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2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx Diesel review

Isaac Bober’s 2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx Diesel review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

IN A NUTSHELL: The all-new Mazda CX-3 bridges the gap between the Mazda2 and Mazda3, that it sits up a touch higher than both those vehicles will see it do well in the competitive SUV landscape.

Editor's Rating

First thoughts of the CX-3 Maxx Diesel
Practical Motoring Says: The Mazda CX-3 Maxx Diesel isn't as dynamically successful as you'd expect from Mazda. It's smaller inside than some of its key rivals, but the engine and transmission keep it in the running... and that Mazda badge will be enough to see some buyers overlook any dynamic shortcomings it has. It's good, but not great.

THERE’S NO DOUBT the Mazda CX-3 is a good-looking machine. From its snout to its tail it takes all the best bits of the CX-5, shrinks them and ends up looking miles better than its bigger brother. Indeed, nowhere does Mazda’s Kodo design language seem to have worked quite so well as it does on the CX-3.

The latest sales figures for July showed growth from SUV sales as being the main driver of new car sales, and that sales trend doesn’t look abating anytime soon. While there’s been a rush to flesh out the medium SUV segment of late with the soon-to-launch Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Challenger and Ford Everest being revealed recently, the compact SUV segment is also pretty hot.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Indeed, the CX-3 sits neatly in the compact SUV segment alongside slightly bigger vehicles like the Skoda Yeti, Subaru XV, Nissan Qashqai and others. Most in the segment are just jacked up compacts; only the permanent all-wheel drive Subaru XV is the exception, with a usable 220mm ground clearance to cap things off.

So, just what is the CX-3? Well, it isn’t a spin-off of the Mazda3 as many people might think, rather think of it as an embiggened Mazda2. Indeed, dimensionally, it fills the gap between the Mazda2 and Mazda3. The CX-3 is 4275mm long; 1550mm high; 1765mm wide; with a 2575mm wheelbase. The Mazda2 measures: 4060mm long; 1695mm wide; 1495mm high; with a 2570mm wheelbase. The Mazda3 is 4460mm long; 1795mm wide; 1455mm high; with a 2700mm wheelbase.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Our test car was a the CX-3 Maxx Diesel and it gets 155mm of ground clearance and a braked towing capacity of just 800kg. It’s priced from $26,790 (+ORC), but being two-wheel drive only, you’ve got to shop a little higher at Mazda to get all-wheel drive, it’s at a distinct disadvantage for those looking for a compact SUV that’ll go a little further off the beaten track…

That means, what we’re probably best off doing is referring to the 2WD CX-3s as jacked-up wagons, and only the all-wheel drive variants as SUVs. And this changes the way we need to assess the CX-3, because looked at as an SUV (semantics only, I know) it’ll end up a long way behind the, say, Subaru XV which gets permanent all-wheel drive and lists for only a few thousand dollars more ($28,990+ORC for the CVT).

But, assess it as a road car and you’ll start comparing the CX-3 to quite a few different types of machine, even those from within the Mazda family, like the Mazda2 and Mazda3. But that’s enough philosophising for now.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Mazda claims the CX-3’s underbody is constructed (29% of it, anyway) from lightweight, high-strength steel which gives the car the same torsional rigidity as the Mazda3. The suspension, albeit tweaked to suit the higher ride height and thus centre of gravity, and weight, is borrowed from the Mazda2 and so is the steering, although the ratio is slower in the CX-3 given the nature of the car.

Under the bonnet of our test car is a 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D four-cylinder turbocharged diesel with i-stop (start/stop in real speak), which produces 77kW and 270Nm of torque, is mated to a six-speed automatic and consumes a combined 4.8L/100km. While the power figure is quite low, the torque figure of 270Nm means there’s plenty of grunt on offer.

That said, the CX-3’s diesel engine isn’t the most refined of diesel engines. There’s considerable clatter at idle and around town speeds, and whenever you ask it to drop a few cogs to tackle a hill, although the engine noise fades away at highway speeds.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

As mentioned, the 270Nm of torque means the CX-3’s engine is a fairly flexible beast, meaning you don’t ever feel like you’re running out of puff. And it’s happy to push past 2800rpm peak torque point without becoming breathless. The transmission does a good job of getting the most from the engine, although the shifts from the auto aren’t the smoothest around…

…Hopefully you’re sitting down with nothing close to hand you might pick up and throw at whatever device you’re reading this review on but when it comes to ride and handling, the CX-3 isn’t quite in the same league as its Mazda2 and Mazda3 siblings. Sure, most SUV buyers (not that I think the 2WD CX-3 is really an SUV, more like a Mazda2.5) aren’t looking for super agile handling, but when Mazda banks on its zoom-zoom philosophy, well, buyers should rightly expect a little more from the CX-3 in the handling department.

That said, I would like to mention that I’m reserving this particular assumption for this diesel CX-3. I haven’t yet piloted the petrol-powered, or all-wheel drive variants. So, don’t think I’m passing judgement on the CX-3 per se, just this particular variant. Although, some of the traits this variant exhibits would relate to the rest of the family, so…

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Overall, the CX-3 Diesel goes where it’s pointed and turns corners without falling over, so, in the end maybe that’s enough. Only it isn’t. The steering offers very little in the way of feedback or weight (certainly it’s not up to Mazda’s usual standards) and the ride, in general, feels a little fidgety. But it’s across, say, speed humps where the front-end in particular feels a little underdone, with the body bouncing over its front wheels; the rear is the same, but the bounce isn’t quite as hard. The more aggressive the imperfection, the clumsier the body control showing that the CX-3 is clearly underdamped.

Dynamically, the CX-3, or at least this diesel variant, isn’t in the same league as either the Subaru XV or Skoda Yeti, and is on-par with, say, the Honda HR-V.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Our test CX-3 Maxx Diesel lists from $26,790 (+ORC) and it’s pretty well equipped for the money, getting Mazda’s MZD Connect with seven-inch touchscreen as standard, which includes sat-nav and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Beyond that there are the usual suspects, like air con and cruise control, and power windows (although only the driver’s is one-touch up and down).

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

Inside, the CX-3 doesn’t look quite as well executed as the outside with the air-con and heating controls, while being very easy to use, looking cheap. And the two round, retro air vents on the dashboard look cool, and would be perfectly at home in a Mini, but they clash with the rest of the CX-3’s interior. Especially when there’s another vent in the dash that’s designed to blend in with the rest of the dashboard. There’s no doubting the MZD Connect system is a clever one, but it can take a little while to get your head around it, and the location of the transmission tunnel mounted controller means you really should be stationary to operate it.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

The reason I’ve mentioned the dimensions of both the Mazda2 and Mazda3 is to give you an idea of what to expect. Otherwise, like me when I first climbed into the CX-3, you might be surprised at just how compact it feels inside. I’m about as close to six-foot as you can get and I struggled to get the seat back into a comfortable position, resorting to laying the seat back a little more than I normally would. That said, my wife, who is shorter than me, was able to sit comfortably behind the steering wheel; reach and rake steering wheel adjustment means most drivers will be able to find a reasonable seating position.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review


One thing that irked the both of us, though, was the lack of a centre console, meaning not only is there nowhere to stash odds and ends, there’s nowhere to lean your left elbow… Over in the back seats and there’s enough room for two adults, although legroom isn’t great. That said, the back seats are set slightly higher than the front seats meaning that those in the back get good forwards vision, but it does compromise headroom.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx review

The boot features a false floor, which means you can stash car cleaning stuff, and first aid kits beneath the main boot floor. With the floor in place, the boot holds 264 litres, although the dimensions of 1000mm and 740mm mean it’s not a huge boot. Drop the 60:40 split fold rear seats and the boot grows to 1174 litres.

The CX-3 has achieved a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating. In addition it gets a raft of active and passive safety systems, including airbags, stability and traction controls, rear parking sensors and reversing camera, hill hold assist and ISOFIX mounts on the two outboard seats in the back.

2015 Mazda CX-3 Maxx Diesel

Price From $27,990 (+ORC) Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D four-cylinder turbocharged diesel Power/Torque 77kW/270Nm Transmission six-speed automatic Body 4275mm (L); 1550mm (H); 1765mm (W) Weight 1262kg Thirst 4.8L/100km


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5 years ago

A nice SUV.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ted

Nice yes, Ted, but not the best in the segment.

4 years ago

I agree, the best value is the ASX Mitsubishi

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober