Don't let its cuddly dimensions fool you — Mazda’s baby SUV is as versatile and capable as bigger rivals yet its size is city sensible.

The CX-3 drives into a booming small-size SUV segment that, by mid-this year, will have at least 18 rivals.

Mazda boldly predicts its vehicle will become this segment’s biggest seller.

On its world-first media test drive this week there’s not much to dispute that this little sister to the runaway success CX-5 is capable of great things.

It goes on sale in April and though pricing is yet to be announced, it hints at a band of about $24,000-$39,000.

That band is broad because Mazda intends to offer as many variants as possible — from diesel to petrol, all-wheel drive and front drive, three or four trim levels, and so on.

It will go up against the similarly sized Holden Trax, Nissan Juke, Ford Ecosport, Mitsubishi ASX and the Peugeot 2008.

But it also faces a dozen more expected here by the middle of the year, including the Renault Captur, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X.

Mazda Japan’s CX-3 project manager, Michio Tomiyama, says it was created when only the Juke was in its proposed market segment.

“Three years ago we didn’t have a car to benchmark this against, ” he says. “The Nissan Juke was about the only one. Now there are many.”

He terms it a “crossover” saying it is “a bit of a hatchback, a bit of a sports car and a bit of an SUV”. The CX-3 will come with a new 77kW/270Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel with a claimed sub-5.0L/100km thirst or a modified version of the Mazda3 2-litre petrol engine, now with 109kW/192Nm and economy of 6.3L/100km.

It is the fifth Mazda to use SkyActive technology that includes features such as low weight, high rigidity and fuel-sipping economy.

It will seat four adults and though headroom is good, legroom can be tight if there’s a tall driver.

The boot space is only slightly up on the Mazda2 (264 versus 250 litres) but the rear seats fold flat and the hatchback opening is wide and tall.

The equipment level, especially the safety kit, won’t be confirmed until Australian production. But the goodies on offer in Japan include blind-spot monitoring, head-up display, sat nav and a broad connectivity suite.

Cabin treatment is basically Mazda2 but with up-market materials, more features and fewer hard plastic panels.

Mr Tomiyama says it is important the new car raises the bar, with quality materials to create a “cutting edge” design.

“We wanted to compete with premiums sports-car models, ” he says.

Both engines are tweaked for performance and in the lightweight CX-3 body, feel lively and athletic.

With no other traffic in Victoria’s Anglesea proving ground, the CX-3 relished in being let off the leash and showed how much shake-up is coming to the segment.

The diesel is quick, economical — 7.9 L/100km on the track with heavy hands at the wheel — and always felt lively. The 2-litre petrol is more responsive and slightly quicker though produced a 12.5 L/100km track-averaged fuel consumption.

Turn the AWD into a fast corner and there’s near-neutral effect on its poise, much like you’d expect of a good sedan.

But in front-drive form, it doesn’t have the same handling finesse and lacks stability through bumpy corners.

Little matter, I think, to the CX-3s main target market of urban couples and those with small families.

THE VERDICT: In a segment more geared to space, economy and budget dimensions, the CX-3 adds a refreshing dose of enthusiastic performance. Love it!




© The West Australian

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