The Mazda CX-3 is one of the sportiest small SUVs on sale but its rather cramped back seats and fairly thirsty petrol engines mean it’ll always be a slightly left-field choice
The Mazda CX-3 is a small, sporty SUV that’s more fun to drive than a Suzuki Vitara and comes with more equipment as standard. You can get it with one diesel and two petrol engines, including a 150hp petrol model with four-wheel drive as standard.
The CX-3’s interior has been carried over almost unchanged from the smaller Mazda 2 supermini. You get a similar sporty steering wheel, central rev counter and a range of soft faux leather trims on the dashboard as standard but it can’t match the Peugeot 2008’s cabin for design or material quality.
Thankfully, most models come with lots of equipment as standard. Besides entry-level SE versions, every Mazda CX-3 gets satellite navigation and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s relatively easy to use thanks to a BMW-style rotary scroll wheel on the centre console – but you can’t get it with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring systems.
You get height adjustment for the driver’s seat as standard but no cars come with adjustable lumbar support so your back may start to ache on long journeys.
Sadly, adults won’t be particularly comfortable in the back seats. There isn’t much head or leg room and the Mazda CX-3’s small rear windows make it feel rather dark and dingy. There’s enough room to carry three kids abreast, however, and the wide door openings make it reasonably simple to fit a child seat – if not quite as easy as in the roomier Peugeot 2008.
The Mazda’s 350-litre boot lags behind the Peugeot’s more spacious 410-litre load bay too, and the tall boot lip means it isn’t quite as easy to load. There’s some space under the adjustable boot floor for hiding valuables, however, and the back seats fold in a two-way (60:40) split as standard so you can carry long luggage and a passenger in the back at once.
Flip both back seats down and the Mazda CX-3’s flat load bay is just about big enough to carry a bike – if you remove a wheel first.
The CX-3 feels a bit like a Mazda 2 that’s wearing stilts – its cabin is almost identical and it’s just as fun to drive but it’s ever so slightly more practical
You can get the Mazda CX-3 with one diesel and two petrol engines. The 120hp 2.0-litre petrol is best if you spend most time pottering around town – it’s quieter than the diesel and will return around 40mpg in real-world conditions (compared with Mazda’s claimed 47.9mpg). The smaller 1.5-litre diesel is a better bet if you do lots of motorway miles. It’ll return around 60mpg and has just about enough puff to keep up with fast-moving traffic on the motorway.
The Mazda CX-3 is relatively easy to see out of too, thanks to its raised driving position, but the small rear windows can make parking a tad tricky. You’ll feel bumps in the road a little more in the Mazda than in a Citroen C4 Cactus too, but it’s reasonably quiet at motorway speeds and much more fun to drive than most small SUVs.
The CX-3 might not be the safest car on sale – it received a four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP in 2015 – but it’s still well worth a look if you’re after a high-riding, well-equipped family car that looks sporty and is plenty of fun to drive.