Nappa leather upholstery to a healthy list of equipment which includes the likes of auto climate control, cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and start, and a premium Bose sound system linked to the seven-inch touchscreen with navigation and internet-linked apps.
The CX-3 is available with a 104bhp 1.5-litre diesel or a 2.0-litre petrol with either 118bhp or 148bhp. Depending on the engine tune, there’s the option of two- or four-wheel drive and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Having sampled the petrol in 148bhp four-wheel-drive guise and 118bhp two-wheel drive, I reckon the less-powerful, front-driven model is the one to go for.
Even on horribly wet roads the two-wheel-drive variant didn’t struggle for grip or control compared with the all-wheel-drive model. Unless you regularly experience conditions that really need drive at every corner it’s probably worth saving your money.
That also means you can have the 118bhp petrol which doesn’t feel nearly as down on power as the stats would lead you to believe. It feels lively and responsive and provides sufficient power to move the CX-3 along well. Thanks to its lower kerbweight it’s only 0.3 seconds slower to 62mph than the more powerful 4WD version and it seems quieter and more refined.
On the road the CX-3 lives up to the sporty part of its SUV title. It’s nicely composed on challenging roads and steers quickly and directly with well controlled body roll. The ride is firm but not unduly so. The only letdown is steering that’s light enough for urban manoeuvres but lacks weight and feedback at higher speeds.
Mazda’s interior design is one of the cleanest and most coherent in the industry. The CX-3’s cabin resembles a scaled down CX-5 or scaled-up Mazda 2 with simple lines and easy-to-use controls. Particularly with the Nappa leather on the seats and dashboard plus nice metallic styling and touchpoints, the cabin of the GT Sport car looks great.
It’s not perfect, though. While it’s easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat you feel perched high up, partly down to the car’s height but also a seat that doesn’t adjust far enough down. And although there’s decent space in front, the rear seats are cramped.
The CX-3 won’t win any prizes for refinement either, with noticeable noise levels once you get above urban speeds. It’s not a dealbreaker but feels a little at odds with the otherwise high-end feel of the cabin.
Those niggles aside, the CX-3 offers a sharp-looking, well-equipped alternative to the big boys in its segment.