- Awesome (optional) diesel
- Great value Maxx and sTouring
- AEB included across the range
- It's tight in the back seat
- Petrol could be stronger
- Small and deep boot cavity
It’s Australia’s best-selling small SUV – and when you’ve got a good-looking, well-priced, best-selling model on your hands, you don’t make big changes. Enter this mid-life facelift for the 2017 Mazda CX-3: a conservative mix of updates that changes little outside, but helpfully boosts the CX-3’s safety credentials and alleviates many of the model’s refinement issues.
Only trainspotters will notice different wheel designs and indicator graphics – but Mazda assure us that’s deliberate. Market research leading up to the facelift showed that potential buyers already like the way this little truck looks – and so the handsome lines went untouched.
It’s the compelling addition of autonomous emergency braking across every CX-3 model – with more advanced safety tech standard further up the range – plus a little softening of the suspension, and the addition of quite a lot of new sound insulation – that has turned a good runabout into a really easy-to-recommend small car.
The AEB update is significant for Mazda: by fitting city-speed autonomous emergency braking to every CX-3, the brand can now say each of their mainstream passenger cars has standard auto braking. Only the MX-5 convertible and BT-50 ute miss out. It’s a claim few other brands can make.
Indeed, it goes a step further: like the larger CX-5 mid-sizer and CX-9 seven-seater, the CX-3’s AEB works in both drive and reverse. That’s admirable, given how taller SUVs can easily obscure children and animals sitting behind them on driveways.
Otherwise, better sound deadening, softer suspension bushings and torque vectoring technology – which have tidied up the CX-3’s urban ride – are about the only changes under the bonnet. There’s no change to either motor – the volume-selling, 109kW two-litre petrol is adequate and thoroughly inoffensive, and it returns acceptable fuel economy.
But it’s the hearty 1.5-litre diesel that steals our heart. The oiler makes up a very slim slice of CX-3 sales, but it’s much more enjoyable, flexible and frugal than the petrol. Mazda are keeping the diesel around as a hedge against a sudden increase in petrol prices – an event that always drives sudden interest in diesel options.
The CX-3 brings in about 1,500 sales per month in Australia, and Mazda’s hope is that the update will keep them in the number one spot, with monthly sales holding steady. Impressively, more than 90% of buyers skip the entry-level Neo – the only scantly-equipped car in the range – largely in favour of the second-level Maxx, which gets most of the tech you’d want, like a touchscreen with navigation, blind spot monitoring, and a reversing camera.
Both of the CX-3’s engines carry over in this update. There’s a two-litre naturally aspirated petrol seen elsewhere in the range, and a 1.5-litre turbo diesel, exclusive in Australia to the CX-3.
The petrol produces 109kW of power at a heady 6,000rpm and 192Nm at 2,800rpm. The petrol CX-3 needs a good workout to extract the best performance from it. It’s a rev-happy engine that is happy to perform when asked. It’s noisy when wound out, but it isn’t thrashy: adjustments to the engine noise frequency have created a sweet note.
It’s not the world’s smoothest four-cylinder but nor is it vibey: Mazda’s two-litre gets to the job done and does a reasonable job of providing a sporty feel when pressed. Automatic models get a sport-mode toggle which make the engine feel livelier by dialling up the torque provision when hitting the gas – and the shifts did feel snappier.
The base model gets a six-speed manual as standard but the six-speed automatic most people buy is a good one, with smooth shifts when left to its own devices. You can take over control through the gear lever – not by paddles – and there’s only a short delay when nudging the gears up or down.
The fuel economy on our test route was acceptable – about 8L/100km in town, and closer to 6L/100km on the highway. However, the petrol doesn’t provide that feeling of plentiful, easy torque around town that you’d get from a small turbo.
Satisfying torque is what you get from the much more impressive engine: the $2,400-dearer, 1.5-litre turbo diesel that a criminally low 3% of buyers select. It’s a small engine that punches way above its weight. 77kW doesn’t sound like much but 270Nm of torque from just 1,600rpm sure is – and the diesel CX-3 feels downright muscly around town and on the freeway.
It’s actually the smoother and quieter engine, all things considered – mostly due to new diesel clatter-deadening technology from the CX-5 filtering down to the CX-3.
Plus, the diesel is just incredibly frugal. Around town, we managed close to 6L/100km while on the highway, the numbers dipped genuinely and consistently into the high 3L/100km range, which is incredible. Sure, the diesel is more expensive to buy – but right now, and especially if petrol prices continue to rise, you’d make your money back in little more than a few years, all while enjoying a better drive.
The CX-3’s steering is nicely weighted – it’s light in town, and naturally gains heaviness above about 50km/h. The tiller feels solid at highway speeds save for a small patch of on-centre vagueness. The mostly-straight roads of Mazda’s drive route meant we weren’t able to really stretch the CX-3’s handling, but history tells us the CX-3 sits at the sporty end of the small SUV cohort. Body roll seems restrained – you’d hope so, since the ride height is hatchback-like.
The outgoing CX-3 had a fairly choppy ride quality around town, and while the car is still noticeably firm at low speeds, softening up the suspension bushings – especially at the rear – has made a real difference to comfort. At higher speeds, though, the softening has created a more floaty ride, with more noticeable rebound after big hits and dips. It’s a reasonable trade-off.
No matter the engine, the CX-3 is now noticeably quieter. A lot of new insulation, and thicker seals, have been added at noisy points around the car. Road or tyre noise, and wind noise, felt significantly quieter.
There’s no radar cruise control available on the CX-3, as there is on Toyota’s C-HR, but every grade has city-speed AEB that works in drive and reverse. The Maxx adds blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. The sTouring throws in fatigue detection, while the Akari exclusively sports a beeping lane departure warning system.
The CX-3’s cabin is based on that in the Mazda 2 – but there are different materials here and there to separate this small SUV from its light hatch underpinnings. Given the CX-3 can get quite expensive at the top-end, it needs those differences.
For instance, the range-topping Akari has stepped-up to a new leather seat design with 10-way electric adjustment. This helps: you can achieve a genuinely comfortable driving position in the Akari, thanks to the now-adjustable under-thigh angle which no other CX-3 model gets.
But the seats in the other grades are quite alright – better than most manually-adjustable seats in this class. However, the fact that the backrest adjustment is by stopper, rather than roller, will mean some drivers won’t find a completely ideal back angle. That included me.
The material quality on the sTouring’s Maztex (faux-leather) and cloth seats feels premium, while the full-cloth seats of the Maxx and Neo will be hard-wearing.
The lack of an armrest between driver and passenger is a bit poor, though, especially on long drives where your arm aches for a bit more support.
Elsewhere inside, material quality is generally good. This is a segment where hard plastics on the dash and door tops is still pretty normal, and the Mazda CX-3 has plenty of that – but at least it adds a premium, characterful faux-leather strip across the width of the dash.
Impressively, the sTouring and Akari grades have a very soft centre-console lining, right where your leg rests if you have longer legs. Given how compact the CX-3’s footwell is, I really missed those soft pads on the Maxx and Neo.
From the Maxx up, the CX-3’s multimedia offer is powered through Mazda’s familiar 7-inch “MZD Connect” touchscreen. It continues to be a very impressive system in this class – maybe the best in class – though the cheesy navigation graphics, and the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, are starting to grate.
However, the addition of DAB+ digital radio on the Maxx upwards is a good check-box ticked, and the six-speaker stereo sounds alright. The four-speaker version on lower models is basic.
In the back, the room’s tight. Six footers won’t want to sit behind six footers, because their legs will be pressed against the front seat. That said, younger kids – or small friends – will be fine, as headroom is actually quite good. The accommodation in the back row is basically limited to two people as the transmission hump is pretty tall. In addition, there are no air vents or charge ports back there – but the large windows are a relief after the dark and dingy back seat in the Toyota C-HR.
It’s best to think of this car as an urban runabout, rather than a load-lugging SUV: if you want a bigger Mazda high-rider, you’ll need to look at the new CX-5, which actually has some price overlap with the smaller CX-3.
The CX-3’s Mazda 2 underpinnings are clear in the boot, which remains small. The 264 litres of space on offer seem larger when you look at it, and the high roofline means you can actually stack a few suitcases back there and make it work, but it’s no C-HR or Honda HR-V boot if we go by capacity.
The fairly mammoth load-lip (the distance between the entrance to the boot and the actual floor of the boot) can be reduced thanks to a false floor, which also provides a flat load bay.
A lack of shopping bag hooks in the boot seems like a silly oversight given the target market of the CX-3.
Generous centre console storage in the front earns points, but it’s partially available due to the lack of an armrest for the driver and front passenger. Up front, there are two large cupholders, a separate coin holder, and a large phone tray. The inclusion of two USB ports in the phone tray is smart. The door bins are also pretty big up front.
In the back, there’s no fold-down armrest with storage, but there are two map pockets and bottle holders in the doors.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Mazda CX-3 service costs
Mazda’s service pricing calculator isn’t up and running yet – but the mechanical similarity to the outgoing CX-3 means that prices are likely to remain steady. Over three years, the two-litre petrol will cost around $1,200 to service, while the diesel costs about $1,412 – not a particularly significant difference.
Like the Honda HR-V and Holden Trax, the CX-3 isn’t as convenient to service as we’d like. You have to take it back effectively every nine months, because the service interval is only 10,000 kilometres – the Toyota gives you a full 15,000 kilometres between services, or closer to what the average Australian does in one year of driving.
The Mazda has a solid 3 year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Mazda CX-3 fuel economy
We think you’ll experience quite different fuel economy scores depending on the CX-3 engine you choose. While the official consumption numbers don’t look too far apart – the front-drive petrol can officially do 6.1L/100km, while the front-drive diesel can do 4.8L/100km – this actually equates to a 27% difference, and we think the difference will be even bigger in the real world.
That means you’d be able to recoup your additional costs for buying the diesel in 4-5 years, but even if you didn’t make your extra $2,400 outlay back, you’d be enjoying the drive more.
We’re realistic, though, and most people will buy the petrol CX-3. It’s worth noting the CX-3 is more frugal than most of its competitors. It’s bettered by the three-cylinder Peugeot 2008, which scored 4.8L/100km, but the Toyota C-HR (6.4L), Honda HR-V (6.6L), and Holden Trax (6.7L) are all thirstier in petrol form.
Mazda CX-3 depreciation
If you keep a new CX-3 Maxx petrol front-wheel-drive ($24,890) – the volume-seller – for three years and 40,000 kilometres, Glass’s Guide data indicates that it should retain about 55.8% of its value, returning you about $13,900 on sale. That’s an identical retention figure to the C-HR – and it’s marginally better than the Honda’s 54% retained value in the same period.
VALUE FOR MONEY
A new style-conscious model recently joined the CX-3 in the small SUV class: Toyota’s futuristic-looking C-HR. However, low Australian supply means that Toyota are only offering two C-HR models that compete with the upper-level CX-3 trims – the sTouring and Akari. That’s curious, given 55% of Mazda’s CX-3 buyers go for the lower-down Maxx.
Anyway, Mazda have clearly boosted the value proposition with the C-HR in mind, and despite some gentle price rises, the CX-3 is now back in the lead in the value stakes.
$28,990 will buy you a ‘base’ Toyota C-HR or a Mazda CX-3 sTouring – and while the Toyota exclusively gets radar cruise control, lane keep assist, front parking sensors and dual-zone climate control, the Mazda counters with larger, better-looking 18-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights and fog lights, part faux-leather trim, a heads-up display, and keyless entry and start.
At the higher end, $33,290 buys a C-HR Koba. The $200-dearer CX-3 Akari adds a sunroof, heated seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment with memory, and adaptive LED headlights on top of most of what the C-HR offers – with the notable exception of radar cruise control.
On the whole, Mazda have put the CX-3 back out in front of the competition on features.
The Neo base model is the only ‘stripper’ of the range – less than ten per cent of people buy this $20,490–$22,490 special. The Neo has 16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, cloth seats, a four-speaker stereo, and AEB that works in drive and reverse.
Nearly three-fifths of buyers actually get the next-tier Maxx ($22,890–$27,290), which adds nice-to-haves like alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and shifter, a touchscreen with navigation and DAB+ digital radio, plus a reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. In particular, the $27,290 Maxx diesel is a great model to look at.
The sTouring ($26,990–$33,390) might be the real sweet spot, adding 18-inch alloys, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, climate control, Maztex and cloth trim, a heads-up display, keyless entry and go, and driver fatigue detection.
Meanwhile, the flagship Akari ($31,490–$37,890) starts to get pretty expensive but includes luxe features like a sunroof, heated front seats, 10-way electric adjustment for the driver with two memory settings, black or white leather and suede seats, adaptive LED headlights, and lane departure warning.
Holden Trax (from $23,990)
The Trax was very early to the SUV party, arriving in 2013, but not much has changed since then. The Holden’s turbo petrol and automatic combination is respectable, but shoddy dynamics and a downmarket cabin mean it’s not up to CX-3 standards.
Honda HR-V (from $24,990)
Big by small SUV standards, the HR-V feels much roomier everywhere – in the front, in the back, and in the boot. It’s hardly cumbersome to drive, though the 1.8-litre four-cylinder isn’t as eager as the Mazda’s 2.0-litre. The ride and handling are impressive, but basic infotainment will be a disappointment to tech-savvy buyers.
Peugeot 2008 (from $26,490)
Peugeot’s 2008 is the left-field small SUV choice but you are missing out if you don’t at least test drive it. A superb combination of a turbo three-cylinder petrol and a great six-speed automatic, plus good steering, mean it’s likely the most dynamic option in this segment. You will quickly get used to the slightly quirky ergonomics inside.
Toyota C-HR (from $26,990)
Wow! The C-HR is the best mainstream Toyota in living memory, largely thanks to its entirely European-focussed development programme. The turbo petrol could use more power, but a super-sweet chassis makes the C-HR super-satisfying to drive quickly. The ride and steering are good and standard equipment is impressive, especially on the safety front where it outclasses the Mazda.
|Power||109kW at 6,000rpm|
|Torque||192Nm at 2,800rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||92kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel capacity||48 litres|
|Average range||787 litres|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||1,190 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||264 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1,174 litres|