Mazda CX-3 Maxx
Indicative drive away price: $27,750
It’s back-to-back wins for Mazda CX-3 which, when launched in 2015, introduced a new concept to this growing cohort of city-centric SUVs: brilliant build and finish quality in an affordable and great-driving small vehicle.
CX-3’s winning attributes are still relevant and have remained unchallenged. In fact, CX-3 made such an impressive debut that in Australia’s Best Cars awards last year it was acclaimed as the Judges’ Choice, where all judges voted on the vehicle they felt had made the most significant impact on the local market.
There are four model grades in the CX-3 range, and the most popular with Australian consumers is the Maxx, which finds a sweet spot between equipment, some small luxury touches and price, which is $27,750 drive-away.
As with other vehicles in the Mazda range, considerable effort has been made to optimise CX-3’s ergonomics, particularly in regard to keeping the driver’s eyes on the road. The toggle on the centre console is where most people’s hands fall, and it operates functions displayed on the screen, which has been placed high on the dash so the driver’s eyes don’t have to stray far from the road.
CX-3 is based on Mazda2, and while it may indeed look like a Mazda2 in a high chair, it does have some punchier engine choices compared with those in the light hatchback. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated petrol engine which makes 109kW and 192Nm. That’s not a huge amount, but it’s not a huge car either.
Although it’s a sprightly performer, CX-3’s fuel consumption doesn’t come back to bite you, using only 6.1-litres/100km. That puts CX-3 near the top of the category for fuel economy and contributed to the considerable overall points gap between it and the second-placed Honda HR-V.
This leads us to one of the CX-3’s major points of difference from its competitors: the drive. CX-3 is comfortably the best-handling baby SUV in this year’s awards. Its steering is pleasingly accurate and the suspension, which is a simple set-up of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, has been specifically designed to optimise these characteristics.
The 2.0-litre engine and an intuitive six-speed auto combine to give CX-3 a nimbleness unrivalled in the category. Consumer demand for SUVs is continuing to push competition among manufacturers for shoulder room in the market.
Overall, SUV sales nationwide were up by around 8 percent in 2016 where the Australian new vehicle market as a whole rose only by 2 percent, indicating SUVs are punching well above their weight – even the lightweights.
On that note, CX-3 is light even among this company, weighing in only at 1226kg compared with the second-placed Honda HR-V at 1328kg and the 1408kg of Nissan Qashqai. This translates into one of CX-3’s few downsides, as its overall size means it has significantly less space than Honda HR-V and Qashqai.
1ST: MAZDA CX-3 MAXX, 780
2nd: HONDA HR-V VTi-S, 742
3rd: NISSAN QASHQAI ST, 698