Baby steps

If you must get such a small SUVÖ

DAVID HASSALL

Garage

FAREWELL

Just stop the idle chatter

One of my pet hates these days is idle-stop, not because I donít appreciate improved economy but because I feel itís an annoyance designed for a decimal-point benefit on a rolling road rather than in real-world driving. In the CX-3 you have to turn the darn thing off every time you drive it, which I do because I hate it. Still, I left it on for a couple of tanks of regular commuting to see what the benefit was Ė not exactly scientific, I know Ė and the result was actually a decimal point increase in consumption. I rest my case.

THE time arrived for our CX-3 long-termer to leave the Wheels Garage and I realised I hadnít given her a decent trip away from town, which is no way to treat a guest. So I arranged a longweekend escape to finally give the poor girl a decent canter.

Phillip Island in autumn can be a lottery, so we covered all the bases Ė thongs, shorts, hats, overcoats and umbrellas. But the weather was perfectly benign, with just the lightest of showers Ė enough to make me appreciate the automatic wipers but well short of what would be required for this carís on-demand all-wheel drive to really prove its worth.

Now Iím not saying weíre the lightest of packers, but all the crap for a long weekend away didnít take long to fill the CX-3ís boot and a fair portion of the back seat. Having also lived with a Renault Captur for six months last year, that made me seriously question the whole baby SUV genre.

Surely the biggest benefit of an SUV is extra space, but I doubt you would get any more stuff into a CX-3 than you would a Mazda 3, which is not much bigger. And for the price of this car, you could get a sporty SP25 that would deliver better performance, greater comfort and comparable economy. SUVs offer a higher seating position for better vision, but in these baby SUVs you still struggle to see past the bigger SUVs and pick-ups you inevitably find yourself behind, so whatís the point? And if you want to carry stuff, whatís wrong with a conventional wagon?

Still, people are voting with their feet and thereís no turning back on the SUV trend.

Which Mazda has clearly accepted. It has produced arguably the best vehicle in its segment and is reaping the rewards with ever-increasing sales. Barely a year after being launched here, there seem to be CX-3s everywhere Ė usually in the same handsome

Soul Red metallic paint you see here.

Make no mistake, this is a beautifully built car. It feels solid and there hasnít been a single problem or even a squeak in almost six months and 5000km (on top of our gruelling COTY test week). The leather appointments in this sTouring spec are beautifully stitched and every internal surface has a quality feel.

On our long, final journey together, the seats proved to be perfectly supportive and comfortable for both driver and passenger, the auto climate control did its thing and the six-speaker sound system provided sweet sounds from the iPod. If only the sound system was a bit easier to operate in general; it took months to get used to the i-controller system and Iíd still much prefer a series of dash buttons so that changing radio stations or frequency took just a single press.

The long trip also provided the benefit of a supple ride, though itís a bit bouncy, especially at the front. On the other hand, the highway runs emphasised the fact that the electric steering is overly dead and heavy at cruising speeds (a criticism I would apply to most modern cars).

I remain impressed by the six-speed automatic, but not the harsh 2.0-litre petrol engine, and Iíd have liked a wide-angle driver-side mirror to see better when merging and changing lanes.

I wonít miss the CX-3, but I also wouldnít hesitate to recommend one to anyone who has decided they really need this type of vehicle. Personally, I would prefer a Mazda 3 (as my parents and daughter have done) or, if I had to have an SUV, the bigger CX-5 (as my son has done). Yes, weíre a bit of a Mazda family, and the CX-3ís overall feel reminded me why. Thereís a good reason why the brand is so strong in Australia.

HEADS YOU WIN

First time living with head-up display and Iím a convert; it proved useful and not at all distracting

MAZDA CX-3 S-TOURING AWD

Date acquired: November 2015 Price as tested: $31,324 This month: 1828km @ 8.7L/100km Overall: 6481km @ 8.6L/100km a m Overa

Pushing the envelope

Another pet hate shared by many motorists is how carmakers donít allow the distance-to-empty readout to run down beyond about 50km. Thatís annoying; some 30 years ago I had a Nissan Skyline (great car) with a locally made trip computer that took you to 0km to go, at which point the car stuttered. To Mazdaís credit, the CX-3 also hangs right in there, though my confidence evaporated as the range got down to only 3km Ė even though I knew it was still four litres short of the tank capacity. I guess theyíre still playing safe.