2018 Mazda CX-3 Maxx
(3.5 / 5)
- Good looking
- Better quality than the Mazda2
- Mazda2 is much cheaper
- Mazda2 is better on fuel
It’s a bit of a cheap shot to call the 2018 Mazda CX-3 Maxx a jacked up Mazda2, but when you boil it down, that’s exactly what it is. So is there enough distinction between the two cars to make the CX-3 worth the extra money?
Anyone with a job in marketing knows that their clients will want them to target where the money is.
So, you can see that when the public wants to buy SUVs and crossovers, you need to build them and take advantage of the trend. So if there’s an opportunity to adapt a current platform to create a new SUV, then it’s money for jam, as the expression goes.
The formula for the Mazda CX-3 is quite simple. Take a Mazda2, add a different body and raise it slightly, and fiddle with the interior. But how does that make it an SUV? The answer is simple – it doesn’t.
The CX-3 is, at best, a crossover. It’s basically a tall hatchback, but with the marketing folks labeling it as an SUV, it’s selling in droves. Surely there’s more to it than that. Why would Mazda be selling so many otherwise?
We decided to spend a week with the CX-3 Maxx front-wheel-drive version to see what all the fuss is about, and in that time came to enjoy it more than we thought we would.
Open the doors and you’re greeted with exactly the same design as you’ll find in the much cheaper Mazda2. However, the trim has been made to look a little more luxurious, even with the cheap starting point. How does it do that?
More padding across the dashboard, a faux-fiber material which swathes the center stack, different seat materials; it all helps to differentiate the two cars.
Given the similar size between the two cars, you can tell that there’s a similar amount of space, so the back seat is a bit too tight for adults, however, if you have small kids they’ll be fine. Front passengers are okay, but it is quite a small vehicle, with a wheelbase of just over 100 inches.
The boot is 264 liters, which is fine if you’ve got two or three bags of shopping, but it won’t be enough for much luggage if you plan to get away for a while. If you’re not going to use the back seats, you can fold them down and get 1174 liters. But that’s nowhere near what the CX-3’s competitors offer.
You’ll find a small flap that you can remove from the boot floor, creating a bit more space, but it’s there to make the loading area flat with the seats down. We reckon most folks will simply store that in their shed and make the most of what space there is.
And no, you won’t find a full-size spare wheel, only a space saver.
The standard equipment list is quite good, including blind spot monitoring, autonomous braking, reversing camera, rear cross-traffic alert, and Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment as standard.
This gives you digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Pandora and Stitcher apps, sat-nav and a 7.0-inch touchscreen display. Although it must be mentioned that only certain aspects of the touch screen actually work. Some functions can only be controlled through the rotary dial in the center console.
Engine and transmission
Open the bonnet and you’ll find a 2.0-liter four-cylinder petrol motor that has no forced induction. Instead, Mazda’s Skyactive technology is used. How that works is it has a very high compression ratio (around 13:1) creating a much hotter burn, using fuel more efficiently.
This little engine makes 148 horsepower, and coupled with the six speed automatic will get to 60 mph in around nine seconds.
It’s also happiest if you’re not running around with your foot flat to the floor, where the engine starts to sound a little buzzy.
You can also activate a “Sport” mode for the transmission which holds onto the gears a bit longer (and keeping it in its powerband) however the auto’s not the smoothest shifter when doing that. Again, it’s at part throttle that the CX-3 stays its happiest.
When you do that, it’s actually quite efficient for a small petrol SUV. At 28 mpg around town, it’s going to give you a range of around 460 miles from the 48 liter fuel tank, as long as you’re not trying to extract maximum performance from its engine.
The ride is good, better than higher grade models on bigger wheels, and it handles reasonably well for a sub-compact crossover. The steering is also direct, but there’s enough weight to be satisfying.
But let’s put this into context dynamically. This isn’t a Golf GTI. It also isn’t a massive luxury SUV like the Audi Q7. For its size and stance, the CX-3 is pleasant, though nothing outstanding.
The CX-3 was last crash tested in 2015, but since then the only update has been cosmetic. It scored 36.44 out of a possible 37 points, earning it a five-star safety rating. However, if you’re looking at the latest criteria for safety scores, without autonomous braking the CX-3 would be a four or five-star score these days. Thankfully, the latest CX-3 gets AEB so although it hasn’t been retested, we’d expect a five-star result.
Six airbags, ESC, traction control and Isofix points on the two outer seats round out the safety suite.
Warranty and servicing
Mazda offers a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty, with lifetime capped service pricing.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. The first five service intervals will cost $286 and $314 alternating between the two, however every 40,000km there’s an extra $200 to replace the cabin air filter and brake fluid. All in all, quite reasonable pricing, even through a dealer.
Here’s the deal
If you think that the Mazda2 gets almost the same amount of equipment, has the same amount of room, and is more economical, it is quite a compelling buy. It also starts at $17,690, which is a saving of $5200 – that’s a fair help for the hip pocket.
But even though the CX-3 only has 8mm more ground clearance than the Mazda2, its bigger engine and better trim make it feel a bit more solid. In fact, it weighs the equivalent of three people more than the donor car. Drive them back to back, and you’d be forgiven for spending the extra $5K.
Clearly, the Mazda2 is the better buy. But the CX-3 is the more substantial car.