Mazda CX-3 (2015) First Drive

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Mazda has joined the compact crossover battle with its striking CX-3. Is it good enough to take on other players in this hotly contested segment?

When it became clear that Mazda would split from Ford a few years ago, the brand initially faced what appeared to be an uncertain future in South Africa. But worry no more... With a raft of new products launched during 2015, ranging from an all-new Mazda2, Mazda3 as well as revised CX-5 and BT-50 bakkie, the brand currently offers a comprehensive line-up that has placed it on a solid footing. The all-new MX-5 has shown great promise too, and we were impressed with the refreshing simplicity of this roadster. To end off 2015, Mazda South Africa launched its CX-3 compact crossover.

What the CX-3 is not is a Mazda2 on stilts. Mazda’s boss and marketing team were at great pains to point this out. It is, in fact, an all-new vehicle featuring the best from the Mazda parts-bin. Market trends have indicated that this segment is dominated by front-wheel drive petrol derivatives which is why there’s no diesel or all-wheel drive model, for now.

At launch there are three models to choose from, all featuring the same engine. You have the option of either a manual or automatic gearbox on the first two models, while the top-spec is only available in automatic. We started off in the entry-level Active CX-3 and first impressions were good.

Engine and Economy

Let’s talk about that engine first. Mazda has shunned the global trend of small-capacity turbocharged engines and has instead focused on refinements to its naturally-aspirated powerplants. SkyActiv is the umbrella term for some clever engineering to produce good power with reasonable claimed economy. We’ll be able to test these economy claims soon enough.

The engine pushes out 115 kW and 204 Nm as mentioned earlier, with the CX-3 returning a claimed consumption figure of 6.1L/100km. You have the option of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. At the launch we drove the automatic and we found it smooth, but in Sport mode it would only change much higher up in the rev range which works with the free-revving nature of the engine. Top spec models get shifting paddles behind the steering wheel.

The Drive and Practicality

The cabin, in terms of build quality and refinement, is particularly impressive, and we think the competition cannot quite match the under-the-skin efforts that have gone into the CX-3. The first stretch of the launch route took us out on the open highway, before making a turn into the Winelands and through the demanding and dynamic Helshoogte Pass near Stellenbosch. Our route included some good quality tarmac, as well as roadworks and in both scenarios the Mazda CX-3 coped well.

The car you see here is the entry-level version with the smaller wheels and the key difference between this and its siblings is the interior. This one doesn't have the smart-looking infotainment system and has a fairly normal RDS radio setup which is adequate. Mazda vehicles are generally well equipped and despite the Active being the entry level version, there’s enough gadgetry and convenience features in there to keep most people happy. If you’re wanting more, the price jump to the next derivative isn’t frightful either. See below for details on pricing and standard specification.

Space in the cabin is good for the front passengers, but we reckon the back is a bit tight particularly if you’re a tall adult. The boot space is rated at 262 litres which is small for vehicles in this class. You can expand that to around 1 200 litres when you fold the back seats down.

There’s a good dose of safety features thrown in across the range. Front, side and curtain airbags are standard across the range, as is ABS, EBA and EBD. Interestingly Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is available on automatic models only, which is disappointing.

Quick Summary

At first glance the Mazda CX-3 offers generous specification and the most powerful engine in the segment. The ride is also good, despite riding on sporty alloys. It's going straight into a hotly contested section of the car market and will be taking on the likes of the Opel Mokka, Renault Captur, Honda HR-V and Ford EcoSport. You can't discount the plucky Renault Duster either, which offers a diesel engine and the option of all-wheel drive. The Duster cannot, however, match the build quality of the Mazda. The Mazda CX-3 has a lot going for it and we'd probably be able to forgive its small boot as the vehicle does come with a full-size spare tire. If you're after practicality, the Honda HR-V is the one to beat, which is why we've got a shootout of both the Honda and the Mazda planned for the coming weeks.

Mazda CX-3 Price in South Africa

Mazda CX-3 2.0L Active - R254 900 (Auto 2.0L - R270 400)

4 speakers
Alarm system
Cruise control
Front Seat armrest
Halogen headlights
Hill Launch Assist
Manual Air-conditioning
Power fold mirrors
R16" alloy wheels
Seat Lifter (driver)
Seat material (Cloth)
Segment radio display
i-STOP (on Auto model)
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)- On Auto model

Mazda CX-3 2.0L Dynamic Manual - R277 900 (Auto 2.0L - R 288 400)

6 Speakers
Auto headlights- On/Off
Climate Control Air-conditioning
Front fog lamp
Leather steering wheel, gear, handbrake
Mazda connect with commander
Parking sensors (Rear)
Rain sensing wipers
Sunglass holder
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)- On Auto model

Mazda CX-3 2.0L Individual Auto - R 325 900

7 Speakers
Bose sound system
Head up display (HUD)
Leather & cloth seat combination
LED headlights
Integrated Navigation
Power sliding and tilt glass sunroof
Rear camera
R18" alloy wheels
Rear combination lights