The Mazda CX-3 proves that small SUVs don’t have to be boring to drive. It’s no sports car, but it’s a real hoot on a twisty back road
You can get the Mazda CX-3 with one diesel and two petrol engines. Four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox are also available if you’re happy to pay a little extra.
Pick the 120hp 2.0-litre petrol model with two-wheel drive if you do lots of city driving. It’s not quite as perky as the more powerful 150hp petrol model but it’s cheaper to buy and quieter than the 115hp 1.8-litre diesel. Mazda claims it’ll return nearly 45mpg but you’ll probably see a figure closer to 40mpg in normal driving conditions.
If you spend more time on the motorway you’ll want to consider the 1.8-litre diesel. It isn’t quite as smooth as the two petrols at slow speeds but it quickly settles into a quiet cruise on the motorway. It’s much more frugal than the petrols – it’ll return around 60mpg in real-world conditions and can keep up with fast-moving traffic without too much fuss.
The Mazda CX-3 makes up for its slightly bumpy ride with grin-inducing handling that makes it miles more fun to drive than most humdrum family SUVs
The most powerful 150hp 2.0-litre petrol model comes with four-wheel drive as standard. This helps maximise grip in slippery conditions – handy if you plan to tow a trailer or live somewhere prone to icy winter weather.
You can get a six-speed automatic gearbox on 1.5-litre diesel and 120hp 2.0-litre petrol models. It’ll help make long journeys and heavy traffic a little more bearable but doesn’t feel quite as sporty as the manual version and can blunt fuel economy slightly.
The Mazda CX-3’s taller windows and raised ride height mean it’s easier to see out of than the Mazda 2 on which it’s based. The pillars between the windscreen and doors don’t create any particularly large blindspots at junctions but its thin rear windows and small rear windscreen can make parking slightly tricky. Luckily, mid-range models get rear parking sensors as standard while top-spec Sport Nav versions come with a reversing camera, too.
All the CX-3’s controls are light and easy to use which makes threading it through tight city streets a breeze. Its suspension is a little stiffer than the likes of the C4 Cactus but around town it soaks up imperfections in rutted roads reasonably well.
Hit a pothole at speed, however, and you’ll feel an unpleasant jolt through the Mazda’s cabin – especially in top-spec Sport Nav cars with their larger 18-inch alloy wheels. Stick to an SE, SE Nav or SE-L Nav model and bumps in the road will be slightly less noticeable and you’ll hear a touch less tyre roar at motorway speeds.
The trade-off for the Mazda CX-3’s slightly firm suspension is its enjoyable handling. It’s one of the most entertaining small SUVs on sale, both around town and on a twisty backroad. It’s certainly no MX-5 sportscar but it feels light and nimble – like a spritely hatchback rather than a tall SUV.
The Mazda CX-3 received a fair four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP in 2015. As a result, some newer five-star-rated cars (such as the Audi Q2) might be more suitable if safety is your main priority. It’s not all bad news, however – the Mazda CX-3 comes with an adjustable speed limiter as standard and mid-range models come with lane departure warning, too.