Mazdaâ€™s name might be most associated in the UK with a sporty little two-seat roadster but for the last decade itâ€™s be pouring efforts into carving itself a share of the SUV market. The early CX-7 was a rare sight on our roads but its replacement â€“ the CX-5 â€“ has been finding favour in increasing numbers and the CX-3, launched in 2015 is helping establish the brand as a serious player in the market.
Mazda CX-3 GT Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 137g/km
Itâ€™s a handsome little(ish) car. Mazda set a lot of store by their Kodo design language, and rightly so. Its clean lines and sharp details make for a strong look that stands out in a crowded segment.
Our test carâ€™s looks were boosted by the styling kit that comes with the GT Sport trim. Unique front, side and rear skirts and a black rear roof spoiler give it just a touch more presence on the road.
The GT Sport level is based on the Sport Nav model but adds unique 18-inch alloys and full Nappa leather upholstery to a healthy list of equipment which includes the likes of auto climate control, cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and start, and a premium Bose sound system linked to the seven-inch touchscreen with navigation and internet-linked apps.
The CX-3 is available with a 104bhp 1.5-litre diesel or a 2.0-litre petrol with either 118bhp or 148bhp. Depending on the engine tune, thereâ€™s the option of two- or four-wheel drive and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Having sampled the petrol in 148bhp four-wheel-drive guise and 118bhp two-wheel drive, I reckon the less-powerful, front-driven model is the one to go for.
Even on horribly wet roads the two-wheel-drive variant didnâ€™t struggle for grip or control compared with the all-wheel-drive model. Unless you regularly experience conditions that really need drive at every corner itâ€™s probably worth saving your money.
That also means you can have the 118bhp petrol which doesnâ€™t feel nearly as down on power as the stats would lead you to believe. It feels lively and responsive and provides sufficient power to move the CX-3 along well. Thanks to its lower kerbweight itâ€™s only 0.3 seconds slower to 62mph than the more powerful 4WD version and it seems quieter and more refined.
On the road the CX-3 lives up to the sporty part of its SUV title. Itâ€™s nicely composed on challenging roads and steers quickly and directly with well controlled body roll. The ride is firm but not unduly so. The only letdown is steering thatâ€™s light enough for urban manoeuvres but lacks weight and feedback at higher speeds.
Mazdaâ€™s interior design is one of the cleanest and most coherent in the industry. The CX-3â€™s cabin resembles a scaled down CX-5 or scaled-up Mazda 2 with simple lines and easy-to-use controls. Particularly with the Nappa leather on the seats and dashboard plus nice metallic styling and touchpoints, the cabin of the GT Sport car looks great.
Itâ€™s not perfect, though. While itâ€™s easy to get comfortable in the driverâ€™s seat you feel perched high up, partly down to the carâ€™s height but also a seat that doesnâ€™t adjust far enough down. And although thereâ€™s decent space in front, the rear seats are cramped.
The CX-3 wonâ€™t win any prizes for refinement either, with noticeable noise levels once you get above urban speeds. Itâ€™s not a dealbreaker but feels a little at odds with the otherwise high-end feel of the cabin.
Those niggles aside, the CX-3 offers a sharp-looking, well-equipped alternative to the big boys in its segment.