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First Drive: Mazda CX-3

Launched in 2015, Mazda’s CX-3 B-segment SUV has established itself as a volume seller for the brand, having sold 58,627 units in Europe in the last year contributing 24% of Mazda’s 242,000 European sales and proving its market interest.

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SECTOR Compact SUV   PRICE £19,785-£25,785   FUEL 40.4-64.2mpg   CO2 114-160g/km

New for the refreshed car are revised looks, suspension and more premium interior, along with an all-new diesel engine.

Looks can be deceiving and the new CX-3 certainly doesn’t shout but rather whispers its subtle changes, including a new grille, B and C-pillars and sideskirts. Inside, you’ll find a revised dashboard that feels more premium and logically laid out, as well as a redesigned centre console that now offers cup holders for the front passengers. An electric parking brake saves interior space too, while an auto hold function allows the driver to keep the brakes on without holding the pedal – similar to systems found in Volkswagen Group cars. In the rear you’ll find a revised centre arm rest that also offers cup holding.

Fit, finish and materials all feel top notch even in its basic SE Nav+ trim, right through to ‘Sport Nav+’ grade, which comes with leather, heated seats and a plethora of other highlights. Middle-spec SE-L Nav+ is the best all-round option, equipping the car with convenient features including dusk-sensing headlamps, climate control and Mazda’s Advanced Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), which itself has received an update and is now capable of detecting pedestrians at night. UK-spec cars, however, won’t get Mazda’s latest radar cruise control, unlike European models.

The major changes are to be found under the hood. The new diesel 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D replaces the outgoing 1.5-litre diesel and offers more performance but fares better on the WLTP test cycle. Power output is an adequate 113bhp and 199lb.ft torque, which enables a combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg and emissions as low as 114g/km CO2, from the front-wheel drive manual variant. Each engine in the line-up is available with either manual or automatic transmission and all-wheel drive is an option on the most powerful petrol engine or the diesel. A choice of 119 or 148bhp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engines promise a smooth, responsive and refined drive with economy of 46.3-40.4mpg and CO2 of 140-160g/km. Both are notable for their lack of particulate filter, yet each is WLTP compliant, as is the diesel, as well as meeting Euro 6d-TEMP emissions regulations.

Each engine is available with a six-speed auto, which is a now retro breath of fresh air from the forever changing gears of competitor 8+ speed ‘boxes.

The first noticeable improvement out on the road is the suspension setup, which is far more compliant than competing brands with a less aggressive setup. However, this compliant ride hasn’t come at the expense of rolling about in corners, ensuring confidence in its capabilities and even allowing modest ‘sporting’ enjoyment. The new 1.8 diesel is a touch gravely when cold, but soon warms up and matched to the slick six-speed manual and Mazda’s clever “Natural Sound Smoother” system (inherited from diesels used in the CX-5 and Mazda6 range) allow for classy refinement. There’s some evidence of turbo and throttle lag, but none so much as to make the car unpredictable.

The lower powered petrol engine, with auto box, offers a modicum of additional refinement, though its lack of torque doesn’t win it any favours when asked to climb hills or haul luggage, as we did on our test route in southern Spain. Around town, the auto shines and seems to always find the right cog.

Opting for all-wheel drive didn’t offer any noticeable handling improvements, though it certainly made an impression on fuel economy. However, it’s a good option if towing is likely.

Mazda’s CX-3 is an excellent alternative to its immediate competition and the latest refinements only strengthen that position. Whether the new diesel will win hearts over the more refined petrol engines is debatable, but there’s no doubting it will appeal to the mind.

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.