The price is down but the facelifted Mazda CX-3 is upwardly mobile.
The price is down but the facelifted Mazda CX-3 is upwardly mobile.

Mazda CX-3 gets a nip and tuck and new gear for 2019

MAZDA'S CX-3 has undergone more facelifts than Michael Jackson. As with the gloved one, people have focused on the performance rather than the changing looks.

The previous graft was just last year but that hasn't stopped Mazda Australia from putting the compact soft-roader back under the knife to keep it relevant. Part of the reason comes down to popularity - small SUVs were up by almost 27 per cent last year and are defying the slowdown in new car sales so far in 2018.

Mitsubishi's ASX leads the segment courtesy of similar upgrades to its features and cuts to the price of entry. The CX-3 is a cut above what the ASX can do on looks and performance and drive-away pricing at $23,990 for the base manual car undercuts the ASX by $1000, though auto versions are similarly priced at $25,990 on the road.

From there the price progressively climbs to $40,490 drive-away for a diesel-equipped Akari, which is $500 dearer than its soft-roader rival.

Exterior tweaks on the CX-3 are minimal but Mazda has added features across the range.
Exterior tweaks on the CX-3 are minimal but Mazda has added features across the range.

Mazda Australia CEO Vinesh Bhindi describes the CX-3 as the "ultimate inner-city car"

It is … and it isn't. The Mazda remains one of the best-driving and best-looking cars in this class but a small cargo area and limited rear legroom restrict its appeal to couples or families with a small child. Even then a capsule or car seat is going to occupy a lot of territory in the back and not all prams are likely to fit in the boot.

This update has focused on refining the engine, using thicker panels and glass to mute exterior sounds and redesigning the centre console to include an electric park brake and push the rotary infotainment controller towards the dash, so owners don't have to cock their elbows to reach it. As a result, there's room for a couple of drink holders and a bigger bin between the seats.

A new grille with hooped louvre fins rather than horizontal slats is the easiest way to spot the new Mazda, though the higher spec sTouring and Akari versions also pick up new LED tail-lamps.

Mazda2 underpinnings push CX-3 cargo and rear passenger space down against some rivals.
Mazda2 underpinnings push CX-3 cargo and rear passenger space down against some rivals.

Under the skin, redesigned suspension includes a thinner front swaybar and bigger-diameter dampers. CX-3 project chief Minoru Takata says these reduce choppiness - the vehicle bouncing up and down when hitting obstacles - by 16 per cent.

Model-specific tyres with a soft sidewall help reduce bounce over small lumps and bumps and Mazda says they also help to reduce stopping distances because the tyre more readily deforms and stays in contact with the road surface rather than skipping over it.

The base Neo has been renamed Neo Sport and comes with 16-inch steel wheels and seven-inch screen with digital audio and reversing camera. The Maxx Sport (nee Maxx) adds alloy wheels, satnav and auto lights and wipers.

The dial for the infotainment screen is now closer to the transmission to improve ergonomics.
The dial for the infotainment screen is now closer to the transmission to improve ergonomics.

The sTouring steps up to 18-inch alloy wheels, head-up display, LED daytime running lights, traffic sign recognition and artificial-leather embellished seats. The Akari packs a sunroof, leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control and powered driver's seat.

City-speed autonomous emergency braking is standard across the range. Active aids are then progressively layered across the line-up, with the Maxx Sport gaining blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, the sTouring picking up a driver attention alert and the Akari adding lane-departure alert and a surround-view camera.

 

ON THE ROAD

Subtle engine power increase can’t be felt but it is noticeably quieter when revving.
Subtle engine power increase can’t be felt but it is noticeably quieter when revving.

It's almost impossible to detect the 1kW/3Nm power increase from the 2.0-litre engine but it's almost impossible not to notice the CX-3 is a quieter ride than it was. Engine noise isn't intrusive even with the accelerator floored on a lengthy climb and, though there is some tyre roar on coarser roads, the mini SUV is far from bothersome.

Front-wheel drive versions are expected to account for 92 per cent of sales. That's smart given there's no appreciable difference on the road between FWD and the all-paw versions and you'll save 0.4L/100km in fuel - claimed thirst is unchanged at 6.3L and 6.7L/100km respectively for front-drivers and AWD.

The turbo diesel is now a 1.8-litre, producing 85kW rather than the 77kW of the outgoing 1.5. Torque is unchanged at 270Nm. It wasn't available on our launch, though we're not concerned: Mazda expects only 1 per cent of CX-3 buyers will opt for the oil-burner.

 

VERDICT

4 stars

The CX-3 will be sold in front and all-wheel-drive guise with petrol and diesel engines.
The CX-3 will be sold in front and all-wheel-drive guise with petrol and diesel engines.

A lack of space is the only thing (potentially) stopping the CX-3 from being best in class. From the drive to the driver aids the little Mazda SUV is hard to fault.

 

WHAT'S NEW

PRICE The list price is up but the drive-away pricing is lineball with segment rivals, positioning the CX-3 for another crack at segment leadership.

TECHNOLOGY - City-speed AEB across the range, along with an electronic park brake and LED lights all around on sTouring and Akari versions.

PERFORMANCE - Power for the 2.0-litre petrol is now 110kW/195Nm. There is about 10kg extra to move and claimed fuel use is unchanged.

DRIVING - Revised suspension and softer tyres help quell pitch and bounce and the feel from behind the wheel is class-leading.

DESIGN - A revamped grille is the biggest external difference, along with a redesigned centre console with more stowage.

Cupholders in the rear centre seat work better than those in the centre console.
Cupholders in the rear centre seat work better than those in the centre console.

MAZDA CX-3

PRICE $23,990-$40,490 drive-away

WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/unlimited km, 12 months/10,000km; $1212 for first four visits

SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/195Nm

THIRST 6.3L-6.7L/100km

TRANS 6-speed man, 6-speed auto, FWD/AWD

CARGO 264L

SPARE Space-saver



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