Drive a Mazda CX-3 expecting a kind of MX-5 in crossover form and you’ll come away disappointed, but in a class not known for deft handlers or cars with the ability put a smile on your face, Mazda’s compact crossover still has the entertainment value.
It won’t prompt you to leave bed early on a cold morning for a B-road drive, but the CX-3 is a crossover that doesn’t sacrifice style and dynamic ability at the altar of practicality and frugality – though it has those too. If your family circumstances dictate a car of this type but you aren’t ready to give up some of the attributes you’d find in a drivers’ car, the CX-3 is the car we’d recommend.
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Given the choice, we’d tend to spend our hard-earned cash on a more traditional vehicle than an upright crossover, but we’re not too blinded by driving sports cars to understand that the raised driving position, greater ground clearance, interior volume and even the styling of such vehicles make them desirable purchases for some.
Cars like the CX-3 have also blurred the lines between regular cars and SUVs in the areas that really matter for us as drivers, such as weight, dynamics and performance. We’d still take a low centre of gravity and even lighter kerb weight given the choice, but if you get your driving thrills a few notches back from maximum attack then the CX-3 is no less entertaining than the Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 that straddle it in Mazda’s range.
> Performance and 0-60 time - Petrol engines cribbed from the MX-5 - albeit downtuned - endow the CX-3 with some pep, but proper performance crossovers like the Juke Nismo RS are quicker.
> Engine and gearbox - 2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines offer power and torque outputs on-par with rivals. Six-speed manual gearbox is slick.
> Ride and handling - Not quite the MX-5 with five seats and greater ground clearance you'd hope for, but there's a mature ride and good body control.
> MPG and running costs - High claimed MPG figures are, as you'd expect, not quite attainable, but Mazda's Skyactiv units still return very good real-world numbers. Reliability should be good too.
> Interior and tech - Comfortable, nicely-styled and in higher-spec models, beautifully-trimmed. Definitely one of the best cabins in its class.
> Design - As compact crossovers go the CX-3 is really quite attractive, and Mazda's colour palette gives it an expensive vibe.
Prices, specs and rivals
With prices ranging between £17,595 and £24,695, the CX-3 sits towards the upper end of the supermini-based crossover segment.
For comparison, Nissan’s big-selling Juke begins at £13,995 and tops out at £24,285 for the CVT-equipped Nismo RS, while Renault’s popular Captur starts from £14,575 and doesn’t go higher than £21,975. Another strong seller, Citroen’s Cactus will set you back only £12,990 in basic trim and little more than £20,000 at the top of the range.
Only the Juke can really match the Mazda for driver appeal, particularly in Nismo RS form, and it’s still ultimately the crossover of choice if fun is a priority – it’s not as polished as the Mazda, but the extra performance of its turbocharged 1.6 and entertainingly old-school handling are still unmatched by rivals in this class. If you can stomach the divisive styling, of course.
The Citroen is endearing too, if not for how it drives then the kind of left-field thinking that has always made classic Citroens appealing. It’s resolutely not the choice for a B-road blast, but all the better for it. On price and quality, the Honda HR-V (£18,495 to £26,055) is the CX-3’s closest rival, but the Mazda is more of a drivers’ car.
Another car worth looking at from a driver's perspective is the recently-introduced MG GS. It's larger than most cars here but MG's focus on value means prices start from £14,995. Realistically we'd spend little more than that as all versions use the same 1.5-litre turbocharged engine so spending more brings no more performance to the table. It's not as polished as the Mazda and not as stylish, but worth a look for those with limited budgets.
It’s a mark of the popularity of this segment that all rivals offer similar levels of equipment across the range – basic versions still come equipped with air conditioning, alloy wheels, and cruise control, while top-end models feature navigation, DAB, leather or Alcantara innards, large alloys and more.