Charlie Flindt finds the Mazda CX-3 offers fun, commitment-free motoring with a hint of nostalgia

The Mazda CX-3 brings the car company into a new segment of the market. With more buyers wanting four wheel drive but not needing a large car to tackle difficult terrain all year round, the CX-3 is Mazda’s offering to the compact crossover market. Charlie Flindt discovers that it only takes one road test to leave him grinning from ear to ear.

For more on off-roading read Charlie Flindt’s analysis of the Subaru Outback, or for a refreshingly old-fashioned option, take a look at the Mitsubishi Shogun.


I’ve always had huge respect for Mazda. It quietly gets on with producing modest, respectable and thoroughly conventional cars but always has a corner of the showroom reserved for something wacky. It persevered with the Wankel rotary engine (quiet at the back, please) when everyone else had given up – and it is solely responsible for the revival of the affordable two-seater sports car.

And now it has entered the compact crossover segment of the market with the Mazda CX-3. This is a curious segment. Recent snowy winters have re-awakened interest in four wheel drive, but car makers have realised that
not everyone needs to fill their vehicle with five jolly guns and their dogs, nor does everyone need the space and mundane practicality of an estate car. Behold the small to mid-sized compact crossover.

After Mazda’s unforgivable wrecking of the MX-5’s looks, it’s nice to see that it can still come up with something pleasing to the eye. The Mazda CX-3 has the sharp corporate bonnet edge and vertical grille, and some dramatic slopes and swirls down the side. The big wheels and tyres are in bigger arches, enhanced by even bigger bits of cladding. It could have looked a bit over the top but it works really well.

Mazda CX-3 interior

The Mazda CX-3 has an unconventional interior.

The same applies to the interior, with its unconventional dials, huge central rev counter and a clear-plastic “heads-up” display that flips up out of the top of the dashboard. Gimmicky perhaps, but quite practical to use. Seating is rather compact. The front seats are oddly narrow (unless I’d eaten too many harvest teas) and the rear seats and boot are limited for space.

On the move, the huge central tacho is not really needed – the 1.5 litre diesel is most unlikely to fly round to the red line. The Mazda CX-3 is a bit noisy, too, and is accompanied by considerable road roar from the huge tyres. There’s quite a high level of whine from the driveline which had me (still in combine driver mode) reaching for my grease gun. Mazda might want to find room and budget to allow a tad more soundproofing.


The key element, and it’s the one that Mazda has perfected in the MX-5, is fun. In today’s severely speed-limited world, enjoying the 40-50mph driving speed has become a priority. The Mazda CX-3 has quite enough power and, not surprisingly, fantastic levels of grip. A bit of gentle off-roading was a doddle, but I wouldn’t have used it to tow the diesel bowser to the combine.

Mazda CX-3 wheels

The Mazda CX-3 has wheels set in large arches.

That’s not what the Mazda CX-3 is about, though. It’s a curious concept – on the face of it, it’s fairly impractical but that’s making the mistake of looking at it through the eyes of someone who needs his four wheel drive to haul dead sheep, sockets sets, grease guns and children (in assorted combinations).

The CX-3 is about fun, commitment-free motoring, with a grin that Mazda is so very good at provoking. Perhaps that’s the secret to its charm and instant success – a hint of nostalgia.

The Mazda CX-3 has earned its place in the showroom’s wacky corner.


Engine: 1,499cc diesel
Power: 105PS
Max speed:
0 to 62: 10.5 seconds
Combined fuel economoy: 60.1mpg
Insurance group: 19E
Price: £23,395
Would suit: a slim nostalgic