2016 Mazda CX-3 vs. Honda HR-V: the Sub-Compact Crossover Goes Mainstream [Review]

2016 Honda HR-V vs 2016 Mazda CX-3
Photos by Derek Mau

One of the biggest automotive surprises of the past few years has to be the success of sub-compact crossovers — or cute-utes as I like to call them. These small SUVs, which are really nothing more than little hatchbacks that have been jacked up a few centimeters, are one of the fastest growing segments in the industry.

Up until recently this has been a somewhat sparsely populated segment that featured funky designs directed at a younger demographic. The Nissan Juke and Kia Soul, for example, embody this quirky spirit. Now that sales numbers are up, other players are entering the scene, and with downsizing looking to be a broader trend not limited to young folks, the entries are becoming more mainstream and conventional.

The Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, both of which premiered in 2016, perfectly represent this more mature version of the small crossover. We recently had the opportunity to drive them back-to-back and were quite surprised at how different they turned out to be.

2016 Mazda cx-3

Mazda CX-3 – a Sharp Looking Crossover with Real Driving Dynamics

As we’ve come to expect from Mazda, the new CX-3 feels most at home on a windy road, darting from corner to corner with the confidence of a sports car. The suspension is nice and firm, to the point of feeling a bit harsh over rough pavement, and the steering is quick and accurate. Top it off with an impressively grippy set of 18-inch wheels and tires, and you have perhaps the only small crossover that won’t embarrass itself playing around with some hot hatches on the weekend.

While the handling is truly exceptional, the CX-3 has to make do with a somewhat more pedestrian powertrain. The only available engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 146 horsepower and 146 lb-ft torque, which is oddly a bit less than the 2.0-liter engine in the base Mazda3. It provides a decent amount of pep but feels a bit coarse when driven hard. The 6-speed automatic transmission works well, but seems a bit old-fashioned in this age of CVTs and 8- or even 9-speed gearboxes.

2016 Mazda CX-3 interior

The exterior of the CX-3 definitely matches the sporty personality of the car, with Mazda’s Kodo design language translating nicely into this smaller size. Although calling the CX-3 a crossover feels inappropriate, as the look is far more small hatchback than SUV. Sure, AWD is available and helps make the CX-3 a more attractive option for folks living in the snow belt, but anyone looking to do any amount of off-road driving should probably look elsewhere.

Where the CX-3 stumbles is practicality, as the interior is really quite small — even for a sub-compact SUV. Trying to fit objects of any size in the rear cargo area is an exercise in frustration — and that was with the rear seats folded down. Compared to a compact hatchback, such as Mazda’s own Mazda3, the CX-3 provides less cargo capacity and less overall interior room.

2016 mazda cx-3 rear cargo area

The CX-3 also suffers when it comes to value. While generally nicely appointed, the interior is definitely a bit cheaper feeling than what you’ll find in the Mazda3, and there are less available features, yet the cost is almost the same. Our Grand Touring test car, with AWD and the optional i-ACTIVSENSE package featuring radar cruise control, stickers at over $29k. Sure, having the radar cruise is nice, but $30k is a lot of coin for such a small car.

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