You know that old line: “The rain, in Spain, falls mainly on the plain.” Well, driving the attractively refreshed Mazda CX-3 on its European unveil, I certainly discovered it also rains high in the mountains.
People speak about Scotland having four seasons in one day. Well I think it’s fair to say that even in southern Spain at this time of year you can have a similar experience.
Picking up the new CX-3 at Malaga Airport, the cloudless blue skies ensured sunbathing temperatures perfect for the millions of tourists who flock to Spain’s beaches. Me? I made a beeline for the new 121bhp 2.0-litre SkyActiv G version of Mazda’s baby SUV, and cranked up the aircon to ‘cold’.
Then it was off to head through Andalusia and the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park before reaching a height of 1190 metres and arriving 130km later at the mountaintop city of Ronda. With its population of around 35,000, the city’s 15th century new town is separated from the Moorish old town by Puente Nuevo, a dramatic bridge which gives stunning views of El Tajo, the deep gorge above which the city sits.
Stopping for a much-needed coffee, I was able to reflect on the changes which have been made to the CX-3, which is Mazda’s second-bestselling car in the UK. Last year almost 60,000 left the showrooms across the country as our love-in with SUVs continues.
The Japanese carmaker highlights the latest changes are focused on safety, ride comfort, agility and quality of the trim. And over what was to be two days of driving, it’s clear the designers and engineers have combined to make what was already a good car an even better one.
Externally, the refreshed model – which is on sale now at UK dealers priced from £18,995 to £24,995 — is identifiable thanks to its attractive new grille, darker pillar trims and tweaked rear lights.
But it’s inside the cabin where the biggest and most noticeable improvements have been made. Out goes the manual handbrake to be replaced by a new electromechanical version. Not only is it simpler to use, the main benefit is to free up space for the repositioned infotainment controls. It’s also allowed for the appearance of a central armrest with a cubby space beneath it.
Refinement is improved thanks to thicker roof lining and sound insulation in the doors, plus revisions to the door sill trims and rear glazing.
Across the range, the latest CX-3 now also benefits from a seven-inch ‘floating’ central touchscreen with integrated satnav, including three years European road map updates. And Mazda has listened to its customers because the infotainment system still includes a CD player, as well as the option to play music from your smartphone via Apple CarPlay (£350) and Android Auto. Heated power folding mirrors are now also standard.
As for safety, new features include a front park distance indicator and smart city braking. This stops the car day or night from up to 50mph if the driver does not respond fast enough.
And it’s impossible to avoid the gorgeous, but optional, Soul Red paint which has been further improved and rebadged as ‘Soul Red Crystal’ metallic. Price? £790 … but oh, so worth it.
At £21,695, the 121bhp 2.0-litre in Sport Nav+ trim — the combo is expected to be the UK’s bestseller — is an increase of £600 over the version it replaces. However, it now includes significant more goodies as standard, including new half-Leatherette upholstery, front parking sensors, traffic sign recognition, plus the electronic handbrake, auto dimming rear view mirror and LED foglight bezel change.
Mated to the six-speed manual gearbox — which brilliantly mimics the sporty feel of the recently upgraded MX-5 roadster — the engine is very refined and cruises quietly at motorway speeds. Yet on the twisty mountain roads around Ronda, the revised steering allied to something of a mild overhaul to the suspension, ensured a lot of fun could be had behind the wheel.
Inside there’s ample space for four adults — five at a squeeze — with boot space more than capable of swallowing a week’s shopping or cases for a fortnight’s holiday. Stowage is further aided by the rear seatbacks which fold down almost flat.
In addition to the 121bhp, there’s also a 148bhp version the 2.0-litre petrol, plus the 1.5-litre diesel has been replaced by the larger, more efficient and cleaner 113bhp 1.8-litre. The diesel and the 121bhp petrol are front-wheel drive, while the 148bhp model is all-wheel drive only.
Coffee savoured, and sticky bun scoffed, it was back on the road, down towards the towards Marbella and an illustration of the unattractive built-up Sixties/Seventies architecture along the coastline. But as we sauntered to the car, the threatening grey clouds had turned to black and the distant thunder rumbles announced the rival of torrential rain.
So, two things I can confirm: it certainly rains in Spain, and the latest Mazda CX-3 remains not only one of the best-looking SUVs on the road, but in its latest guise combines plenty of comfort, space and quality, all mated to a terrific driving experience. What’s not to like?