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).
Downsides? There aren’t many we could find. Road noise is a common bugbear of Mazdas, and, like its big brother, the CX-3 has its fair share, but after a short drive it's fair to say that refinement is average for the class rather than poor.
The stability control was well sorted, even on a road covered in fine gravel, although when the ESC does step in the intervention felt a little abrupt.