Mazda CX-3 2.0 150PS Sport Nav AWD

Red Mazda CX-3.

If you think that a small crossover is going to be one of the least exciting cars you could drive, it’s maybe worth tasting the performance in my latest test car. It’s a Mazda CX-3 with a two-litre petrol engine and four-wheel-drive, and it’s about as quick of the mark as a Volkswagen Golf GTI 220.

I’ve been driving the CX-3 for a few days and it’s already won me over. It’s a quick, secure and instinctive car to drive, in Sport Nav trim it’s dripping with genuinely useful technology, and the added traction of four-wheel drive means wet roads, frost patches, mud and even an inch or two of snow should pose no major problems.

In short, it’s possibly the ideal car for someone living in the countryside and wanting something small, nippy and tougher than average.

It’s a good looking little car too. The wheels are pushed out to the corners so it looks well planted. The tapering fold lines down the bonnet and the sweeping creases down the flanks look air-sculpted. The shoulder line rises towards the back to give the car a wedge-like profile and create a muscular bulge over the rear wheelarch. It has big wheels, narrowed lights at the front and back, a nestling cockpit, and a big grille. It all just looks so well proportioned.

Red Mazda CX-3 parked next to the River Tyne in Gateshead.
Some very tasty equipment is fitted as standard, including a head-up display, a 7″ touchscreen for the information and entertainment features and a rather exceptional Bose sound system with seven speakers including one sub-woofer under the floor that’s so big it takes away a sizeable proportion of the available luggage space.

The view out the rear is frankly atrocious, thanks to that rising flank, lots of pillar holding up the back of the roof and a rear window so small that it doesn’t even nearly fill the rear-view mirror. Thankfully we have proximity sensors and a camera to take some of the guesswork out of reversing.

Stab the start button that’s hidden behind one of the stems on the steering column and things come to life. The small transparent panel that rises out of the dash is where the head-up display is projected. On it we can see the speed we’re travelling at and the lane-departure warning icon that changes if we drift across the road. It will also show us turn-by-turn instructions if we’re using the satnav.

Mazda CX-3 interior with satellite navigation display showing on the touchscreen.
The dash is dominated by one big dial, and it’s a revcounter rather than a speedometer, although the speed is also shown in figures in a small insert in the bottom right corner. Already we’re feeling pretty sporty.

That big touchscreen doesn’t actually need to be touched. Instead, you can use a couple of knobs with a cluster of buttons round them in the panel between the driver and passenger. They’re easy to find and use without taking your eyes off the road. The big knob can be turned or rocked like a joystick to find your way round the onscreen options. The small one is a simple volume/mute control for the radio. The buttons are quick shortcuts to the sound system, navigation or the home page and they’re easy to find by touch.

The drive out of my house is steep and gravelly but there’s no sign of scrabble as we rise to meet the mettled road. Once we’re out in the world, the CX-3 takes a breath and runs at it eagerly.

Mazda CX-3 luggage compartment with rear seats in place and parcel shelf folded up.
I found the steering a little light at first, but I soon get used to it as the car ducks and weaves accurately and securely along the twisting country lanes. Gearchanges come and go so easily that it’s fun to stir up the six cogs to keep the engine whirring. Maximum power is reached at 6000rpm which is at the upper limit of the red line, so you know that the faster the engine is spinning, the better the response you’ll get.

The grip is great, the suspension is firm, the experience is tremendous fun. I have the heated seat turned on and I’m glancing at my progress on one of the best detailed satellite navigation systems I’ve yet seen. It gives very fine, named detail of even the remotest countryside, and it seems to me that it can zoom out further than most other systems before losing sight of the unclassified roads.

Also worthy of note is the huge amount of light that the LED headlamps pump into the night, turning into the corners for you as you go.

Red Mazda CX-5 being driven along a moorland road towards a low sun.
So the CX-3 is a great driver’s car, but it also has space for a couple of six-footers and one rather lesser mortal in the back. The boot has nothing dramatic to say about it, but there is a shallow underfloor tray which I’d probably use to stow a tow-rope, a foot pump, a torch, some emergency hi-viz waterproofs and a handful of glow-sticks.

The on-the-road price for this little crossover in warm hatch clothing is £22,495, which is at the upper end of the market. What it needs most of all is something better than the rapidly dating three-year/60,000 mile warranty. Hopefully that’ll be the next Mazda upgrade because there’s little else needs changing here.

Price £22,495
Engine size 1998cc
Power 148bhp
Top speed 124mph
0-62mph 8.7 seconds
Fuel economy 44.1mpg combined
CO2 emissions 150g/km
Towing capacity 1200kg (braked)
Euro NCAP Not tested
Information correct at publication date