REGULAR readers will know of my general antipathy towards that genre of automobile which has been called the crossover.
It has also been one of the most ridiculously successful — not to mention unexpected — endeavours ever undertaken by the motor industry, and by Nissan, in particular, as they pretty much invented it.
We know Nissan hit a nerve with the buying public when they came out with the Qashqai as it provided estate car levels of practicality along with SUV-esque height and stature. Cue zillions of sales and award gongs left, right, and centre — not to mention the best accolade of all: Every other manufacturer on the planet copying your idea.
I don’t dislike crossovers because of bad driving characteristics. I dislike them because they’re selling a phoney illusion to the buying public. They’re selling an SUV illusion to wannabe SUV drivers who are actually getting a high-rise car.
And that’s fine too, as long as people realise the machine they’re pining for is nothing close to that of which they’ve dreamed.
But whatever I think of them, crossovers are here to stay and their increasing numbers on our roads are indicative of their massive popularity. Thus, it is easy to see why every carmaker in the world is jumping on this particular wagon.
Indeed, as the genre matures and gestates with the addition of sub-classes, many of the latter-day crossover makers have tried to build an element of charm and character into their creations — qualities which were distinctly lacking in the majority of early iterations of the type.
Our tester this week — Mazda’s CX-3 — is a fine example of this new generation of crossovers, embodying great looks, a pleasingly aggressive stance, and excellent driving traits.
The CX-3 is what is called a “compact crossover” and if we have oft lauded in these columns the excellence of the products emerging from Mazda’s design studios, then this car further embodies all the good things which the company’s “Kodo — Soul of Motion” design ethic promises.
It also illustrates that Mazda has very quickly got to grips with the whole crossover thing and has, like Nissan, broken it down into component segments — much the same way that normal cars are sub-divided. The car therefore falls into a competitive segment which includes the likes of the Dacia Duster, the Skoda Yeti, the Kia Sorento, the Hyundai ix35, the Renault Captur, the Nissan Juke, the Fiat 500X, and the Jeep Renegade.
The Dacia and Skoda could be said to be anomalies in this class as they fit in the Qashqai/CX-5/Santa Fe segment, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Concentrating on the Mazda, it goes in to bat — realistically — against the Juke, Captur, the Korean twins, and the newly arrived Suzuki Vitara. It does so armed with that ‘Kodo’ design background as well as Mazda’s excellent SkyActive drivetrain solutions, which aim to provide excellent performance and economy.
The result is a machine which is not only a class-leading looker, but also really good to drive and packed with kit — at least the GT version I drove.
Although nominally the smaller brother of the CX-5, the CX-3 is more closely related to the Mazda2 supermini which featured in these columns last week. It shares the same platform as the hatchback, but is obviously taller, wider, and heavier. The lofty driving position will attract many, with comfortable driving and passenger seats another plus.
The downside is that the rear passengers are not so well catered for, space wise, and the boot space is on the skinny side. But the CX-3 is more likely to appeal to youthful buyers or as a second car, so this should not put many prospective purchasers off.
Interior decor is very good and in the GT spec you’re not going to find too much missing in terms of kit levels. It even has its own lane-change warning system, a little weird as it makes a funny noise which can startle passengers.
There are some shoddy plastics at lower levels of the cockpit, but, by and large, everything is decently presented. The instrument binnacle was particularly well put together and quite eye-catching.
On the engine front, the Mazda has been equipped with the company’s new 1.5-litre turbodiesel and it is a unit that impressed me no end. Although the 105 bhp output does not sound like much, there is actually plenty on offer here and the 10.1-second 0-100km/h time is as much as a second quicker than many in this class with similar sized engines. Top speed is 177km/h.
With some 240 Nm of torque available, you will rarely find the engine wanting and the six-speed manual gearbox allows you to keep things spinning nicely once you’re working the sweet spot. Worth noting too is the 4.0 l/100km consumption rate (70 mpg) over the combined cycle and the 105 g/km emission level which results in a €190 annual tax bill.
Handling and ride are well up to class but certainly not a match for other Mazdas I’ve driven recently — which was something of a surprise, I have to admit — but it is far from drastic. Grip levels are moderately good, but the steering was inconsistently weighted.
Then again, the majority of people who will be drawn to this car will not, dare I suggest, care much about these things and, as the majority of them will be confined to urban driving, may never even notice the car’s shortcomings here.
Worth noting perhaps, is the fact the 2-litre petrol version has been the subject of many rave reviews and while that unit might seem anathema to many people, it is not that much less economic or tax efficient and, by all accounts, is the much better handler on offer.
On balance though, I have to say I came away from the CX-3 with the renewed conviction that Mazda has one of the best model ranges out there right now and that this car seems sure to boost sales levels for the marque, not only here in Ireland, but across Europe as well.
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