The CX-3 is Mazda’s baby SUV from their CX designated SUV lineup sitting alongside the CX-5 and CX-9. It’s an easy mistake to assume each model is the same albeit in a larger or smaller size but that’s not the case at all. They all come with their own charming signature characteristics and the CX-3 is no exception. We’ll be taking an in depth look at the range-opening sub-$23k CX-3 Neo to see what Mazda got right with this entry level incarnation of the popular SUV.
When it comes to looks Mazda’s design team keep delivering the goods. Given the CX-3’s small size they’ve managed to apply the current Kodo design styling to great effect. If there’s a major reason the CX-3 is so popular with buyers there’s more than a good chance it’s the looks that sealed the deal over competing offerings. The CX-3 Neo misses out on alloy wheels that the higher grades enjoy which can be had for an additional $290, an option which I’d easily consider to tie the whole package together.
It’s on the inside that the CX-3 Neo makes its departure from the higher grades known and felt with an abundance of plastic materials finished in black used throughout. For such a cheery and bright car on the outside we’d expect that style to flow through to the interior but sadly this isn’t the case.
There are some splashes of metallic silver on the door handles and gear stick surround but it’s not enough to overpower the sea of black cloth and plastic. Body colour coordinated cloth door trim inserts would have made all the difference here.
Dash glare is also more pronounced on sunny days due to the dark complexion of the interior. It’s the vinyl-like finished steering wheel with plastic inserts that will constantly drive home the cost cutting nature of the Neo to owners. That said it’s a comfortable wheel to grip with Mazda’s traditional ergonomic button layout. There’s enough room on the wheel for another button which is why I’m left scratching my head as to why the trip computer is still operated by the instrument cluster mounted stalk, having to reach behind the wheel every time to jump between the available screens gets tedious.
From the driver’s seat there’s a good deal of adjustability that allows a low seating position if desired. It’s also worth noting that the seats are more than comfortable for longer trips and offer adequate support to hold you when pushing through the corners, which the CX-3 encourages with its surprisingly enthusiastic handling.
Sorely missing from the CX-3 is a place to rest your left arm, the center console sits low and out of the way leaving a void for weary elbows. For the hefty price of $494.08 the option of an armrest console can rectify this but it’s not easy to justify that kind of money for a swiveling box of plastic with some padding.
Passengers in the rear will have plenty of head space thanks to the tall roof line, however leg space is compromised and sitting three full grown adults across could cause a mutiny for unsuspecting drivers. The middle passenger cops it the worst thanks to the transmission tunnel bump for optional all-wheel drive models (not available in Neo grade).
There’s a pair of isofix mounting points for booster seats which is always welcome, but older children will struggle to enjoy the view out the side as the window sill sits high up restricting visibility.
The CX-3 comes with 60/40 split folding rear seats that extend the boot capacity from the tiny 264 litres up to 1174 litres. In the boot there’s also a removable tray that sacrifices the flat boot floor for some depth when moving bulky tall luggage.
Visibility for the driver is exceptional in every direction except the rear window; that tiny window and higher SUV ride height make backing out harder than need be. There’s no factory fitted reversing camera in the Neo which for a family orientated car is an oversight. Mazda has attempted to make up for this with the addition of front and rear smart city brake support as standard as well as reverse parking sensors and while an improvement, neither are a substitute for increased visibility and awareness. There’s no blind spot monitoring and you won’t even miss it thanks to the huge mirrors which provide excellent visibility when merging.
If it were possible to drive the CX-3 with your eyes shut you’d still be able to tell that you’re driving a Mazda. It has that distinctive sports car-like handling that graces all Mazdas. Turn in is quick, with the car weight progressively loading up the suspension which settles into the corner.
There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from driving the CX-3 through Australia’s more dynamic roads and all models of the CX-3 now benefit from Mazda’s G Vectoring. Take it beyond the suburbs and the chassis begins to communicate back to you while the wheel gives constant feedback and a solid feel. It’s no MX-5 but for a tiny SUV to achieve dynamic handling of this level is a real credit to Mazda’s handling technicians.
The ride is firm and on poor roads the harsher bumps let themselves be known in the form of a busy ride. Around town the CX-3 doesn’t miss a beat, the tight turning circle makes navigating cramped alleys and carparks effortless and precise.
It’s not a glutton on fuel either. Mazda indicate an official combined figure of 6.1L/100km where we managed a close 7.5L/100km. Great news for those who like to get the pedal down and move in a hurry without destroying their bank account in the form of fuel bills.
There’s a total of 109kW available once the 2.0-litre petrol engine spins up to 6,000rpm which is plenty of fun with just the driver and enough for a fully loaded CX-3 to stretch it’s legs when overtaking at freeway speeds. Peak torque of 192Nm comes on early at 2,800rpm, making the high compression four-pot SKYACTIVE-G an engine that responds well down low and delivers acceleration once pushed.
You’ll definitely know when you’re using that power, too, as the CX-3 lets in a fair bit of engine noise throughout the cabin and once the speed picks up the road noise from the tyres becomes apparent. Mazda has made efforts to improve noise insulation over the previous model but there’s room yet for further refinement.
On the features front the entry level CX-3 Neo won’t be dazzling you with the latest wonders technology can provide, that doesn’t mean that it’s equipped like a rock either. There’s Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary audio connectivity, cruise control, keyless proximity start, rear parking sensors and most importantly forwards and rear smart city brake support.
At $2,400 more the CX-3 Maxx is tempting with its collection of superior toys and it shows as it’s the more popular model out of the showroom. That said, the Neo covers the basics and improves driver convenience with its limited but focused feature list.
Design and Comfort: 8/10
Performance and Handling: 8.0/10
Equipment and Features: 7/10
The Mazda CX-3 has some serious competition to fend off in the ever evolving small to mid sized SUV segment and it’s made a solid impact with buyers so far. The new updated model takes all that made the pre-fecelift model a hit and improves the package further with an assortment of minor alterations.
Well priced with great looks and surprisingly enjoyable handling characteristics make the CX-3 stand out from the crowd and absolutely worth a closer inspection despite the minor interior gripes.
- Rewarding and engaging driving experience
- Stylish design
- Sporty ride
- Solid fuel economy
- Lack of reverse view camera
- No left arm rest for driver
- Road and engine noise noticeable
2017 Mazda CX-3 Neo FWD Automatic Price and Specification
|Price (Excl. on-road costs):||From: $22,490|
As tested: $22,490
|Warranty:||3 years/unlimited kilometers|
|Country of Origin:||Japan|
|Service Intervals:||12 months/10,000km|
|Engine:||2.0-litre SKYACTIVE-G four-cylinder petrol with stop/start|
109kW @ 6,000rpm, 192Nm @ 2,800rpm
|Power to Weight Ratio (W/kg):||90.8|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 6.1 / Tested: 7.5|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||48|
|Body:||5-door SUV, 5 seats|
|Safety:||5-star ANCAP, 6 Airbags, Forward/Reverse Smart City Brake Support, ABS, ESC, TCS, EBD|
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4275/1765/1550/2570|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,282|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 1,200kg / Unbraked: 640kg|
|Entertainment:||4-speaker AM/FM stereo, Bluetooth/USB/Aux input|