When Mazda unveiled their Furai concept to a slightly aghast world in 2008, I think it’s fair to say that nobody could have predicted just how influential its design would be on a small crossover in 2015.
And yet, it doesn’t take a sleuth, super or otherwise to draw a pretty-straight line from the Furai to 2011’s Shinari concept to this CX-3 we have on test here; all benefactors of Mazda’s Kodo (Soul of Motion) design philosophy. And that’s probably for the best; evergreen MX-5 aside, the last twenty years or so saw Mazda’s offerings slide increasingly into a kind of beige dullness. But not now.
The CX-3’s look is dominated by that trademark five-pointed grille and a pair of reptilian headlights that peer out from their hidey-holes that have apparently been slashed into the CX-3’s bodywork. And that’s the feeling you get with the whole CX-3 design; they’ve put lines, creases and curves precisely where they wanted to, and then tasked their team of experts to come up with elements such as lights and vents that mustn’t impinge on the initial design.
Inside the CX-3, the design strategy continues and there are angles and lines going in all kinds of directions. The dash features some Audi-esque, roundel air vents with a streak of polished metal running between them via the middle of a well hidden rectangular vent. Even the carbon fibre-effect plastic (usually my bugbear) that’s dotted around the cabin is tactile and inoffensive; might not sound like anything to write home about, but there’s some real effort put into making the CX-3 a pleasant place to just sit and take in the view.
It’s not just the CX-3 interior’s aesthetics that are impressive, though; it’s all about the quality, too. The soft touch plastics, high-grade of leather in our range-topping Sport Nav model, and robust feel of knobs, dials and switches would embarrass some of the more ‘premium’ brands’, never mind those of Mazda’s perceived peers. Mazda wanted the CX-3 to have a more premium feel than the Juke, Mokka, or pretty much any other small crossover you car to mention, and I think they’ve achieved on that score.
There’s a choice of two petrol engines (118bhp & 147bhp) or the 103bhp diesel engine that came in our test car and is surely going to prove most popular (even if it is a bit clattery when cold) thanks to Co2 emissions of just 105g/km and over 70mpg claimed returns. Surprisingly, you can opt to have your CX-3 with all four wheels being powered, but that’s reserved for the highest spec Sport Nav models, as is the more powerful petrol unit; I wouldn’t expect to see many AWD CX-3s gracing a school run near you soon.
There’s definitely more of a feeling of sitting in the CX-3, rather than on it, as many of these little SUVs’ seating positions suffer from. Steering wheel and seats are adjustable in a multitude of directions, leaving you more integrated into the whole experience as you look out over the oversized central tachometer. There’s room for four adults to sit in the CX-3, and I mean in a fair degree of comfort without slouching or anything, but as is usual with this type of car, the boot weighs in at just 350 litres.
You can opt for a 6-speed automatic in your CX-3, but when the 6-speed manual available is as good as this one, I wouldn’t bother. It’s short, definite action is so sweet and MX-5-like that it adds a sense of fun to an otherwise run-of-the-mill drivetrain. Stop/Start is standard across the range but be prepared for a slightly unnerving delay when restarting if it’s very recently activated.
The CX-3’s ride does a decent balancing act between comfort and handling; it’s grippy enough to keep you interested, without getting crashy and uncomfortable over bumps. Don’t go expecting GTi rivalling abilities, though, as that raised suspension does have a tendency to bounce over uneven surfaces.
The small crossover market is big business and it doesn’t show signs of abating. The CX-3 is bold enough to stand out from the crowd, though, and it feels like a quality, well thought out piece of kit.
Specifications; Mazda CX-3 1.5 105ps 2WD Sport Nav Diesel, Engine – 1.5l diesel four cylinder, Transmission – 6 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 103bhp, Torque – 270Nm, Emissions – 105g/km CO2, Economy – 70.6mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 110 mph, Acceleration – 10.1s 0-62mph, Price – £21,895 OTR, £23,235 as tested.
The Mazda CX-3 is available now, go to; www.mazda.co.uk