Mazda would like shoppers to break out their X-ray specs to view its new CX-3 compact crossover. You know the ones, touted in the back of comic books, promising an inner view of everything in the wearer’s sight, right? There is good reason for it. The CX-3 delivers an interior worthy of special consideration.

“We saw a real opportunity to bring a new level of interior quality to the segment,” says Mazda North America design director Derek Jenkins. “We know that this is highly valued by Mazda’s target customer.”

Opportunity indeed. Mazda’s cabins have been voids of blackness, with hard, shiny materials and faux-BMW red illumination. They were simultaneously filled with foreboding and cheapness.

Customers bought Mazdas in spite of their interiors rather than because of them. No more. Even the company’s new entry-level crossover SUV contains cockpit appointments that would flatter cars in higher categories and with greater cultural currency.

Base CX-3 models have single-tone fabric inside, yet the material’s texture conveys more consideration – and comfort – than what might be expected for a product in this sizzling segment.

With the CX-3 rolling out to global markets in coming months, its exterior design is certain to draw potential customers close enough to note the appealing cabin. Despite the challenging, stubby proportions of any sub-compact SUV, Mazda’s design team integrated aggressive cues, lending some of the racy flair of the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata. An elephant on a skateboard, the CX-3 is not.

“We didn’t want to go the ‘funky’ route,” Jenkins says. “We feel that’s already been covered by Nissan.” He didn’t have to say “Juke”.

A crisp character line arches from the front fenders, diving beneath a second line that rises ahead of the rear wheels. Blacked-out rocker panels connect wheel arches that underscore the diameter of the available 18in aluminium wheels (16-inchers are standard).
The CX-3’s hardware cashes the checks that its bodywork writes, with a 146-horsepower, 146 pound-feet 2-litre version of the company’s SkyActiv gasoline engine, matched to a standard six-speed automatic transmission, to provide Mazda’s expected zip.

Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system is invisible in regular driving, as the system’s computer recognises its redundancy and disconnects the rear wheels to save fuel.
Honda’s new HR-V provides the most direct comparison to the CX-3, but the two vehicles have entirely different personalities despite their obvious similarities. The Honda is more spacious, with a more useable rear seat and more cargo capacity.

Although the CX-3 is clearly targeted towards young families, part of even a sub-compact SUV’s remit is the carrying of adults in the back seat, and the CX-3 not unexpectedly surrenders some ground. A six-footer can sit behind another six-footer, but only just, with knees touching the seatback and shoulders and elbows against the door for a cocoon fit. Similarly, soft luggage is probably the order of the day for the cargo bay.

Unlike some recent SkyActiv Mazdas, the CX-3 does not chug along in too high a gear, with the engine turning too low in the rev range. So, while its transmission has an unfashionably paltry six speeds (a Jeep Renegade, which sits amid the CX-3’s competitor set, will give you nine), it makes the most of what it has.