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Mazda continues to drive to top

Less than two years after its original launch, the popular Mazda CX-3 has had a model upgrade. Darren Moody takes a first look.

When the Mazda CX-3 was first launched just on two years ago, the small SUV class was fledgling, with few contenders. ​

It immediately hit a chord with both consumers and motoring journalists and was named Judge’s Choice in the 2015 Australia’s Best Cars awards. CX-3 quickly rose to lead this category, despite many new entrants, and is still the most popular model in this segment.

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But in the automotive industry those who stand still get passed very quickly, so just less than two years after the original launch, CX-3 gets a model upgrade. Externally you’ll need to be a train-spotter to pick the upgrades in design, but it is under the skin that gets the treatment.

Changes to front suspension bushing and material improve handling performance and noise insulation. Changes to rear torsion bar bushing and angle improve ride quality. Improved door and window seals and increased and upgraded insulation make the cabin noticeably quieter. This really stood out on the launch drive.

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The 1.5L turbo diesel engine has come in for a bit of an upgrade also. Two new systems, ‘natural sound smoother’ and ‘natural sound frequency control’, combine to cancel piston vibration and diesel ‘knock’ to reduce noise from the diesel engine. I’m not totally sure of all the technicalities of these two systems, but they do work. I’ve seen one of the lowest fuel consumption figures since I’ve been testing cars with this engine in the previous model, with a country run returning less than 4L/100km over a good distance. I’ll be interested to get a drive on home soil to see if I can emulate this.

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The big-ticket item for me was the inclusion of Autonomous Emergency Braking across all variants in the range. Mazda calls it Smart City Brake Support – Front/Rear (SCBS F/R) as it intervenes and applies the brakes both forward and reverse if a crash is imminent and the driver hasn’t reacted. Mazda is the only manufacturer in this segment to offer this across the range. SCBS-F operates via a wide-angle forward-sensing camera and is designed to apply brakes in response to someone suddenly appearing at an intersection. The system has an operational speed between 4-80km/h. SCBS-R uses the rear bumper-mounted ultrasonic sensors to help mitigate collision damage when reversing.

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You are spoiled for choice with the CX-3 with four model grades (Neo, Maxx, Touring and Akari), petrol or diesel engines, six-speed manual or auto transmissions in two or all-wheel drive. Pricing kicks off at $19,990 for the Neo manual and tops out for the full-fruit Akari auto diesel AWD at $37,690 (plus on-road costs). Mazda says the volume seller is the Maxx auto petrol FWD, but I’d stretch to the Touring with the same drivetrain if your budget will go an extra $4600. 18” alloys, heated and folding mirrors, LED DRLs, fog lamps, headlights and tail lamps, auto wipers and headlights, keyless entry and start, driver attention alert, heads-up display and traffic sign recognition is an extensive list of additions for the extra money.

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The Achilles heel of the CX-3 is still space. While all occupants have reasonable room, the area behind the second row is limited compared to others in the category. However, this is the Small SUV segment, so space shouldn’t be on the top of your shopping list.