By: Tonette Lee
What is it about a Mazda that makes a driver giddy inside, all bubbly and smiling and grooving in the car, as you make your way down a highway? Get behind the wheel, and you’re sure to be moved by Mazda’s unique brand of driving pleasure.
The new Mazdas are looking as exciting as the first Axelas and Atenzas released in the early 2000s. The CX-3, like other Mazdas, is easy on the eye. Its rather small size, short rear, and very wide wheel arches present it like a sports compact. It is modern, sporty, with nothing in excess, very Japanese. There is nothing ugly about it.
Standing just slightly higher than some small cars, the CX-3 wows with its beautiful exterior design of sharply chiseled sheet metal and premium touches. You will get the double takes and the second admiring glances. Let’s put it right here, though — it’s not exactly your average practical car, and it isn’t your impervious SUV, either. It is a tiny vehicle, and sits lower than other crossovers do. Inside, it is black with some red for accent, and suede and leather meet to add an air of sporty elegance. The interior is cushy and well appointed, with the fine build quality expected from a Japanese import, including the dull thud as you close the door. The Mazda CX-3 feels expensive. We drove a Soul Red 2.0L AT Sport, with Mazda’s SKYACTIV-DRIVE, 6-speed automatic with sport mode. It is the mid-grade trim of a three-variant line up, and comes with 18-inch wheels, navigation on a 7-inch screen, and a heads up display, at PhP1,380,000.
And it drives like a dream.
I pulled out of the parking space and went south to Tagaytay. The CX-3 was swift and light, but always solid, and exhibited only the most polished road manners, and a perky dynamic we didn’t expect from a subcompact SUV. The first thing you notice when you drive the Mazda CX-3 is that it doesn’t feel like a crossover. It feels like a car. Tiny, but full of spirit — the Mazda CX-3 is playful, spritely and zippy in all the right places, always willing to do your bidding. The diminutive SUV is stylish, spirited, and delivers driving pleasure in extravagant amounts, reminding you that it belongs to the Mazda stable where exhilaration is a line item in the model’s specification sheet.
Small taps on the accelerator delivered bursts of delight. The Mazda CX-3 is always willing to pleasure you with its responsiveness and quick acceleration, it is nimble and very rarely “lag-gy,” just don’t compare it to your neighbor’s Mustang. 148 ps/ 6000 rpm maximum power might read puny, but the Mazda CX-3’s engine is responsive, it peaks quickly and long, only waiting for your next nudge. The combination of the responsive powertrain, and tight and precise steering gives superior handling. Uphill and downhill through mountain bends, it never lacked power, and did not exhibit any disturbing pitch and roll. Braking, too, was impressive, something extremely desirable in narrow provincial roads and sloping mountain passes, where a goat or dog might suddenly appear. Controls are uncomplicated and do not interfere with driving enjoyment. Mazda calls this intuitive, and it is: it took all of one minute to familiarize ourselves with the extremely logical controls.
Mazda’s bright-eyed child of a subcompact SUV is the perfect start-up SUV for affluent singles, or couples, looking for carlike convenience, while riding ever-so-slightly higher than a sedan or hatch, and love to drive. The pretty, petite dimensions will come as a compromise to cargo space and rear legroom, but it will easily get into tight parking corners, and drivers who are parallel-parking-challenged will find it easy to maneuver into very short spaces.
The rains came just as the day ended, and Saturday traffic happened as it does. The traffic introduced me to one unsettling feature: the i-stop. While Mazda’s website claims the operational feel is barely noticeable, the idling stop (i-stop) made its presence felt each time the engine re-engaged, more than other makes. But a Mazda is meant to be driven, not stopped at a traffic light for any length of time, plus it claims to save you 8% or so on fuel, so that works out.
It’s a pretty sight to see, standing on the curb, or moving nimbly through the traffic. If there’s a subcompact crossover that will send you on an endorphin-high as soon as you step on the accelerator, and keep you smiling the whole day, it’s the Mazda CX-3. I drove it for a couple of days after the first meeting, and silly me, I’m still smiling.