2015 Mazda CX-3 2.0 120PS 2WD SE-L Nav Auto Review – The Grown-Up Compact Crossover

Mazda CX-3?

Mazda’s 2015 CX-3 takes its place in the rapidly-growing category of compact crossovers, and against some fierce competition too. With a lot of choice out there, what’s the CX-3 got going for it? Carry on reading our comprehensive buyer’s guide to the 2015 Mazda CX-3 2.0 litre 120PS two-wheel-drive SE-L Nav Auto to find out…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav exterior

I really like the exterior design of the 2015 CX-3. Although it’s a small crossover (same width as the Nissan Juke, but 110 mm longer), the CX-3 looks more grown-up than others in its sector, and certainly it’s a stylish thing.

Mazda now use a design theme they call ‘KODO – Soul of Motion’ and describe it as ‘a muscular body with a strong backbone. An elegant demeanour that hints at the character beneath. An appearance that oozes charm and sophistication‘.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav front

And in all fairness, while car designer speak can sometimes be overly flowery, Mazda have spoken true on this one. The CX-3’s bodywork flows beautifully, and has an athleticism about it. Not powerful exactly, but firm and sporty all in one. Up front, the narrow lights and deep heavy-set bonnet lines give it a focussed profile, while a large grille and smartly-styled, contemporary grille and blade-edge chin and fog lamps finish the look off very nicely.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav exterior

The windscreen is raked back heavily, and from a side profile adds to the CX-3’s handsome flowing bodywork. It’s a little unusual (but not in a bad sense) as the shoulder line – where the metal meets the glass) starts high at the very front, dips heavily in the middle of the panel, before climbing again, with the rear door following on but climbing high towards the back of the car and onto the c-pillar.

A high shoulder line and narrow glass give the appearance of low roof, and Mazda have also gone for the ‘floating roof’ as well, as is becoming popular, by blacking out the aforementioned c-pillar to make side and rear glass appear as one. Clever, and it works.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav rear

The CX-3’s rear is thankfully as interesting as the rest of the bodywork. I think sometimes designs can get a little lazy with that, and it can be so much so that you’ve got a decent-looking car from a front three-quarter view, but an absolutely boring back end, which rather spoils things.

Mazda have given the CX-3 narrow, angular rear lights and interesting contours on the back, from top to bottom. There are even cool twin tailpipes to finish the rear off nicely. I like the CX-3’s design, and they seem to have developed something that will appeal to all ages.

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Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Slide your butt into the driver’s seat of the new Mazda CX-3, and you’ll likely appreciate the design of the cabin. I noticed fairly quickly that a fair amount of tap-hard plastics have been used, and some of them do feel a tad flimsy. However, the physical finish of the trim pieces have clearly had thought put into them, and they actually look okay, thanks to decent texturing.

There’s some good styling going on inside, and it wouldn’t be fair to describe it as boring or dull. Instead, as with the exterior, the interior feels more grown up than many of the Mazda’s rivals. Sure, it’s not as fun or funky as some of those, but in all honesty, I believe one can quickly grown tired of those, whereas the Mazda’s approach will last well.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav cabin

While I had the second-from-top of the range SE-L Nav on test, even the start of the range SE looks genuinely appealing, thanks to a smart seat design clad in ‘premium black cloth’ and a 7″ colour touchscreen on the dash. The only real physical difference in appearance on the higher SE-L Nav model is that it gains chrome surrounds to the ventilation dials.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav vents

Should you want to upgrade the seats, it’s not as simple as optioning a leather package, but instead the whole car gets upgraded to the top Sport Nav version, which actually looks very nice, and includes either black and red leatherette/cloth trim package, or the more expensive half stone leather/half black Lux Suede pack, both of which include 18″ gunmetal alloys.

Either way, it’s all good. The centre console layout is simplistic and uncluttered yet ergonomic, with just three ventilation dials to adjust, two heated seat buttons (on the SE-L Nav) to press, and virtually everything else being controlled via the smart touchscreen system or steering wheel mounted buttons.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav centre console

You’ll notice on the centre console between the seats has few controls. This is the Multimedia Commander, and it’s actually an alternative to pressing the screen, and includes the scroller wheel to go through the menus, a home button to jump back to the main menu, plus one button to go directly to the satellite navigation and another to go to the music menu.

Behind that is a volume dial, a back button and another one that jumps to your programmable favourites screens. I found it to be a brilliant system to use, and Mazda have even thought to include a small rest for your wrist while you’re using it, to avoid repetitive strain or discomfort.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav Multimedia Commander

Scrolling through the menus, it’s obvious that the system Mazda have used is a good, for there’s no stuttering, slowing or glitches of the graphics or usability, even when you go from one another quickly. Instead, the graphics themselves are slick, while the menus offer efficient usability and are logically laid out.

The controls on the steering wheel are also linked to the touchscreen, but personally I liked using the Multimedia Commander so much that I preferred it over using either the wheel mounted controls or touchscreen itself. The system includes integrated Bluetooth, DAB radio, aux and USB ports, plus Aha app and Stitcher app integration for Internet radio, Facebook and Twitter functionality.

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I used the say nav system a few times for longer motorway journeys, and again found it to be a good one, with clearly marked directions and easy-to-use address inputs. The speakers seemed decent at first, but on a couple of motorway runs I did notice that they were easily drowned out from exterior noise when it was windy, and turning them up louder didn’t really do much to improve things, as the tone ranges don’t compensate well enough. They’re not bad when it isn’t windy, but could do with improvement.

Further features I like on the CX-3 include the comfortable steering wheel (yes, there are uncomfortable ones), and the instrument cluster in front of it, which consists of a traditional-type speedometer dial but a digital rev counter and info screens either side of that. It works well, and all are easy to read.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav driver

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, although I’d have preferred them to have had adjustable lumbar support as well. The seats have reasonably deep side bolsters, but they’re also quite narrow too. I’m fairly broad, and I think anyone larger than myself would start to find them a squeeze. Definitely something to remember if there are two of you looking to share the car – both have a sit in it for at least a decent length of time.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav front seats

The rear seating isn’t bad really, and Mazda’s engineers have made the most of the room back there, with leg room being reasonable for the size of the vehicle, although if you’re on the taller side it may be a little cramped. They aren’t too bolt-upright, but they would benefit from being at more of an angle. Some cars have a two-slot adjuster for this, and the CX-3 would definitely benefit from one of those.

Head and elbow room is fine too, and while the windows are fairly narrow the cabin doesn’t feel claustrophobic either. I found the boot space to actually be quite good, and the opening to it is easily large enough to fit in a large dog cage (Alsatian Boxer X sized hound), with the rear seats folded. There’s also a ‘false’ boot floor, which lifts up to allow taller loads or covered to hide valuables. Handy. Stats for the boot are (to belt line): rear seats up: 350 litres, rear seats folded: 1,260 litres.

Overall, a good-looking, well designed and well-equipped cabin that is comfortable for the size of the car.

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Engine & transmission

Out of the five different specifications of CX-3, only the range-topping Sport Nav gets the full range of two engines, two transmissions and two drive types.

The four specs below the Sport Nav come only with two-wheel-drive (driving the fronts), and a choice of a 120PS SKYACTIV-G petrol engine with either a 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual, or a 1.5 litre 105PS SKYACTIV-D diesel.

Go for that top-spec model though, and you have a choice of the same as above plus the 105PS diesel with the automatic and all-wheel-drive (AWD), and a powerful 150PS SKYACTIV-G petrol unit with AWD, but in manual guise only.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 litre 120PS engine

Both engines and all three power outputs are decently fuel-efficient according to official stats, but as I was sent the 120PS we’ll concentrate on that. This is a 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder petrol engine producing 118 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 150 lb ft (204Nm) of torque at 2,8000 rpm. The 150PS version uses the same engine, and produces the same torque figure.

I was sent the six-speed automatic 2WD model, so 0 – 62 mph is completed in 9.9 seconds, and it’ll go onto 116 miles-per-hour, while the official UK fuel economy stats are: urban: 38.7, extra urban: 57.6, combined: 48.7, with 136 g/km CO2. According to Mazda, the manual fuel economy varies very little compared the auto, so bear that in mind if you still think autos are a lot heavier on fuel.

How different are the real-world results though? On a motorway run at 70+ mph I got a return of almost 47 mpg, and a mixed run of city and country driving gave 40 mpg. In light traffic and at around 40 – 50 mph, I believe you’d quite easily get into 50 mpg too. Not bad at all.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 litre 120PS engine

This is due to Mazda SKYACTIV technology, and the i-ELOOP system which are explained in-depth here. This will be included on every new Mazda from now on. The i-ELOOP (Intelligent Energy Loop) system is a capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system, and in short works by a 12V-25V double-layer capacitor being charged each time you release the accelerator, charging it fully within the average deceleration time of 7 – 10 seconds. Impressively, this is enough stored power to run components such as the climate control and audio systems for 60 seconds. Combined with i-Stop (stop-start), this makes the cars up to 10% more fuel efficient. Clever stuff.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

From the off, the CX-3’s 2.0 litre 120PS SKYACTIV-G engine felt much more torquey than the 150 lb ft it actually produces. I expected a slightly gutless-but-frugal offering, but in fact it’s a superb engine. With naturally-aspirated engines starting to be overtaken by turbocharged versions, there are some about that can really feel like they need a forced induction system bolting on, but the Mazda doesn’t.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 120PS Sport mode

Whilst 118 horsepower isn’t a whole load by today’s standards, but the power is delivered smoothly and cleanly right up through the rev range. There’s also enough low-down torque to give the CX-3 the ability to overtake at lower speeds efficiently and without really breaking a sweat, plus easily enough power higher up to pull past doddering cars when on motorways.

The six-speed automatic transmission is a bit of a peach, changing slickly up or down the range, and at the revs where you’d naturally think it would. There’s a sport mode too, and it genuinely seems to free up more power, or at least be much more responsive the throttle inputs, and it also holds it tightly in gear before changing up in order to let you squeeze the maximum power out of the engine.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav automatic transmission

I found the manual mode also works well, and it allows you to really punch it to high in the revs without it nannying you and taking over by changing gear itself. It’s the same changing down too, and can make a little country road run that much more fun when you want to poke it well into a corner before braking hard and changing down to get some extra engine braking on top. A great automatic gearbox, and as mentioned, there’s very little in it compared the manual where fuel economy is concerned.

Regarding the ride, starting off with the negatives, the CX-3 does ride more firmly than I expected and it seems to jolt over the bumps more than I’d like at lower city speeds. It’s not bad, but it could do with being more supple. The suspension feels more biased towards the sportier handling side of things, and indeed the CX-3 is actually a surprisingly nice thing to take down a winding bit of road at a pace, sitting decently planted and with a positive feel at the steering wheel.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 SE-L Nav steering wheel

I take audio notes rather than written ones on the cars I test, and listening back to them, I’m highly enthusiastic about the way this Mazda drives, goes and handles, so it certainly made an impression, and especially so with regards the responsive 120PS petrol engine. So, if you want a sporty-driving compact crossover, I’d certainly test this alongside any of the others out there.

Mazda CX-3 2.0 120PS SkyActiv

On a motorway run, the CX-3 120PS strides along superbly well, and with a long sixth gear you’ll find you’re only doing around 2,200 rpm at 70 mph, and as such it provides a relaxed, quiet engine and good economy. Road noise isn’t too bad at all really, but I did notice that there’s a considerable difference between seventy and eighty miles-per-hour in regards to wind and road noise penetrating the cabin. It’s not a real issue, but there’s certainly room for some improvement in that area.

Safety-wise, the CX-3 comes equipped as standard with dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags, dynamic stability control with traction control, hill hold assist, tyre pressure monitoring, emergency stop signalling. The SE-L Nav spec I had also includes lane departure warning and Smart City Brake Support.

Price

(Figures correct Feb. 2016) Prices for the 2016 Mazda CX-3 range from £18,795 to £24,695. The SE-L Nav version I was sent was priced at £20,795, plus the option of Deep Crystal Blue paintwork which took it to £21,335.

Similarly-sized and priced compact crossovers include the Nissan Juke, Suzuki Vitara, Peugeot 2008 Crossover, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V and SsangYong Tivoli.

2015 Mazda CX-3 2.0 120PS 2WD SE-L Nav Auto verdict & score

I didn’t expect the Mazda CX-3 to be as nice or good as it was. Instead of some boxy, boring thing, it treated me to a car that provides a handsome exterior, a stylish, well-designed and well-equipped cabin more grown up than most, plus an energetic – yet frugal – 120PS petrol with the drive and handling to match. Oh, and that 6-speed auto is likeable too.

Points that could do with improvement include the wind and road noise being better dampened at higher speeds, and the low-speed ride being slightly more supple and less firm. Apart from that, the CX-3 is an enjoyable car to drive and be in.

Do you own a 2015 Mazda CX-3, or have questions about it? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below! Read more of our Mazda reviews here.

Exterior  8.5
Interior  8
Engine  8
Transmission  7.5
Price  8
Handling  7.5
Drive & Ride  7.5
Overall Score  8.0 / 10 

Specs

Model (as tested)  2015 Mazda CX-3 2.0 120PS 2WD SE-L Nav Auto
Spec includes  16″ alloys, automatic lights, rear privacy glass, auto wipers, rear paring sensors, climate control air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, all-electric windows, engine start/stop button, 7″ colour touchscreen system with Bluetooth, Aha app stitcher for internet radio, Facebook & Twitter, CD/MP3 player, DAB radio, AUX & USB inputs, Mazda sat nav. See website for more detail
Options you should spec  N/A
The Competition   Nissan Juke, Suzuki Vitara, Peugeot 2008 Crossover, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V and SsangYong Tivoli.
Price  (Feb. 2016) £18,795 to £24,695. As tested: £21,335 inc. metallic paint
Engine   Petrol, 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder, naturally-aspirated
Power, Torque  Power: 118 bhp @ 6,000 rpm | Torque: 150 lb ft (204Nm) @ 2,8000 rpm
Drive, Transmission (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 6-speed automatic
Boot capacity  (VDA litres) Behind 3rd row: 232 | Behind 2nd row: 784 litre | Behind front seats: 1,750
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 116 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 9.9 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 4/5 stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 38.7, Extra urban: 57.6, Combined: 48.7 | CO2: 136 g/km
Weight (kerb)  1,270 kilograms (2,800 lbs)
Websites  Mazda UK, Mazda USA, Mazda worldwide

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies

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