It’s Actually Fun to Drive - 2018 Mazda CX-3 (Pre-Facelift) Review

Since the day I tried the Mazda 2 (link to article) and the Mazda Miata NC (link to article), I found Mazdas to be engaging and fun to drive, even on models that didn’t really have to be. In Malaysia, Mazda cars are most probably driven by those who wouldn’t know how to appreciate it. If you’re just looking for a car to take you from point A to B, a simple Perodua would do. And if you still wanted something fancier, you could always opt for a Honda. But a Honda City or a Honda HR-V isn’t something I would call engaging. They’re comfortable, but not engaging. Mazda puts the extra effort for the whole ‘jinba ittai’ thing, but I wonder if people actually appreciate it.

*Jinba Ittai = Rider & Horse

I’ll have to thank Bermaz Motors for letting us borrow the CX-3 for 5 days. My first impression? It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. I never researched the specs of the CX-3 until I returned the car so that I could get a real first impression of the car. I liked the acceleration and cornering. It turns out the CX-3 houses a 2.0L naturally aspirated engine. I was expecting a smaller engine. The transmission is a torque converter with a lock-up clutch. What is a lock-up clutch? We’ll find out as we go through my writing process. The CX-3 is a small crossover with a front-wheel-drive drivetrain. A 2-litre 4-cylinder engine with a rather small body means it really is quite lively to drive.

We Borrowed the Pre-Facelift Model

With the  ‘MAZDASPORT ACADEMY ADVANCE DRIVING’ decals on the sides, I couldn’t go around telling people I just bought a CX-3. It was obvious that this wasn’t my car. The flip-side was that I felt like an Advance Driving instructor wherever I went. Before we go on, it is important to note that this is the pre-facelift CX-3. It still has a mechanical hand-brake.

You can head over to Paul Tan’s website to see what has been changed in the facelifted CX-3. They say the engine has been revised.

Engine: 2.0L SkyActiv-G I4
Transmission: 6-speed SkyActiv-Drive Automatic (torque converter with lock-up clutch)
Drivetrain: FWD
Year: 2018 (Pre-facelift)
Price: Approx. RM126,000 

What is it like to drive?

With a floor-mounted accelerator, a Head-Up Display, a shiftronic gear knob, paddle shifters, a cushion for your left knee, and decent seats, the CX-3 is driver-oriented, ergonomic, and engaging. If you enjoy driving, the CX-3 can be rather satisfying. Acceleration is decent even when left in automatic so highway cruising is a breeze. The transmission is not a dual clutch transmission and it allows you to stretch gears when in ‘manual’ mode. The paddle shifters come in handy in relatively straight roads, but through a series of corners on a B-Road, the ‘manual’ gear knob does a better job and almost makes you feel like you’re driving a rally car with a sequential-manual gearbox. ‘Almost’ being an overstatement but you get what I’m trying to say. It can be quite entertaining.

Although the ‘manual’ mode is not something you would usually use, I found it to be very handy when climbing up Fraser’s Hill the very next day after collecting this car. Automatic transmissions (torque converter, dual clutch, & CVT) are built to predict what gear it needs to be in. Dual clutches do this the quickest and prepare a gear in standby before even shifting. With a torque converter automatic, it depends how hard you’re flooring it and how the gradient changes. Driving up a hilly road can be very confusing for the automatic gearbox. Through the first section of Fraser’s Hill, I just left in third gear, and up the one-way route, second gear was good enough. Talking about hills, the CX-3 handles corners decently - confident and with good grip.

With a kerb weight of 1,339 kilograms, the CX-3 is in hatchback kerb weight category. The Mazda 3 weighs in at almost 1,300 kilograms too. The CX-3 really is then, just a lifted hatchback. It’s heavier than the Honda HR-V and Renault Captur, but lighter than the Toyota C-HR. Moving all this weight is a 2.0L SkyActiv-G In-line 4 naturally aspirated engine with 155hp. Similar to the 1.5 SkyActiv in the Mazda 2, the 2.0 engine also has a high compression ratio. You can read a short explanation of SkyActiv in the Mazda 2 review or just head over to Mazda’s official website to get an in-depth explanation of the design principals of SkyActiv and what it aims to achieve.

What is SkyActiv Drive (The Transmission)?

Mazda claims to provide the benefits of all types of automatic transmissions with its SkyActiv Drive. You get the direct feel/quick shift of a dual-clutch transmission, the fuel efficiency of a CVT, and a smooth acceleration and gearshift of a conventional automatic with a torque converter.

How does it achieve a direct feel/quick shift?
By widening the lock-up range (80% instead of 50%)

Wider the lock-up range > less time spent transferring power through the fluid in the converter > more direct drive/feel & quick shift


How does it achieve better fuel efficiency?
Also by widening the lock-up range (80% instead of 50%)

Wider the lock-up range > less time spent transferring power through the fluid in the converter > more direct drive/feel & quick shift > less power loss > better fuel efficiency


How does it achieve smooth acceleration and gearshift of torque converter automatic?
It still is a torque converter automatic. Just with a smaller torque converter and a multiple disc lock-up clutch instead of a single disc lock-up clutch.

I can only testify the direct/quick shift and the smooth acceleration and gear shift since I was driving the CX-3 like I stole it. I can’t say so much about the fuel economy because I wasn’t driving it in the most economical way possible.

How Mazda Does it on the Inside

Ergonomic, driver-oriented, and rather fancy. I like the screen controls that are mounted on the centre-console. Things have changed though in the face-lifted CX-3. There is no more mechanical hand-brake and the centre-console layout has been reconfigured.

A big enough indicator of what gear you’re in.

All Petrol Stations (even Petronas) show up as ‘Shell’ logos in the GPS


This is a segment that I personally call jacked-up hatchbacks. They are front-wheel-drive, have a unibody chassis, don’t have as much space as a full-sized SUV, and don’t have immense ground clearance. I believe the correct term is compact crossover.

Mazda CX-3
RM126,775.51, 2.0L NA
Engaging driving experience, but I’m not sure how many will appreciate that feature.

Honda HR-V
RM110,138.00, 1.8L NA
Comfortable but that’s about it. Interior is fancier than a Proton/Perodua/Nissan Almera. Probably the best selling compact crossover in Malaysia.

Renault Captur
RM102,844.62, 1.2L Turbo
Quirky Frenchie with a tiny turbocharged engine. A funky two-tone look. I don’t know how long Tan Chong wants to keep selling this.

Toyota C-HR
RM127,299.77, 1.8L NA
More refined than other Toyotas (Vios, Sienta). Looks like it came from the future. Poor man’s BMW X6.

Final Thoughts

Fun to drive. I never expected to say that about a crossover.

There's always the first one. Leave a comment!

Ooops.. You need to login to do so, login with one of the social media below.


    No comments