IAIN ROBERTSON 

Not just a growing favourite of SUV fans but also a personal choice of Iain Robertson, the compact Mazda CX-3 has been ‘under the knife’ to enhance surgically its charming good looks and also to introduce a fresh array of technology.

Mazda is a car company that thrives on doing it slightly differently. As a brand, it appeals to lovers of convention, an increasing number of which are from professional fields: pilots, dentists and doctors. Yet, satisfying the dichotomy of concentrating on conventional engineering, while retaining currency in market sectors predominated by technologically-orientated brands, has had the positive impact of building its relevance, which might be a lesson from which its rivals can learn.

Having made its global debut at the New York Motor Show in March 2018, Mazda has announced UK market pricing and the revised specifications for the 2019 Mazda CX-3. It went on sale officially from the 31st August. The updated CX-3 is being offered in a simplified eight model line-up that also witnesses the debut of a new SKYACTIV-D 1.8-litre diesel engine, plus a host of technological and interior detail improvements. Again, Mazda flies in the face of the market antipathy being directed at diesel power. However, it is not a stupid company, a factor worth bearing in mind, as it is abundantly clear that diesel will recover from the government-fuelled antagonism in the UK and Europe.

From a purely visual stance, the latest versions of the CX-3 are distinguished by a revised radiator grille, with a darker side pillar treatment that enhances the sweeping coupe-like profile of this sporty little SUV. Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint (used traditionally for its concepts and motor show models) is now available on the new car. Offered in SE Nav+, SE-L Nav+ and Sport Nav+ trim-levels, all of them, with the exception of the entry-level 118bhp SE Nav+, feature front LED fog lights and rear privacy glass, while Sport Nav+ cars have 18.0-inch diameter silver alloy wheels, LED headlights, refreshed LED tail-lamps and chrome effect front bumper and side skirt garnishes.

Yet, it is inside the CX-3, where customers will notice the biggest revisions, with an even more comfortable, ergonomic and upmarket interior. Redesigned around the adoption of an electric parking brake, the centre console now flows into the dashboard more elegantly, while the Mazda Multimedia Command Centre (which works the touch-screen) has moved forwards for greater practicality and ease of operation. Comfort and functionality has also been improved, with a padded centre armrest, complete with console storage box beneath its lid, to improve oddment and in-car paraphernalia carrying capacity.

The front seats benefit from the application of high-damping urethane foam cushions that improve both comfort and support, while the rear seats now feature a central armrest with in-built cup-holders. Cabin refinement has been improved markedly, with upgraded door sill trims, thicker sound insulation in the doors and improved rear glazing. In addition, an increase in the cabin headliner thickness absorbs even more noises to deliver a dramatically refined cabin environment. It is also a spacious cabin, with superb, multi-adjustable accommodation in the front pair of seats and plenty of space for three-abreast seating in the rear of the car. Its boot is also a decent 490-litres.

With the focus on the driver engagement that is delivered customarily by Mazda, the latest model’s development also focuses on enhancing the handling envelope and improving ride comfort, to remove the slightly ‘nuggety’ but rattle-free quality of out-going models. To achieve those aims, new coil springs and damper settings have been employed and the front anti-roll bar has also been altered. Combined with recalibration of the electric power steering system, the upshot is more consistent weight transfer fore and aft, under acceleration and braking, with enhanced steering responsiveness and noticeably improved shock absorption.

As before, the bulk of the line-up is powered by the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol engine, which is available in the aforementioned 118bhp and 147bhp power outputs. Both are high-torque engines that are not demanding of the driver, although the punchier petrol unit delivers an engagingly sporty level of performance. Featuring innovations that debuted on the larger Mazda CX-5, when it enjoyed its round of detail improvements, the latest CX-3’s petrol engines have new edge-cut pistons and high-pressure injectors to enhance the torque produced throughout the engine’s rev-range, while also improving real-world fuel economy potential.

Making its debut in the new CX-3, the displacement of Mazda’s small and clean diesel engine has increased from 1.5 to 1.8-litres and it now adopts rapid multi-stage combustion technology, while new egg-shaped pistons combine with ultra-high response, multi-hole piezo-electronic injectors to increase overall efficiency. As with all of Mazda’s SKYACTIV diesel engines, the new 1.8-litre unit is designed to deliver a class-leading blend of performance, economy and refinement, while all three of the engines are homologated according to the requirements of the new WLTP/RDE test cycle and meet ‘Euro 6d temp’ emissions standards.

Ever since the CX-3 was launched in 2015, it seems to have hit the right spot with customers. In fact, it has been so popular that it is now Mazda’s second best-selling car in Europe. The new model range simply builds on that success and, from 1st October, the Mazda CX-3 Sport Black+ joins the range. Limited to a mere 500 examples, it features a black leather interior, black roof spoiler, black mirror caps and free-of-extra-charge metallic paint. As with all Mazda special editions, it adds a standout, distinctive and immensely desirable model to the line-up that is sure to sell-out rapidly.

From a purely experiential viewpoint, I have been a long-standing fan of Mazda but, more recently, of the CX-3, which seems to meet compact SUV demands to near perfection. Possessing fine build quality, attractive styling, a lovely, tactile interior and driving dynamics to keep it at the top of the most demanding of market segments, the Mazda CX-3 has satisfied the ‘big boots’ philosophy very well. The new car just moves the game on a couple of important notches.

Keen pricing, for many years a Mazda tenet, ensures that the two-wheel-drive entry-level model, which comes complete with sat-nav, starts the ball rolling from £18,995, before dealer discounts are applied, which could make this classy contender one for genuine contemplation. The least expensive 4×4 model is listed from £23,795, again, before discounts are applied, while the new 112bhp diesel variant, which is available only in front-driven form, starts at £22,895. There are only a few optional extras to consider.

Conclusion:    In terms of value-for-money, Mazda always takes some beating but, with the latest trim enhancements, a new CX-3 makes a compelling ownership proposition. Timeless, dependable and elegant, it is a new car worth serious consideration in the SUV sector but, as a family car, it has huge relevance.