Refreshed Mazda CX-3 takes on new diesel-engined small SUV rivals from Hyundai and Peugeot
A glut of new supermini-SUVs has been launched this year, with brands fighting hard for attention in this still-growing new car segment. The onslaught might have slowed slightly in recent months, but now one of the top models in this class, the Mazda CX-3, has been revamped for 2019.
These updates for the Mazda coincided with the launch of new diesel engines in the Hyundai Kona and Peugeot 2008, and all three cars are now up to date with new emissions and economy testing regulations, even if petrol power might still prove more popular in this segment.
• Best small SUVs and crossovers
Many of our previous tests in this class have featured these bigger-selling small petrol engines, because such motors are better suited to compact cars and the way most buyers run them day to day.
However, not everyone uses their car in the same way, and many drivers are still looking to buy a small SUV with the ability to cover more miles with greater efficiency. In that case, the gains in fuel economy and motorway manners you get from a diesel motor could be right for you.
But which of this trio of diesel-powered supermini-based crossovers represents the best option? That’s exactly what we’ll find out in this test as we rate the cars on efficiency, practicality, comfort and technology.
Unlike Mazda’s petrol-engined range, which shuns turbo power, the CX-3 diesels are much more conventional. Here we’re trying the new 113bhp 1.8-litre turbodiesel, which costs from £22,895 in Sport Nav+ trim with a manual gearbox – the only spec and transmission available with this engine.
The Mazda’s 1.8-litre turbodiesel unit has a maximum of 113bhp and 270Nm of torque, matching the Kona for power and only trailing it by 10Nm of torque. Both are more powerful than the 101bhp Peugeot, but all three were closely matched in our acceleration tests, thanks to differences in weight and gear ratios.
The Mazda’s box is by far the best of the trio and the nicest to use because it has a light but mechanical-feeling shift. It also has closer ratios that helped it stay ahead of both rivals in our performance tests.
The CX-3 was fastest from 0-60mph, taking 10.4 seconds, which was nearly a second ahead of the Peugeot’s 11.3-second time and half a second faster than the Kona’s 10.9 seconds.
But all three models were impressively punchy in third gear between 30 and 50mph, with the Mazda, Peugeot and Hyundai posting times of 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 seconds respectively. In fourth the Mazda’s shorter gearing meant it was faster than both rivals, however, covering 30-50mph in 5.5 seconds. The 2008 and Kona took 6.1 and 6.4 seconds respectively.
Our test trio has plenty of punch from low down in the rev range, so there’s no need to rev the cars hard to make good progress. But the Mazda is best for refinement; that new soundproofing has worked a treat and it’s the quietest car inside on the move.
The CX-3’s well-weighted steering inspires confidence when cornering, and there’s lots of grip as well. What’s really impressive is that it’s by far the best driver’s car of the group and resists body roll well, although at the same time it’s the most comfortable choice, too.
It soaks up potholes more smoothly than both competitors, and rides more fluidly over small bumps in the road surface than the Hyundai. The Mazda’s comfort is also helped by the excellent driving position, which in particular contrasts here to the 2008’s awkward seating.
Testers’ notes: “It’s a shame diesel Sport Nav+ models don’t get the option of extra safety tech, including adaptive headlights, blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. You’ll need to go for a petrol for this extra kit.”
The Hyundai’s 1.6-litre diesel engine matches the Mazda’s 113bhp output, despite its smaller capacity. In Premium SE trim as tested here, this car costs £23,600, which makes it the most expensive model of our trio in terms of list price.
Drivers’ emotions are unlikely to be stirred behind the wheel of the Hyundai, because it’s neither fun to drive nor particularly comfortable. It’s adequate in both areas, though. The steering is well weighted and it resists roll in corners, but there’s little-to-no steering feel and its test competitors offer more grip.
Its ride is also on the disappointing side, because while it deals with motorways and most faster roads well enough, tarmac with lots of smaller imperfections causes the Kona to jitter. It’s not so much as to be seriously disruptive, but it’s less comfortable overall than both rivals here, especially because the Hyundai thumps into larger potholes.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the Kona’s driving experience is its light and precise gearshift action, but next to the Mazda’s tighter-feeling changes, it’s not even the best car here for that.
The diesel engine is punchy and more refined than the smaller 1.5-litre engine in the 2008, and it outgunned the Peugeot in our acceleration tests as well, although that’s to be expected given it has an extra 12bhp and 30Nm of torque. Also, the Hyundai produces its maximum torque figure lower down in the rev range than its rivals, at just 1,500rpm, so you can shift up early for a more relaxed drive.
It wasn’t as quick as the CX-3 from 0-60mph in our tests, because the Mazda had better off-the-line traction and shorter gearing, but its 10.9-second time beat the Peugeot’s 11.3 seconds. In sixth gear the Kona eclipsed both opponents, though, taking 10.9 seconds to go from 50-70mph. The Mazda and Peugeot clocked 11.2 seconds and 13.7 seconds respectively in the same test, although as a result of its shorter top gear, the Kona sits at 2,100rpm at 70mph, which is 100rpm higher than its rivals.
Testers’ notes: “If you want to have a two-tone roof on your Kona, you’ll have to pay an extra £420 to get it, but if you choose that option then the £420 optional sunroof isn’t available.”
This 1.5-litre diesel 2008 is the cheapest car of the three here, at £22,584 in GT Line trim (although the car in our pictures is an Allure Premium). It also has the least power; there is a 118bhp version of this engine, but it’s auto only.
The small steering wheel and quick steering (partly due to the size of the wheel) mean the Peugeot turns in sharply, but it’s not as natural and enjoyable as the CX-3’s steering set-up. Body roll is relatively well contained, so despite being fairly tall the 2008 can carry enough speed through corners, yet it still can’t match the Mazda for handling.
It’s more comfortable than the Kona and roughly equal with the CX-3 for ride quality, although it is slightly compromised by that poor driving position. You sit too high up, and since you can’t move the steering wheel up to match, those with long legs will find they’re often hitting the steering column.
The new 1.5-litre engine has plenty of punch, and doesn’t feel as down on power as you’d expect next to these two rivals, which both boast an extra 12bhp.
Thanks to gearing and weight differences the Peugeot was only 0.4 seconds slower from 0-60mph than the more powerful Kona, taking 11.3 seconds, and was actually faster than the Hyundai from 30-50mph in third gear, at 4.2 seconds. The Mazda was quicker than both rivals in those tests, however.
Ultimate performance isn’t likely to be too important for a potential buyer of one of these frugal models, although it’s good to know the Peugeot isn’t lacking here. Still, the 2008’s diesel is much noisier than the motors in both competitors, particularly at idle. It sounds rattly and unpleasant when revved, too, but on the move, it’s tyre roar rather than engine noise that intrudes most.
At least the Peugeot works well on the motorway, where the efficient diesel is at its best for economy and matches its rivals for refinement and comfort.
Testers’ notes: “Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality is standard on all models – even the lowly Active trim level. Bluetooth is included, too, so smartphone users are fully catered for with the 2008.”
First place: Peugeot 2008
The 2008 is more spacious than the CX-3 and just as economical, but crucially it’s cheaper to buy and to finance on a PCP. Another advantage it has over the Mazda is more rear-seat legroom, although it’s not by a huge margin. It’s not quite as well equipped as its rivals, but its stronger affordability gives scope to add more options. Go for a lower trim level and the 2008 is even better value.
Second place: Mazda CX-3
While the CX-3 loses out for practicality, if maximum luggage space isn’t an issue, the Mazda might be the better choice as a diesel at this price. It’s significantly more fun to drive, more comfortable and has more standard kit than the 2008. It also features a better interior (albeit more cramped), is more refined at speed and should be just as cheap to run.
Third place: Hyundai Kona
It might just trail its rivals, but the diesel Kona is still worth a second look. Its excellent infotainment system and long list of equipment mean it’s a winner for technology fans, and the diesel engine is quiet and punchy. It’s a shame about the slightly unsettled ride and dull interior design, and the high price in Premium SE trim; a lower-spec version is a better buy.
Citroen C3 Aircross
Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl, 100bhp
Closely related to the 2008, the C3 Aircross features the same turbodiesel engine. It’s significantly cheaper to buy if you go for Flair trim, though, and the Citroen is also the most comfortable car in its class and has lots of kit.
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 113bhp
The SEAT Arona is another strong contender in the supermini-SUV sector and features a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel, matching the CX-3 and Kona. It’s spacious inside, has a big boot and is good to drive, so it’s another strong choice in this crowded class.
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