Boring - Mazda makes yet another great car
Mazda continues its winning streak with the CX-3, a junior crossover to tackle the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, writes William Scholes
SO routine has it become, that it is almost boring to herald the latest new Mazda as anything other than excellent.
Joining the MX-5, CX-5 SUV, 6 saloon and estate, 3 hatchback and saloon and 2 supermini in the automotive firmament is yet another dazzling star, this time a small crossover called the CX-3.
Many of its oily bits and interior parts are shared with the Mazda 2; this is a wholly good thing, as the 2 is probably the best new car I've driven this year.
Size-wise, the CX-3 sits between the 2 and 3 and, in classic crossover fashion, it is taller than the 3 hatchback.
With its long bonnet, chiselled silhouette and the origami-sharp creases which are characteristic of Mazda's current design language, the CX-3 benefits from eye-catching styling.
The details are handled with Audi-esque confidence: the way the bold front grille spears into the headlamps, the twin exhaust pipes arranged like the handles on a wheelbarrow and the lights' distinctive signatures are among the touches that combine to make the CX-3 look more upmarket and premium than anything else of its size.
It is a similar story inside, where the Mazda 2's dashboard has been subtly upgraded for the CX-3's posher price point.
That means instruments dominated by a big centre rev counter, flanked by digital screens, a large infotainment screen mounted in the middle of the dashboard, and simple, clear switches and knobs.
To sit in, the Mazda is of superior quality to a rival like the Nissan Juke, and the driving experience, which is inherently sporty, is similarly expensive feeling.
Put it this way: if the Mazda badges were covered with tape and you were told you were driving a BMW, it would be no surprise.
The steering wheel is sized just-so and there is an inherent rightness about the driving position which confirms that this is another Mazda designed to give enthusiastic drivers something to smile about.
The evenly-weighted pedals and snappy gearshift tell the same story, and it's easy to sense the DNA that the CX-3 shares with the MX-5 roadster.
The steering is precise, grip abundant and the CX-3 corners with more enthusiasm than just about every other rival.
Bolstering the CX-3's upmarket credentials are low levels of wind and road noise. The ride is on the firm side, which is consistent with the Mazda's sporty mien, but not uncomfortably so - important when CX-3 duties will likely include ferrying children.
They'll find the back seat spacious enough though, as with rival offerings, adults won't be thrilled if they have to undertake a long journey in the rear pew - it's here that the CX-3's 2 underpinnings are most obvious.
Mazda has studiously avoided the engine downsizing trend that the rest of the industry has got caught up in, preferring to describe its approach as 'right-sizing'.
That means you can't have a 1.0-litre turbo petrol or tiddly diesel engines in your CX-3. Instead, Mazda has gone the other way, meaning a 2.0-litre petrol engine and 1.5-litre diesel are your options.
A six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel-drive is standard, though an automatic and four-wheel-drive can also be specified on the pricier versions.
There is sound logic to this right-sizing. Small engines tend to promise tremendous fuel economy in the laboratory tests but fail to deliver in the real world.
The CX-3's petrol engine comes with either 118bhp or 148bhp while the diesel serves up 104bhp.
The test car had the less powerful petrol unit and it seemed a good match for the CX-3's size and ability; it accelerates strongly and thrives on revs, and the snappy gearchange means working the engine is no hardship.
CX-3 prices start higher than most rivals, a reflection of its sportiness and premium feel.
Still, it's well equipped, with Bluetooth, cruise control, air conditioning and electric folding mirrors, DAB radio and the excellent infotainment system standard on the entry SE model.
SE-L trim adds climate control, heated seats and lane departure warning and Sport Nav, as tested, gets goodies like keyless entry, satnav, a Bose stereo and superb LED headlamps.
Until now, the Renault Captur has been Drive's best-in-class junior crossover but the CX-3 is, for me, superior thanks to its driving experience and sense of quality.
However, the Captur is considerably cheaper, with prices starting at just over £14,000. That means there is an excellent alternative to the CX-3 if the Mazda's £17,595 entry price is more than you want to spend on a small crossover.
Even so, it says much for the CX-3 that it feels worth every penny of its steep price tag. It's another brilliant Mazda - boring, isn't it?