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Up the boohai with an Aussie sheila and a new Mazda SUV

on April 13 2015 | in Highlights, Industry news, Latest news | by | with Comments Off

I knew the Aussie sheila on the sat-nav would get me into trouble when she said: “Take the first exit on the roundabout to Gor-don-ton road.” What? Then it dawned: She means Gordonton Road. As in Gordon-ton in the Waikato. Dear Lord, what next? She didn’t disappoint. Her words thereafter remained firmly wrapped around the first syllables of every placename. She had become Dr Frankengrammer herself, her instructions bolted together to mangle our monikers. Morrinsville became More-rins-ville. Not that it was on the route from Auckland to Taupo, just that we crossed over Highway 26 that goes through More-rins-ville while on the way to Lake Car-rap-e-o (Karapiro). Post lunch, we steered the new CX-3 SUV (top) through the South Waikato back roads. We crossed the dam at Are-wop-a-knee (Awapuni), on to Manga-ka-know (Mangakino) and exited somewhere near Wah-ira-key (Wairakei).

CX-3 is based on the Mazda hatchback

CX-3 is based on the Mazda2 hatchback

And so it went on. The Maori names especially came in for more verbal punishment. The next day, heading back to Auckland, Awapuni was still Are-wop-a-knee. Matangi sounded okay, but she got lost again in Hamilton, turning Pukete Rd into Poo-keet. Why? Because she wanted us to get off the Tea-ra-par straight (Te Rapa) and back on the Gor-don-ton road. We bypassed Ngaruawahia. Shudder to think what she would have made of that. Approaching Huntly on State Highway One, the Tainui Bridge Road became Tain-new-eye Bridge Road. Pokeno sounded like Po-keeno, although it could have been Pinocchio. Waiuku was Why-ooo-cow, Karaka was Carra-car, and Takanini turned into Tar-cack-a-knee. That’s the way it is with sat-navs. The sat-nav world is full of British accents, Australian accents … rarely do they get their tongues around Maori placenames. Perhaps it’s time sat-nav suppliers to NZ picked a Kiwi voice. But for all her stumble-bum gaffes, Dr Frankengrammer did at least provide lighter moments over 600km in the Mazda CX-3. The way she said Gor-don-ton and More-rins-ville set the tone. The car itself set a more precise standard. Recent Mazdas have done the same. “I can’t recall a time when we have had such appealing brand momentum,” says Mazda NZ managing director Andrew Clearwater.
Andrew Clearwater, Mazda NZ managing director

Andrew Clearwater, Mazda NZ managing director

“The unprecedented level of interest in the CX-3 strongly suggests we have another segment buster on our hands.” Cue the CX-5 SUV, Mazda6 and Mazda3 range and Mazda2 hatchback, all in the top three of their segments. The CX-3 is the Japanese company’s first entry into the compact SUV segment. Its build quality and ride/handling mix is first class and it will put skids under those rivals who don’t take it seriously. Two reasons: 1. because it looks so good; 2. because it is. It is arguably the best example of the company’s Kodo styling language: the longer bonnet, high waist, sloping roof, cab-back stance; neat rear end styling. The whole visual package is anchored up front by another crucial design element: the trademark grille sits lower down on the front bumper than other Mazdas. The CX-3 is based on the Mazda2 hatchback. It shares its sibling’s wheelbase, but is 215mm longer, 70mm wider and 55mm higher overall. Inside, there is plenty of everything, topped off with Mazda’s interactive system, MZD Connect. There are storage spaces here and there, USB ports, and a 12-volt socket. Driver and front passenger room is fine too. But the bigger dimensions on a small footprint come with trade-offs. Mazda has made much of mounting the rear seats a stadium-like 37mm higher than the front. It has done so to allow passengers back there to see what’s going on, to feel part of the furniture. But those rear passengers will more often than not be Hobbit ‘Halflings’, because, while head and shoulder room in the rear is okay, legroom is a squeeze, particularly if those up front are tall.
Rear end

Design language leads to neat CX-3 rear end

Same with the boot. At 264 litres, luggage capacity in the CX-3 is one of the smallest in the segment, down 150 litres and more on some rivals. But the 60/40 rear seats can be folded flat to boost space to 1174 litres. Six CX-3 variants are available – GLX, GSX, Limited – priced between $31,195 and $42,595. Three are front-drive, three all-wheel-drive (AWD), each powered by Mazda’s SkyActiv engine, transmission, and chassis technology. There’s a 2.0-litre SkyActiv G petrol generating 109kW at 6000rpm and 192Nm at 2800rpm, and a diesel 1.5-litre SkyActiv D delivering 77kW at 4000rpm and 270Nm between 1600-2500rpm. Both engines are paired with six-speed auto’ transmissions. Mazda figures more than 70 per cent of buyers will opt for the front-drive variants. That’s what is happening in the compact SUV segment. But there is definitely a place for the four-paw models. The AWD 1.5-litre diesel showed critical composure between Manga-ka-know and Are-wop-a-knee. A small truck with a large trailer suddenly wanted more of the road than it needed. It forced me to put the left-side wheels off the shoulder and into the wet grass verge at about 90km/h. Braking was out of the question. The
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active AWD system instantly directed power to the wheels with most traction and helped swing the CX-3 back on the tarmac. Things might have ended differently in a front-driver. But that experience was an ugly exception. Both the petrol and diesel engines work seamlessly with the six-speed ‘box. The 2.0-litre lacks the torque of the diesel and is busier through the gears pushing on. Keep the 1.5-litre oiler sitting in its flexible spread of torque and it’s comparatively stressless. Forget the modest 77kW – 270Nm does the business. Mazda is aiming for 9000 new vehicle sales in NZ this year, 1100 or 1200 of which it expects will be CX-3s. That overall target would mean a 42 per cent hike in sales in four years. Says Clearwater: “Local growth has been helped by being able to ‘fish where the fish are’, with strong volume opportunities in the light, small, medium SUV and ute segments. We are therefore confident that CX-3 can emulate the success of its bigger brother CX-5 and dominate the small SUV segment.”    

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