Top speed: 116mph

0-62: 9.9 secs

Mpg: 48.7

CO2: 136g

Price: from £18,195

ACE IN THE PACK

Mazda CX3 2.0 SE Nav

Mazda’s CX5, launched in 2014, was a stunning success picking up accolades from the press, grudging respect from the industry and a serious slice of market share in the lucrative compact SUV niche. A brief spin reaffirms the CX5’s prowess as simply the best car in its class. No surprise then, that a smaller version hit the streets late last year. The CX3 aims to emulate its big bro’s use of advanced technology to create an economical, good-looking, reliable cross-over that’s also fun to drive. So, hit or miss?

First, a recap. At the heart of the CX5’s success were three things. New engines, a new platform and a new design language all underpinned by an engineering 'philosophy’ Mazda calls SkyActiv. Simply, SkyActiv means using cutting edge tech to make all aspects of Mazda’s cars as efficient and light-weight as possible. Every ounce of weight is stripped out; the engines use unorthodox compression ratios to maximise efficiency; premium grade metals are used in the chassis to increase strength and lightness. The list goes on. And the CX3 is a continuation of this design approach.

It maintains the familial look based on Mazda’s KODO design theme, which means it’s a handsome fellow. Well proportioned, with a great mix of curves and sharp lines and a purposeful front end; it has real on the road presence.

Mazda CX3
Mazda CX3
Mazda CX3

Inside, it oozes quality, far more than you’ve a right to expect at this level. There’s a tasteful mix of finishes, including aluminium, carbon fibre, gloss black and soft-touch plastics and all controls feel good to handle. The infotainment screen is intuitive and easy to navigate and the dash is uncluttered and well laid out, whilst the seats are supportive and deliver a good driving position. Space is decent for two adults in the back but would be a bit tight for three, however with the sound system’s bass unit fitted, the boot’s too shallow– an issue that Mazda is looking to address. It’s well specced with 7-inch touchscreen, DAB, Bluetooth, climate control, alloy wheels and heated, electrically folding door mirrors as standard. Particularly neat is MZD-Connect, an advanced infotainment system that gives you easy, fingertip control over all your music, phone, navigation and vehicle settings and even provides internet app integration.

The CX3’s agility would count for a lot less if it weren’t matched by engine performance. But again the CX3 delivers. Our car had the 2.0 petrol which, thanks to SkyActiv, is a remarkably efficient, powerful unit. Diesel may still be the fashionable choice but Mazda’s petrols make more sense if you do more city than motorway driving. Instead of going the turbo/compressor route Mazda’s petrol engines are normally aspirated and use high compression to make them lean and mean. The lack of a turbo also makes them more responsive and free-revving and as good as modern diesels are, they can’t compete for driver satisfaction and pure fun. With 120bhp and a whopping 204 Nm of torque there’s enough pulling power to get you to 62 in 9.9secs whilst all that torque makes overtaking a breeze - and all this with 49 mpg (combined). Another ace the CX3 has up its sleeve is the incredibly sweet, short-throw manual gearbox – it’s a joy to use.

Where the CX3 really excels, like its sibling, is on the move. Though the CX5 is great for its size, you couldn’t call it nimble. But you can with the CX3. Its chassis, oddly, is based on the super-mini sized Mazda 2, and not the 3, which would be more logical. The upshot is that it has a small footprint, which, combined with the SkyActiv attributes of lightness and strength, means the CX3 is incredibly agile and great fun to chuck around. The lack of size also means you can be more carefree on where you place it, safe in the knowledge you’re less likely to clip a wall/hedge/wing mirror. You might expect this handling prowess to have an impact on comfort but no – whilst the ride is moderately firm it’s still comfortable and soaked up potted country lanes with aplomb. The steering is typical Mazda – precise and with good feedback, encouraging a press-on driving style. It drives more like a warmed up hatch than a cut-down off-roader.

The CX3 has to be top of anyone’s compact SUV shortlist. As the CX5’s mini-me, it’s got all its awardwinning big bro’s attributes, it’s great looking and it’s a hoot to drive and all this at what will be a more appealing size and price for most buyers.