Every mainstream brand has one in their line-up, often ranking as the best-selling model in their respective companies.
While the CX-3 is a dinosaur in age compared to its rivals, it still looks fresh to people who don’t know much about cars. Bermaz gave an update to the Thai-assembled (CBU) CX-3 in late 2023 with the base Core variants replaced with a new name and more reasons to get it over the highest variant.
Now called the CX-3 Plus, the naturally aspirated (NA) petrol powerplants are retained from before – a 1.5-litre which is priced from RM 115,720 or a 2.0-litre which is priced from RM 126,159. Since we have done a review on the previous 1.5-litre variant, we’ll be focusing on the base 2.0L here.
I’ve gushed over the exterior in the opening paragraphs of this review but it is worth repeating how much of a looker it is despite the age. Yes, I am still sticking with the J Lo reference for the CX-3’s overall design because it still holds well against the likes of the Proton X50 and Honda HR-V.
Stick both the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre variants of the CX-3 Plus side by side and they are completely indistinguishable. Even the equipment list between the two is the same with the only difference being what’s under the hood but we’ll get there eventually.
Compared to the discontinued Core variants, the enhanced features on the Plus variants make the base CX-3 less barebones – and RM 7,800 dearer than the previous update.
The list of standard features includes LED headlights and DRLs, auto-folding outer mirrors, rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay, 6 airbags, and ADAS.
There are still some hints of this being the ‘kosong’-spec car like fabric seats and climate control knobs but honestly, I believe it is charming to see such simple features in what is essentially Mazda’s entry SUV model.
Sitting in the base CX-3 is a breath of fresh air compared to its rivals with its simple fuss-free use of knobs and position of controls. Unlike the bigger CX-30, the CX-3 has a touchscreen unit that operates when stationary with the MZD Connect dial being the infotainment’s control centre when driving.
Yet the natural position of the dial makes it feel easier (and safer) to select my destination or Spotify playlist even when I’m not on the move. It’s easy to get into a good driving position and the front seats have all the support that even Goldilocks will instantly approve.
While it is easy to feel just right in front, it is not quite as comfortable in the rear. Rear occupants might feel a bit too cramped especially if they are taller or even a little wider than average. During my time with the car, I offered my friends a lift in the CX-3 and they found the back to be a bit claustrophobic.
The CX-3 is chic from the outside but like many fashionable cars, it does a bit of compromise when it comes to space and practicality. Mind you, the CX-3 is a jacked-up Mazda 2 hatchback which has also been around for quite a while. Unlike the Mazda 2 though, this CX-3 has a lot more grunt under the front hood.
That jacked-up look was why I initially never really cared much about the CX-3 when it first came out a decade ago. Like any self-proclaimed petrolhead, I pushed it aside as Mazda jumping on the SUV/crossover bandwagon until I had a look at the specs sheet.
The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine (154 PS/206 Nm) has been a mainstay on the CX-3 since its local debut back in 2015 but when Malaysian units switch their origin from Japan to Thailand in 2022, a 1.5-litre NA engine (114 PS/149 Nm) was added to the line-up.
This 1.5-litre unit is essentially the same unit found in the Mazda 2 which was given a facelift here recently. Back when we drove the 1.5L Core variant, we remarked that the engine did not feel asthmatic and was quite capable when cruising.
Thus, with a bigger engine under the hood, it is natural for the 2.0-litre unit to give that extra boost in performance. The fastest 0-100 km/h time we did in the CX-3 2.0L Plus was 9.84 seconds (CX-3 1.5L – 12.3 s) and it is a lot more eager when sprinting hard.
While the 1.5L’s sweet spot is at highway cruising speeds (80-110 km/h), the 2.0L simply roars to life whenever you put your foot down on the floor. The torquey engine turns a demure model into an unhinged beauty queen and there is some joy in those bursts of power.
The SUV also feels balanced and fun around the corners that it has a hint of being a warm hatch than some run-of-the-mill jacked-up one. It feels composed as you carve around the bend and the steering wheel feels nicely weighted which adds a lot more confidence.
Yet, the CX-3 is also comfortable with little harshness as you go through bumps. It’s not the best in the segment but for a Mazda, which often prioritises handling over comfort, this is a small victory.
However, having driven both Plus variants back-to-back, the 2.0-litre engine doesn’t bring much else to the table besides the added firepower. Both variants are equally matched in terms of features as well as ride and handling so to say that the more powerful variant is better isn’t going to be a clear verdict.
For the fuel efficiency test, the CX-3 2.0L Plus consumed 8.39 litres of fuel over a total distance of 101.7 km in a mix of 50% city and 50% highway driving conditions.
It returned an average economy of 8.25 L/100 km which given the engine, makes this the more performance-oriented one of the two Plus variants. Comparatively, we achieved 7.7 L/100 km in the 1.5-litre variant.
With the addition of ADAS as standard, the CX-3 remains fresh and relevant among the sea of newer rivals. At RM 126,159, the CX-3 2.0L Plus brings great value for those wanting the baby Mazda SUV with a perky engine.
For those who believe top-of-the-line means the best, the 2.0L High variant adds 18-inch wheels, leatherette seats, a 360-degree camera, and a sunroof for RM 139,159. But at that price, you could have something bigger with the same engine in Mazda’s line-up.
With the locally assembled (CKD) CX-30 starting from RM 131,000, the CX-3 feels irrelevant in its highest variant. Yet, its compact size still makes it a compelling purchase in 2024 for those who do not feel confident driving a larger car (i.e. college students).
So, the Plus variants are the wiser choice for those seeking a brand-new CX-3 but the main question here is which is the winner between the two base variants?
The 2.0-litre engine has always been the heart of the CX-3 in Malaysia up until recently with the addition of a sole 1.5-litre variant. Having that peppy 2.0-litre unit in a compact car sounds exciting on paper and that feeling is echoed in real life.
I appreciate the extra performance of the 2.0-litre engine while maintaining a simple set of features – cloth seats, HVAC knobs, chunky 16-inch wheels – but the 1.5-litre variant is more than enough if you’re seeking the Plus variant.
In fact, with the addition of ADAS as standard, the cheapest CX-3 variant is all that you need if you’re keen on the compact Mazda SUV. It is just as comfortable and engaging to drive even with less power which if you’re using as a daily is just about what you need.