What is it?
The highly anticipated baby brother to the Mazda CX-5 SUV. It joins one of the fastest-growing segments of the new car market: pint-sized crossovers designed for the city rather than the great outdoors.
Huge sales for the Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka and, more recently, the Citröen C4 Cactus prove there's strong demand for high-riding hatchbacks that give a commanding view of the road ahead but can still fit neatly into a tight parking space.
The Mazda CX-3 won't be short of rivals, with new arrivals including the Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and the new generation Suzuki Vitara.
Underneath, the CX-3 is largely based on the Mazda 2; even the dashboard is the same. The CX-3 is slightly wider than the supermini, although the wheelbase is identical. It has more headroom than a Mazda 3 (which is compromised by its sloping rear roofline), but the CX-3’s 264-litre boot capacity slots between that of the Mazda 2 (250 litres) and Mazda 3 (364 litres).
The CX-3 was designed in Mazda’s styling studio in Japan. When management was shown the full-size clay model for the first time they were reportedly so impressed they simply said “build that”. The styling really does help it stand out, especially at the front, and it's certainly nowhere near as awkward to look at as the Juke or Jeep Renegade.
The interior may be carried over from the Mazda 2 but it’s a classy, relatively roomy design. First impressions, then, are good.
What's it like?
There was a choice of two different engines during our world-first preview drive, held at a demanding private test track about 75 miles south-west of Melbourne. The the special access comes courtesy of the huge boom in Mazda's SUV sales in the Australian market, driven by the CX-5.
The first car we drove came with a 1.5-litre diesel engine (delivering 103bhp and 199lb ft) with on-demand all-wheel drive, fitted to a high-spec CX-3 riding on 18-inch alloys.
The diesel is relatively refined but lacked oomph when moving off from rest. Once you're on the move, though, it keeps up a comfortable pace without much effort, with decent in-gear flexibility and a broad spread of torque. The optional six-speed automatic gearbox changed down gears fairly intuitively for quick bursts of acceleration and overtakes.
There are no official performance or economy figures at this stage, but thanks to its clever Skyactiv fuel saving tech the same motor in the Mazda 2 comes in below 90g/km for CO2, so even with four-wheel drive and an automatic 'box, the CX-3 promises to be a cheap car to run.
The little Mazda strikes a fair balance between nice steering feel and decent ride comfort over bumps, even on the large alloys of our test car. Indeed, the CX-3 drives with the same confidence and stability as a hatchback, and doesn’t have the topsy-turvy body roll or poor composure of some SUVs.
Next up was the 2.0-litre petrol-engined front-wheel-drive version. It certainly felt a lot quicker off the line than the diesel, even though it promises fuel economy of around 50mpg (with the automatic gearbox). It also rode on 16-inch wheels, which gave a more compliant ride, and the steering felt a bit sharper (possibly aided by the slight weight advantage it enjoys over the diesel).