If there is one thing we really like about Mazda as a carmaker, it's how they stick to their DNA... their unique identity. The CX-5 started this trend, providing a unique blend of crossover practicality and daily driven pleasure. They followed it up with the Mazda6, the Mazda3, the MX-5, and the Mazda2; all of which deliver the unique driving flavor of the Hiroshima-based outfit for their respective classes.
Now Mazda has a new one, and they call it the CX-3; the smallest crossover in the line, one that has a personality that we never expected of it.
Of course it looks like the rest of the members in the family, utilizing a newer interpretation of Mazda's design philosophy. The grille, the headlamps, the shape of the fenders, the character lines; all are hallmarks of the automaker known for zoom-zoom. They call it Kodo, and it always looks cool no matter what model they applied it to. I particularly liked the CX-3's greenhouse; the blacked out C-pillars gives the illusion that the roof is floating, a great contrast to the color: Ceramic Mica.
It's a crossover, and so it adopts the 2-box, 5-door format. Initially, I actually thought the CX-3 is the counterpart of the Mazda2 subcompact, much in the same way that the CX-5 is the crossover counterpart of the Mazda6. But no; this is a crossover that blends the strengths of the 2, 3 and CX-5, but is more closely related to the two cars. I say that because it measures 4275mm long and 1765mm wide; dimensions that are almost squarely in between both the 2 and 3. There's 160mm of ground clearance with an overall height of 1535mm; just a hair taller than the 2 (152mm) but less than the 3 (165mm) and significantly lower than the CX-5 (210-215mm).
Step inside and, well, it's very familiar if you've been in any of Mazda's more recent models, particularly the 2. The CX-3 has a minimalist approach to a vehicle's interior; one that is devoid of unecessary clutter on the dashboard. It's clean, crisp, and straightforward; things you want in a car. The good thing about having a family-look to your whole line up is you can just hop into one and just go, but sometimes I do look for a little bit more diversity.
The clean dashboard is a result of the unified control system just beside the parking brake, doing away with many of the many individual buttons in favor of a hat-switch/knob and just a few things to press. Bluetooth is standard along with a heads-up display system, digital gauges, and a big analog tachometer.
The cabin and seats are all finished in leather with some suede, and that's good; it looks proper for a Mazda. Again, this is more related to the Mazda2, meaning it's quite cozy and snug. The good thing is that there's a bit more space for cargo, especially with the rear seats down.
The real surprise with this top-spec CX-3 is its powertrain. The body and cabin may be more related to the 2 in terms of dimensions, the engine is very much related to the 3: a 2.0-liter twin cam 16-valve straight four with SkyActiv tech. What that means is this lightweight small crossover has some decent thrust: 148 PS is more than plenty for a car that weighs just 1290 kilograms. Even more curious is the torque; it's less than the Mazda3 at 192 Nm but it comes in much earlier at 2800 rpm, meaning this should be far more economical. And the gearbox is a 6-speed automatic, and comes with a new i-Activ all-wheel drive system, something we'll truly test out later.
In city driving, the CX-3 really gets the job done. As expected, the short-wheelbase crossover with the capable sport suspension is firm on the bumps, but it's not jarring; there's still a fair bit of damping there. I like the ease of maneuvering around tricky city streets, especially if Waze takes you on a traffic-avoiding adventure through old and tight roads.
But it's the fuel economy that was incredibly surprising. In the city, the CX-3 was clocking 8.8 kilometers to a liter (22 km/h average). The abundance of low-end torque (like a diesel, somewhat) means you don't have to rev higher than 1800 to 2000 rpm just to get going, and there's plenty of acceleration when you start getting closer to peak torque at 2800 rpm. On the highway, it's also very beneficial: 14.7 km/l at a brisk average speed of 93 km/h. The fuel tank is a bit deceptive though, as the meter runs out quickly given the 44 liter tank.
Where I truly enjoyed the CX-3 is on a twisty road; and I have two to choose from on the way home. The CX-3 handles uphill drives without breaking a sweat when taken casually, but it can really come alive if you decide to flick the Sport switch for the gearbox; activating a program that holds the gears longer for more acceleration and speed. On the downhill, the CX-3 exhibits more of the same qualities, not to mention a good set of achors to scrub speed before entering corners.
The crossover feels far more surefooted than I expected thanks to the all-wheel drive system. The i-Activ AWD anticipates what the driver wants based on inputs via the wheel and the throttle pedal, and allocates torque to all four wheels as needed. What that does is makes you feel like a better driver, giving you more control, more traction, and more stable cornering. Yes, it's quite fun tossing this around a winding road.
Enjoyable as the CX-3 was, it's not perfect. For starters, there's the price. This being the top variant, it comes in at PhP 1,480,000 makes it tricky to justify, especially since the much larger and taller CX-5 is just PhP 15,000 more. But moreover, this is classified by Mazda as a crossover, but doesn't have the ride height to clear road debris that would force its brothers (the Mazda2 or 3) to take evasive action. I expected more of a crossover, but instead what arrived was more of a hot hatch.
Still, it's loads of fun.