Having done a fine job on the handling of both the 2 and 3 hatches, which share the same platform as our test subject, Mazda gave us high hopes for the dynamic abilities of the CX-3.
It would be an overstatement to record that those hopes were dashed, but they were certainly well battered. It’s equally true that while compact crossover buyers as a breed may not place agile, engaging handling high on a list of must-haves for their prospective school-run transport, those choosing a Mazda would perhaps be more likely to.
Those buyers, however, will find a car that only just about passes muster here and is without the tautness of body control and weighty consistency of steering response that normally characterises Mazda’s offerings.
The caveat is that by ‘here’, we mean in the CX-3 diesel specifically. It is worth noting that the 2.0-litre petrol equivalent, which we also had the opportunity to drive in parallel with our test subject, is a much better-handling, better-riding and generally better-resolved car.
It’s quite unusual to find such a disparity between differently engined derivatives of the same model in 2015 – and to the best of our knowledge, Mazda has been no more guilty of such dynamic inconsistency over the years than anyone. But from a car maker with what is otherwise such an impressive dynamic CV, it’s worrying to say the least.
In outright terms, the CX-3 has a moderate but consistent hold on the road and goes broadly where it’s pointed, but its chief disappointments are the changeability of its steering weight and the stodgy restlessness of its primary ride.
The car’s cornering balance isn’t brilliant, either, but those Dunlop tyres don’t really grip hard enough to give the car’s lateral body control much of a stern test in any case.
Instead, it’s over bumps and crests that the car betrays itself. After a disturbance, the body pogos over its front wheels – gently enough, to be fair, but in a drawn-out fashion.
Sharpen the profile of the bumps you’re crossing and the CX-3’s suspension turns quite crude in its action, thumping away underneath the car noisily. Put simply, this car is plainly underdamped.
Meanwhile, where we’re used to fairly incisive and fluent steering from Mazda, we get a system in the CX-3 that lacks the usual feedback levels and varies unhelpfully in weight as you feed off lock.