MAZDA'S long-awaited CX-3 was always going to cause a ripple in the small SUV segment.
Before it arrived in Australia early last year, all talk had centred around its stylish good looks, excellent on-road capability and top grade value for money features.
It has lived up to the hype, offering buyers an extensive choice of front-wheel and all-wheel cars with petrol and diesel motors in manual and automatic transmissions.
The CX-3 has quickly become a firm favourite, losing none of its sparkle and entrenching itself as an impressive benchmark in one of the fastest growing and toughest segments around.
Given that it is based on the Mazda 2 platform, one would not, and should not, expect oodles of interior space in the CX-3, yet the designers were genuinely clever with the room they did have, offering up a compact but versatile package.
There is noticeable effort in the fit and the finish of the cabin with a quality touch for the textured materials and operating buttons.
The instrumentation is a touch fiddly but easy enough to get accustomed to and the colour touchscreen a breeze to navigate.
The seats, while supportive and comfortable, are let down by clunky manual adjustment levers which makes it difficult to find the best driving position and - in my case - impossible to see the head-up display when you do. There is plenty of space for the front occupants but not as much for the rear-seat passengers, especially if the driver is tall.
Cabin storage could be better, with the CX-3 lacking those useful nooks and crannies and the boot, at 264 litres, is smaller than most competitors. It can fit a small weekly shop and school bags though which is a bonus, and you do get a considerable 1174 litres with the 60:40 rear seats folded flat.
On the road
All the petrol models in the CX-3 range are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit which in our test car was ably paired with a silky six speed automatic transmission.
It makes for an efficient combination, with the CX-3 impressing with its above average road manners and great handling.
Steering is responsive, the CX-3 is enthusiastic around corners and nimble on its feet. The ride itself is quite firm, but never unpleasant, and the road noise less intrusive than you would expect.
The engine can reach a bit when pushed but it is quick to resettle itself and you will have little trouble in keeping up with fast-moving highway traffic.
Around town, where it is likely to ply most of its trade, the CX-3 is a joy to drive, an excellent turning circle and an aptitude for quick changes of direction allowing for ease in tight situations. Some models have all-wheel-drive capability which is excellent for adding traction and surety but I certainly wouldn't venture off track.
What do you get?
Inclusions are generous, with the top of the range Akari housing a range of on-trend features including a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity, reverse camera with reverse sensors, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, 18-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, leather trim, sunroof and safety pack which offers autonomous emergency braking and blind spot assist as standard.
Our CX-3 registered economy figures of 7.5l/100km, not bad given the 6.1l/100km official figure. Mazda offers a three years unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing for 16 years or 160,000km.
It's jostle room only in this segment with the Nissan Juke (from $23,490), Honda HR-V (from $24,990), Ford EcoSport (from $20,790), Renault Captur (from $22,990) and Holden Trax (from $23,400) presenting the biggest challenge.
The lightness under foot, good ride height and hint of spaciousness has seen small city SUVs like the CX-3 grow remarkably in popularity. As much as we like to talk about their versatility, the reality is they are best suited for single people or young and old couples.
Yes, they can carry children, but families should really be looking at the CX-5 and its ilk. Our five-year-old found it difficult to do up her seatbelt as the base of her car seat covered the clip in bit and there was little room for her feet with the driver's seat pushed back.
I was also frustrated with the placement of the cup holders behind your left hand.
The CX-3 shares its design cues with the rest of the Mazda range and its trademark nose and sculpted lines ensures it is easily recognisable as the zoom zoom variety. We like its snazzy looks and sporty capable stance and the beautiful 18-inch wheels don't hurt either.
The CX-3 is both a fun and practical choice for city dwelling unencumbered hip singles and couples. It drives beautifully, looks good and has all the creature comforts.
While the entry models are priced attractively, the top of the range is a bit steep, although that doesn't seem to have dimmed the appeal. The CX-3 is an outstanding performer in a harried segment … and that alone speaks volumes.
What matters most
What we liked: Dynamic ride, funky exterior, good finish.
What we'd like to see: Electrically adjustable seats, more powerful engine.
Warranty and servicing: 3 year/unlimited kilometre warranty and fixed price servicing.
Model: Mazda CX-3 Akari.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small SUV.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 109kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 192Nm @ 2800rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Consumption: 6.1 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on roads: From $33,290 (entry from $19,900).
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 16/20
Style and design 18/20