The new Mazda CX-3 is a compact crossover that’s designed to rival popular models such as the Nissan JukePeugeot 2008 andRenault Captur. Based on Mazda’s recently launched 2 supermini, the CX-3 promises to combine rugged looks and a high-riding driving position with penny-pinching running costs.

Unlike many rivals, the CX-3 is available with two and four-wheel drive transmission options. The former promises impressive efficiency, while the latter gives the Mazda a dash of off-road ability and lots of all-weather security.

Buyers have a choice of two engines – one petrol and one diesel – and both promise to be cost effective to run. In two-wheel drive guise the 2.0-litre petrol produces 118bhp and emits as little as 136g/km. A more powerful 148bhp model is available, but comes exclusively with four-wheel drive. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on all models, while a six-speed automatic is available as an option on diesel models and higher-powered petrols.

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Drivers looking to minimize the impact on their wallet should take a close look at the diesel. Using the same 104bhp 1.5-litre unit that debuted in the 2 supermini, this model emits just 105g/km and returns 70.6mpg on the combined cycle in front-wheel drive trim. Opting for all-wheel drive pushes emissions up to 123g/km on manual versions and 136g/km on models fitted with an automatic gearbox.

Thanks to their large capacity, the petrol engines feel responsive at low revs, but they sound harsh when revved beyond 4,500rpm. The diesel responds well from low revs, while its muscular 270Nm torque output results in effortless mid-range acceleration. However, the unit sounds a little gruff when extended.

We’ve come to expect agile and engaging handling from Mazda models – and the CX-3 is no exception. The steering is light but direct and accurate, while the six-speed manual gearbox has a crisp shift action. Body movement is well controlled for such a tall vehicle, plus there’s plenty of grip.

Whichever engine you choose, you’ll benefit from the same sharp exterior styling. The CX-3 is the latest model to be treated to Mazda’s bold KODO design treatment, and takes its cues from the larger CX-5 and the new 2. That means there’s the same bold front grille and mix of daring curves and creases.

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Inside, the CX-3 gets the eye-catching dashboard from the 2, complete with a trio of eyeball airvents and a instrument cluster that neatly integrates digital and analogue dials. The cabin is generally robustly built and the switchgear operates with slick precision, while stitched leather effect trim for the dash helps create an upmarket feel.

As with other Mazda models, there’s a choice of SE, SE-L and Sport Nav trim levels. All versions get air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen infotainment system that includes a DAB radio. The SE-L adds climate control, heated front seats, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking, while the Sport Nav gets sat-nav, LED headlamps, a head-up display, keyless entry and a BOSE audio system. Both SE and SE-L models can be specified with sat-nav for an extra £600.

Styling

The CX-3 is the latest model to benefit from Mazda’s dynamic KODO design language. Heavily influenced by the brand’s CX-5and 2 supermini, the CX-3 has a squat and sporty stance the rival compact crossover models can’t match.

At the front is the Mazda’s trademark trapezoidal grille with distinctive, chrome-finished wing insert, while bold curves and creases are cut into the car’s flanks. A raised ride height and black plastic wheelarch extensions help give the CX-3 a rugged edge. Another highlight is the gloss black trim insert on the C-Pillar that helps to create the impression of a ‘floating’ roof.

All models get alloy wheels, body coloured bumpers and a subtle tailgate spoiler as standard, while the SE-L adds eye-catching LED front foglamps and privacy glass for the rear windows. Flagship Sport Nav models are identified by their larger 18-inch alloy wheels and LED headlamps and rear ‘signature lamps, plus the addition of extra chrome for the sills.

Inside, the CX-3 is heavily influenced by the new 2 supermini. For instance, the neatly styled dashboard is carried over largely unchanged, which means you get the same simple layout, eyeball air vents and instrument cluster that combines a large analogue speedometer with digital rev-counter and trip computer. The layout is straightforward and easy to use, plus the switchgear operates with precision. The interior is robustly screwed together and feels well up to the rough and tumble of daily life. Mazda has tried to give the car a premium feel, and the addition of soft touch plastics and stitched coverings for the instrument binnacle help disguise the CX-3’s humble city car roots.

Still, the driving position is comfortable with a commanding view of the road, plus there will be few complaints about the levels of standard kit. Bluetooth, cruise control and powerfold mirrors are all included, as is air conditioning. All models also get a DAB radio as part of the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which can also be accessed using an intuitive rotary controller mounted on the centre console. SE-L models add climate control, heated seats and lane departure warning, while the tange-topping Sport Nav benefits from sat-nav, keyless entry and a powerful BOSE stereo.

Driving

Like many recent Mazda models, the new CX-3 benefits from the brand’s efficiency boosting SKYACTIV technological philosophy. Underpinning this approach is Mazda’s commitment to reducing the weight of all its cars, which helps to improve both fuel economy and performance. Mazda is also keen to pursue its policy of ‘right-sizing’ for its engine line-up, meaning it bucks the current trend for introducing small capacity turbo petrol engines.

As a result, the only CX-3 petrol powerplant is a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre unit that delivers 118bhp in standard guise, or 148bhp when fitted to the flagship Sport Nav AWD auto. Regardless of which version you choose, the Mazda still feels a tiny bit sluggish at low revs, but it begins to accelerate strongly as the revs build. Unfortunately, the brisk acceleration is accompanied by a harsh engine note as the revs build towards the redline. On the plus side, the slick six-speed manual gearbox serves-up the sort of snappy and positive shifts we’ve come to expect from Mazda.

The 104bhp 1.5-litre diesel is refined at idle, but a little gruff when extended. Still, it pulls strongly from low revs thanks to peak torque of 270Nm being delivered at just 1,600rpm. This mid-range muscle makes the diesel an effortless and relaxing long distance cruiser.

This impression is backed up the CX-3’s low levels of wind noise and decent isolation of road roar. And while the ride is a little firm around town, where it thumps into potholes, it smoothes out more the faster you go.

Happily, this comfort doesn’t come at the expense of driving fun. As with other Mazda models, the CX-3 has been designed with driver engagement in mind. The steering is well-weighted, quick and precise, allowing you place the car accurately. And despite its high-riding stance, the CX-3 feels far more composed and stable through a series of corners than a Nissan Juke.

It’s not quite as agile as 3 hatchback, but the CX-3 is extremely nimble for a crossover. Two-wheel drive models feel a little more alert and light on their feet than the four-wheel drive models. However, the AWD models boast impressive traction, particularly in slippery conditions.

Reliability

Mazda has forged a strong reputation for reliability, and that’s reflected in its excellent eighth place finish in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. The brand’s dealers also scored well, securing 14th overall in the same poll.

The CX-3 certainly feels robustly screwed together, while around 80 percent of its components are shared with the new 2 supermini, which means they should have been thoroughly developed. Furthermore, the 2.0-litre petrol engine has already seen service in the Mazda 3, 6 and CX-5 and has so far not had any significant problems.

Mazda has also worked hard to make the CX-3 safe, and all models get six airbags, stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. The SE-L benefits from the addition of lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking, while the Sport Nav adds a heads-up display, reversing camera and powerful LED headlamps. Buyers can also add the all-weather security of four-wheel drive, although this electronically controlled transmission is only available in top of the range Sport Nav trim.

Practicality

The CX-3’s external dimensions are slightly larger than those of the Nissan Juke, so it’s no surprise to find there’s more room inside. Occupants in the back get a decent amount of legroom, while only the tallest passengers will find the sloping roofline eats into headroom. However, while there are few complaints about the amount of space, the combination of steeply rising waistline and small side windows mean the CX-3 can feel a little claustrophobic in the back.

Opening the tailgate reveals a 350-litre boot, which is four-litres down on the Nissan Juke. The Mazda’s load lip is high, but the boot is well-shaped, plus it benefits from a handy false boot floor that can be lowered to create more space, or raised to make a flat load area when the 60/40 split rear seat is folded.

However, the news is less good when it comes to cabin storage. There’s a decent sized glovebox, but the door bins are small and the centre console houses just a pair of cupholders and a small trinket tray. 

Running Costs

By keeping weight down and employing a number of fuel-saving technologies, Mazda has managed to keep running costs for the CX-3 in check. This is particularly true of the 1.5-litre SKYACTV-D diesel model, which in six-speed manual guise offers combined cycle returns of 70.6mpg and emits just 105g/km. Add the optional four-wheel drive transmission and emissions jump to 123g/km, while the addition of an automatic gearbox and AWD pushes the figure up to 136g/km.

The petrol versions aren’t quite as clean, and the standard 118bhp two-wheel drive CX-3 emits 137g/km. Yet while that figure isn’t at all bad for a large 2.0-litre engine, it’s 8g/km higher than the Nissan Juke powered by a 113bhp 1.2-litre turbo.

Our experts haven’t yet calculated residual values for the CX-3, but the success of the CX-5 and 2 supermini suggest that the newcomer should retain between 45 and 50 percent of its new value after three years.

The only real financial downside for the CX-3 is its high starting price. While it’s well-equipped and packs a decent amount of upmarket kerb appeal, the entry-level model costs around £17,600. By contrast, the cheapest Nissan Juke will set you back closer to £13,500. Of course it’s not as powerful, generously equipped or as upmarket, but in this fashion conscious sector of the market it gives buyers the trendy crossover look for less.

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