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The Mazda CX-3 is that small sport utility vehicle or SUV one should never leave at home.
For starters, that begins with the sport-ute’s outright pace. The tuning is such that light taps on the throttle are needed to get moving and at the default “(D)rive” setting too. But if you want to overtake cleanly, particularly on expressways, you: 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 (right paddle is for upshifts, left paddle is for downshifts) 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. For flatlands, third gear up to fifth gear should be your choice of ratios. On inclines, it’s best to use only third gear, as second gear is way too short and you might bounce off the rev limiter.

Using “(D)” displayed smooth shifting and willingly wound up the 2.0L for hard forward motion yet reduced rev counter needle loitering. The CX-3 can be your fuel saving companion anywhere, because this writer posted an 11.77 kilometers per liter consumption rate on 384.6 km traveled — all while consuming 11/15 of the 44 liter tank on four days of mixed driving.

The CX-3’s straight-curve-straight transition inspired confidence even for those without performance driving skills. A seemingly low stance for an SUV, the AWD, wide Toyo Proxes R40 215/50R18s, well-weighted yet responsive electric steering, longer stroking dampers derived from its Mazda 2 sibling 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, including the initial brake pedal push.

The typical CX-3 owner spends most of his or her time in urbanity. That said, 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 had limited vision. Second is the external lighting, which was generally bright, but the big come-on is the daytime running lights (DRL) within the headlamps. The DRL allows for prolonged reduction of actual headlight usage, especially at dawn and dusk (or in well-lit parking areas), since the battery is less taxed due to the DRL’s use of light emitting diode bulbs.

Mazda claims that the CX-3 is more than pleasing aesthetics. Rather, it’s also a tool to aid the driver in reducing fuel consumption by reducing drag coefficient. As part of the Kodo (“soul of motion” in Japanese) overall design philosophy, airflow over the CX-3’s front surface was made smooth by optimizing the shape of the rear edges of the front bumper, the foglamp bezels and the headlamp protrusions while giving the a-pillars (the metal beams that form the vertical pillars of the front windshield “frame,” so-called because it resembles an “A” shape) a seamless cross-sectional outlook. The rearward flow of air off the roof and sides was streamlined by shaping the rear edge of the roof like a spoiler, adopting rear side spoilers and sculpting the shape of the D-pillar garnishes. Airflow over the sides, floor and over the rear wheels were maximized by designing shapes and garnishes that reduce drag. This enforces the “freestyle” part of the Freestyle Smart Crossover platform on which the CX-3 was based.

Whether town tooling, highway cruising or just stationary, arguably the CX-3’s main attraction is the cabin. Occupant comfort, convenience and sophistication was emphasized, particularly when it came to noise and vibration insulation, ICI (which has Bluetooth capability and satellite navigation), seating materials and item loading. Every ICI, power lock and airconditioning 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. The only ICI controls that take a lot of familiarization are the “down one menu,” “Home” and “speaker phone” toggling.

Another example is the remakable noise and vibration damping, surprising given the 18-inch rims and tires. Normally, wheel-and-tire combos beyond 15 inches of diameter have harsh rides due to reduced rubber thickness, but the CX-3 was an exception. Sound-supressing inner floormats were taken from the CX-3’s Mazda 6 and Mazda 3 relatives, along with Mazda 2 floor panels (but made thicker, particularly atop the crossmembers and the spare wheel pan).

The cabin materials displayed luxury common in higher-priced autos. 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.

SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: Mazda CX-3 2.0 AWD Activ

Type: Subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine type: Mazda SkyActiv G DOHC 16-valve inline four cylinder 2.0 gasoline (13.0:1 compression ratio, 146 hp/192 NM), with Gasoline Direct Injection, naturally aspirated.

Transmission: Six speed SkyActiv Drive automatic transmission, with manual mode, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and Driver Selection Switch, i-Activ all wheel drive.

Price as tested: P1.48 million.

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