For the uninitiated, a crossover is a car with SUV styling, but with family hatchback running costs and practicality.
Front-runner Nissan’s popular Qashqai sold 49,909 units last year, and their smaller model the Juke 39,260. 2015’s figures show the former nestled comfortably in the top five so far and it seems like every second car I see nowadays has a high roof, chunky tyres, and a question mark over its offroad capabilities.
The charms of the category had managed to pass me by, that is until someone dropped off a set of keys for a Mazda CX-3 for a road test. Now I’m a convert. A good car is – after all – a good car, and while the marketing of crossovers leaves me cold, this is a very good car indeed.
The CX-3 is the smaller of Mazda’s crossover lineup, but shares a distinct family resemblance with big brother the CX-5 in profile. The styling is a little sharper, especially at the front end, and our test car, with Sport Nav trim in Arctic White looks particularly arresting, the 18-inch gunmetal grey alloy wheels, black bumpers and chrome accents and grille detailing providing a contrast that makes the Mazda’s sharp styling even more dramatic.
The interior is equally stylish. The black leather and cloth seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve parked my behind in. There’s chrome, high-gloss red and piano black detailing sprinkled around the cabin and the dashboard, driver’s console and steering wheel are black leather with red stitching. It’s got an excellent BOSE stereo system and all the vents, dials and switches blend seamlessly into the lines of the dashboard. In this, the top trim level, the CX-3 feels every inch the premium car in terms of comfort, ergonomics and build quality.
The CX-3 shares a platform with Mazda’s Fiesta competitor the Mazda2, so legroom is limited in the rear seats, but the designers have managed to cram in a reasonably sized boot, with a clever hidden compartment to store the various electricals that the modern man or woman about town can’t leave the house without.
The touchscreen ‘infotainment’ system is responsive and easy to use, but one of my only gripes with the car is the visual design of the interface. Instead of clean, high-definition icons and backgrounds, the marketeers seem to have convinced the designers to overlay the display with a ‘distressed’ texture. The effect just muddies the display and in a cabin where everything is slick, clear and modern, it jars to have a satnav interface that looks like it belongs in the palm of Jennifer Lawrence as she picks her way across a post-apocalyptic teen movie set.
Push the start/stop button – the traditional method has been ditched for keyless entry – and you’re rewarded with a growl from the 1.5-litre SkyactivD engine which outputs 105bhp and returns 70.6 mpg combined. It’s very nippy around town for a diesel, and comfortable cruising at higher speeds as well – although I did find I had to drop the six-speed gearbox down to fifth a couple of times on the motorway.
Changing gear is a pleasant experience, with a chunky, shortshift gearstick that feels straight out of an MX-5, and the handling is nothing short of brilliant. The suspension is firm and the steering is tuned to perfection. Add the short wheelbase into the mix and you’ve got a car that looks like a miniSUV, handles like a sports car on the Broads and a Fiesta in the city.
Will it catch the Nissan Juke in terms of sales? Only time will tell. Will it tempt yet more buyers away from more traditional hatchbacks and saloons? Well, It’s pricier than a Fiesta or Corsa, but cheaper than a similarly top-spec Focus or Astra. Given it’s somewhere in between in terms of size I’d say that’s about right. If you cross my palms with silver I’d also say anyone who test drives the CX-3 will be convinced if they were on the fence about crossovers before – so long as they aren’t expecting many rear passengers.
All of the benefits of a great-driving family hatch, with a little less rear legroom and a little extra headroom.
Engine: 1.5-litre turbodiesel producing 105bhp and 199lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving front wheels
Performance: Top speed 110mph, 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds
Economy: 70.6mpg combined
Emissions: 105g/km of CO2