Anton Andres / Anton Andres | March 14, 2018 09:09
Putting sport over utility
What happens when you give the design brief for a B-segment crossover to Mazda engineers?
For starters, you can expect them to work on driving dynamics and make it as fun to drive as possible. Then they'll give it an engine that's efficient and has good power for its size. And lastly, they'll wrap all that engineering know-how in a sleek, stylish body.
It looks like that's exactly what Mazda did when they were planning out the CX-3. We tested one two years ago and our editor-in-chief was hugely impressed with its playful, involving driving dynamics. Needless to say, we didn't expect less from Mazda when it came to the fun to drive factor.
Now, there's the updated model and now packs what they call G-Vectoring control. Will the CX-3 be sweeter the second time around?
The CX-3 is a striking little crossover to look at. From its sharp-looking front end to the pinched tail, it puts the sport in sport utility from a design standpoint. Its front fascia follows the brand's current 'Kodo' style philosophy and it works well here. Sharp lines, complemented by a large grill, give it some presence. Quite the feat given how tiny the CX-3 is when seen in the metal.
One of my particular favorite styling cues in the CX-3 is its fenders. It's got creases and lines to be sleek but they didn't overdo it. Even the unpainted plastic cladding on it looks well matched to the car's body. Plus, that coke-bottle window line is a nice throwback to the past. Overall, it's a cohesive piece of design that mixes svelte and aggression. It's daring styling done right, I say.
As for its cabin, it's best described as minimalist; familiar even. If you've stepped inside a Mazda2, the design appears to be largely similar, right down to the circular air-con vents. Of course, there's the now signature floating screen on the center part of the dash, giving off a bit of a European car vibe. Further enhancing that feeling is the rotary dial in the center console who's look may remind people of a certain German automaker.
Sit in front and there's a driver-oriented feel to the cockpit. The dash wraps around you and the high window line makes it feel like you're hunkered down in the seat even if you set it to the highest position. Materials are mostly nice to touch but the hard plastic on the dash and doors kind of let it down a bit. Still, the parts where you put your hands the most feel solid and of high quality.
While there is seating for five, I do have to point out that the CX-3 isn't the most spacious crossover out there. There's no other way of saying it: The accommodations are tight in there. Now, I'm not a tall person at all (5”4') but if the person in front is at the 5”8' mark, my knees are practically hitting the front seat. You could even say that the rear seats are a token and for use only when absolutely needed. Toe room is pretty lacking too and cargo space is really reserved for two overnight bags or light groceries at most. Ironic, given that it's a crossover.
At least the CX-3 makes up for the shortcomings under the hood. This little hatchback (sorry, crossover) packs a 2.0-liter engine with Mazda's SkyActiv-G technology. With 148 PS and 198 Nm under the hood, it's one of the most potent B-segment crossovers out in the market today. It sends its power to all four wheels and shifts via a six-speed automatic transmission. The self shifter aside, it has the makings of a sporty ride.
And sporty, it is. Mazda makes one of the best electronic power steering systems in the market today and it's reflected in the CX-3. There's feel and feedback when you turn the wheel; a refreshing feeling in today's world of overboosted steering assists. The car lets you know where the wheels are pointed the whole time with little to no numbness. Couple the driver involvement with the G-Vectoring control and the CX-3 is more hatchback than crossover.
With its smart torque management system and all-wheel drive, handling is unflappable. You can bring it up winding roads secure in the knowledge that the car won't let you down and just give up grip. The G-Vectoring system pulls you out of the corner while the all-wheel drive keeps you planted. Of course, the secure and involving drive means the ride is on the firm side, but it's not spine busting at all and very much daily drive friendly.
I do have to point out another thing about the CX-3. While this variant is the all-wheel drive version, it's recommended not to stray too far off the beaten path. It sits low to the ground, a little too low for those who expect more clearance. A quick trip along a dirt path saw the front end coming perilously close to the ground. The again, you could argue that most crossover owners don't really go off-road and one of the toughest obstacles it will face are those high speed bumps in Bonifacio Global City.
Power delivery from the 2.0-liter engine is sprightly. No, it's not a hot hatchback but a large-capacity engine motivating such a small vehicle makes passing and merging on main roads a breeze. It pulls the strongest in the mid-range of the rev band but a light foot on the accelerator will be enough to get you to highway speeds.
What's more impressive is it's fuel economy. Thanks to its light body, the CX-3 delivered 8.2 kilometers per liter in heavy traffic (average speed of 16 km/h). Considering the fact that this 2.0-liter engine is saddled with an all-wheel drive system, that result shows that a large engine doesn't necessarily mean poor fuel economy.
Yes, the Mazda CX-3 is a fun car to drive. If driving dynamics and involvement is your priority, then this is a car to shortlist if you're in the market for a crossover. However, at Php 1,600,000, there's no denying that the CX-3 is an expensive option in its segment.
At that price point, it's also within an earshot of entry-level, two-wheel drive pickup-based SUVs. Yes, they're in completely different segments but if we're talking practicality, the CX-3 has a long way to go. Its biggest challenge however isn't from its rivals or from the midsize SUV crowd. The stiffest competition of the CX-3 comes from Mazda themselves and that's with the larger, more practical CX-5.
Perhaps it's best to sum up the Mazda CX-3 as a niche product. Compromised, yes, but it's a pleasure to drive.