Mazda CX-3 1.5L Core: Basic yet fun

It was already a “Jinba-Ittai” moment in the first hour of driving the small SUV on a snaking stretch of a trunk road to a bucolic locale in northern Selangor.

The Japanese term refers to Mazda’s driving philosophy which translates to “horse and rider as one”, which in automotive parlance meant the car should provide a sense of connection and oneness to make the drive enjoyable.

The driving dynamics is not on the level of the MX-5 roadster for sure but the 1.5-litre CX-3 Core does provide an experience that’s engaging and fun especially when the road gets twisty.

The small SUV was handed to us for a weekend escapade recently and we were happy to clock over 370km on the odo.

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Introduced to Malaysia late last year, the 1.5L Core is the base version of a three-variant petrol model, with the other two getting a 2.0-litre engine.

They are all imported from Thailand.

We were reliably informed that CX-3 customers tended to go for either the 1.5L Core or the top variant with the mid-spec 2.0L Core not getting much love.

A look at the in-betweener shows a kit list that’s a mirror image of the 1.5L Core except for the more powerful engine and an asking price that’s RM10,439 more than the base’s RM107,920.

In US and Europe, the CX-3 has been replaced by the bigger and more premium CX-30. But over here, both small SUV models are still sold alongside each other — for now.

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The CX-3 is based on the Mazda2 platform, while the CX-30 is founded on Mazda3 underpinnings.

It may surprise you to know the CX-3 is still in its first generation, being eight years old and has undergone a facelift and updates in the intervening years.

To put it in context, generational changes in cars typically happen every 5 to 7 years though the advent of electric cars is shortening the life cycle.

Nevertheless, the CX-3’s Kodo design has aged well. After all these years, the CX-3 has evolved and remains attractive.

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What’s onboard

Its compact size with a wee bit higher ground clearance than the Mazda2 hatchback projects a cutesy yet sporty appearance with a coupe-like profile.

The flowing lines, a prominent front grille, and a dynamic stance continue to make it stand out.

As its name suggests, the 1.5L Core is a no-frills SUV. Many of the goodies found in the High Line variant have been omitted to knock it down to a more accessible price.

The SUV has been stripped of a sunroof, parking sensors, front fog lights, paddle shifters, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 360-degree view monitor, head-up display and wireless charger.

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A notable omission is the advanced safety suite comprising High Beam Control, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning System, Driver Attention Alert and Smart City Brake Support.

What remains still makes for a perfectly roadworthy car.

Its halogen lights all around. And one has to settle for fabric seats, manual air-cond controls, 16-inch alloy wheels, wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and manual seat adjustments.

Like the other two variants, it gets an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen — up an inch in the latest update.

It still gets G-Vectoring Control, Stop/Start idling, cruise control and safety essentials such as anti-lock braking, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, auto hold, hill launch assist, Isofix points and two airbags.

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Step inside

The interior is a mixed bag.

While we like the simple and clean appearance, the dashboard is dominated by hard plastics.

The meter layout certainly looks sporty though the adjoining digital screens are tiny and almost toyish.

Thankfully, a premium sense pervades as there are soft touchpoints on the dash and doors as well as a multi-functional steering wheel that is leather-wrapped.

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The floating centre display comes with the Mazda Connect car connectivity system that is however showing its age.

With a ground clearance of 145mm, just 2mm more than the Mazda2 hatchback, the driver still feels like he’s sitting low to the ground.

The seats are comfortable. In tandem with the small size of the car, the front seats are fine for average-sized adults but those with wider girth may find it less accommodating.

Three adults can fit onto the rear bench seat at the expense of comfort so it’s better to keep it a 2-seater in the back whenever possible.

Both rows get centre armrests though it would have been nice to have the front one raised a few inches higher for improved driver comfort.

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The glove box is sizeable and all door bins are big enough to stuff bottled drinks into.

Don’t expect to get rear air-cond vents or rear USB ports because there are none.

The 350-litre boot space is not class-leading but average; fold the rear seats 60:40 to open up an impressive 1,260 litres.

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Take the wheel

At 1,255kg, the 1.5L Core is the lightest of the three versions. And that helps in the agility department.

The vehicle and engine choices are well-matched. Producing 114hp at 6,000rpm and 149Nm of torque at 4,000rpm, the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre SkyActiv-G mill delivers a balance of efficiency, performance and everyday usability.

It’s a brisk little mill that makes enough power to propel the small SUV at a moment’s notice in whichever direction you want to go.

Thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control technology which uses engine timing to control chassis dynamics, this leads to smoother, more accurate steering inputs.

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The automatic transmission has a manual mode; row through the 6-speeds and punch the CX-3 on the highway or twisty B-roads and you get an idea of the sporty flavour it brings to the drive even in Normal mode.

The engine emits a gruff undertone and it gets gruffier in Sport mode as it is called upon to raise performance up a notch.

The 16-inch Bridgestones are not bad, being easy to handle at the limit of grip and offering good wet and dry braking.

The fact the CX-3 rides rather low is to its advantage, giving it a low centre of gravity and allowing the vehicle to be pushed through the corners with precision.

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Navigating the bustling streets of cities is a breeze with the CX-3’s compact dimensions.

The vehicle’s nimble handling and compact size make parking and maneuvering through tight spaces easy, a key attribute for urban dwellers.

Noise, vibrations and harshness are dialled down so the drive is generally quiet and refined.

Noise from the tyres and wind, however, starts to seep in when the engine is pushed harder.

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Bottom line

The 1.5L Core is the cheapest entry into an SUV with a Mazda badge.

It’s an attractive choice for those who value a dynamic driving experience, urban practicality, and a touch of Mazda’s signature elegance.

The basic package for the price is not as bad as what some critics make it out to be.

The 1.5L Core turns out to be one likeable car despite lacking a number of features.

What it’s not lacking is verve in the drive. The Zoom-Zoom spirit is strong in this one.

READ MORE: 2024 Mazda2 and CX-3 get 8.8-inch infotainment screen

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Mazda CX-3 1.5L Core

Engine: 1,496cc, SkyActiv-G DOHC, 16-valve, 4-cylinder petrol with VVT
Maximum power: 114hp at 6,000rpm
Maximum torque: 149Nm at 4,000rpm
Transmission: Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Features: Front-wheel drive, two drive modes of Normal and Sport, halogen lights, auto start/stop, fabric seats, manual air-cond controls, 16-inch alloy wheels, wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, G-Vectoring Control, cruise control, two airbags, anti-lock braking, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, auto hold, hill launch assist, walk-away lock, Isofix points
Suspension: Front McPherson Struts; rear torsion beam
Fuel consumption (combined): 5.7 l/100km
Kerb weight: 1,255kg
Boot capacity: 350l
Price: RM107,920 (OTR without insurance)

Autos Mazda
CarSifu's Rating: 7.2