February 27, 2017, 3:02 pm
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MAZDA CX-3 2.0 AWD ACTIV: An urbanite with all-wheel drive prowess

by Jude Morte 

As the title of this review implies, the Mazda CX-3 is a vehicle one should never leave at home, in order to tool around today’s cities.

The reasons are numerous, but for starters, that begins with the CX-3’s astonishing balance between fuel frugality and Mazda’s well-known outright pace. With regard to the latter, the SkyActiv-G tuning is such that just light taps on the throttle are needed to get moving, and at the default “(D)rive” setting too. But if you want to overtake others cleanly (particularly on the freeway): 1) Move the automatic transmission (A/T) stick down to “(D)” and left for the manual mode; 2) Tug down on the chromed lever behind the A/T stick to engage “Sport”;  and 3) Use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for gear transition. Toss in Mazda’s version of all-wheel-drive (AWD) – which is by default a front wheel drive setup, but activates the rear wheels via electronic control when slippage occurs – and you have assured acceleration on straights and turns. On the other hand, using the default “(D)” system displayed smooth shifting and willingly wound up the 2.0L for hard forward motion, yet reduced the rev counter needle loitering. 

Linking straights together are things called curves, and the CX-3’s straight-curve-straight transition game inspires confidence for even those without performance driving skills. A rather low stance for an SUV, the aforementioned AWD, wide Toyo Proxes R40 215/50R18s, well-weighted yet responsive electric steering,  longer stroking dampers derived from the Mazda 2 and increased spot welds (for added rigidity and driving stability, especially the front suspension top mount, front frame and front door hinge pillars) are big reasons for the handling. The deceleration, too, is superb, as the stoppers have bite, even with the initial brake pedal push.

The typical CX-3 owner spends most of his or her time in urbanity, and the SUV has aids to help the driver shoehorn it in cramped parking lots. One is a reverse gear-activated camera, with viewing thru the in car infotainment (ICI) screen atop the middle dashboard area. Even at night it’s great to use, as the resolution and brightness are similar to the ICI display at night, and the small rear hatch glass offers very limited vision. Second is the external lighting, which is generally bright, but the big draw is the daytime running lights (DRLs) within the headlamps. The DRLs allow for prolonged reduction of actual headlights usage, especially at dawn and dusk (or in well-lit parking areas). 

Arguably the CX-3’s main come-on is the cabin. Occupant comfort, convenience and sophistication was emphasized, particularly when it came to noise and vibration insulation, ICI (which has Bluetooth capability), seating materials and item loading. Every ICI, power lock, and airconditioning (A/C) control – along with the gauge cluster – was skewed towards the driver without losing front passenger involvement. For example, the ICI controls behind the A/T stick (specifically the volume knob) tote a small hump at the end. This is meant for the driver (or even the shotgun/front passenger) to run the ICI easily without accidentally hitting any button or knob. 

Another example is the remakable noise and vibration damping, surprising given the 18-inch rims and tires. Sound supressing inner floormats taken from the Mazda 6 and Mazda 3 were installed in the CX-3, along with floor panels borrowed from the Mazda 2 (but made thicker, particularly atop the crossmembers and the spare wheel pan). 

The sophistication part pops up in the cabin materials. The inner handle bezels may be plastic, but their craftsmanship gave observant eyes the impression of machined metal. The steering wheel, parking brake, A/T knob, right dashboard and center console armrest were clad in leather, with the first three mentioned pieces sporting a hairline finish that resembles the look on European vehicles. The front seats incorporated what Mazda calls Lux Suede®, coupled with soft piping and lines of stitching that produced a quilted look depicting high end appeal. 

The item loading is deceptively positive. Storage is limited with the rear bench upright, handling just a 2.7 meter foldable ladder and a small travel bag with the tonneau cover atop them. However, the rear bench folds flat to swallow larger (or additional) cargo. Also, stowage for small items isn’t a problem, as cupholders and cubbyholes abound in the interior. 

An SUV platform with goodies from passenger car brethren, comfort and convenience for four, multiple aids for parking, a balance between power and fuel consumption, and an attractive, seemingly wind-cheating exterior design make the Mazda CX-3 a must-have mover for any Philippine metro.
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