Subcompact SUVs are continuing to grow in credibility and popularity. Initially greeted with much skepticism, they have become so popular that several carmakers have recently introduced new additions to the category in hopes of getting their piece of its increasingly lucrative pie. The segment now includes 10 models available in our market, two of which we chose for this head-to-head comparison: the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3.
It should be pointed out right from the start that neither of these are sub-products of the larger Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. In fact, each is derived from a subcompact – the HR-V from the Fit and the CX-3 from the new-generation Mazda2, which is available in Canada under the Toyota Yaris banner.
In terms of dimensions, the Honda clocks in at 4,294 mm in overall length, while the Mazda measures 4,274 mm – for a difference of 10 mm, less than the width of the average chocolate bar. At 2,610 mm, the wheelbase of the Honda is slightly longer than the Mazda’s which totals 2,570 mm, but again, the difference is virtually nil. On the other hand, with a total trunk cargo space of 657 litres, the HR-V proves itself a superior utility vehicle than the Mazda, which only offers a middling 452 litres. Of course, it’s debatable whether consumers buying a subcompact SUV choose it principally for its cargo capacity.
Given their dimensions and considering the category they slot into, you should not hold your breath expecting to find any kind of large-cylinder engine under the hood of either of these two vehicles. The HR-V is powered by a 1.8L, 4-cylinder engine producing up to 141 HP and 127lb-ft of torque. For the purposes of our comparative testing, the version we drove was equipped with a CVT transmission.
However, Honda is giving the HR-V a manual transmission as standard equipment, and it must be said this choice does help the SUV provide its owners with a more positive driving experience. In our comparison, though, both of these versions are eclipsed by the 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine fitted in the Mazda. It can produce up to 146 HP and 146 lb-ft of torque, and is only available with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Let’s be clear: it isn’t the five extra horses, or the superior torque of the Mazda that sets it a notch above. Better overall performance, reduced noise level and slightly quicker engine start and acceleration are the principal factors giving it the edge.
The all-wheel drive of both vehicles is of the all-conditions variety. Winter-time testing carried out of both models allowed us to determine that the Mazda system is more effective.
Turn your attention to the dashboard, however, and the CX-3 comes out the clear winner. This applies as much to questions of aesthetics as of practicality. In general the commands are good-sized buttons that are easy to handle. As is de rigueur these days, the display screen is slightly embossed.
It should be noted that the luxury models, such as the one we test-drove, are equipped with a Head Up-style projector, which is placed on a fold-up screen located right in front of the driver’s line of sight. Long-term road-testing of Mazda vehicles fitted with this feature has proven its usefulness.
For its part, the HR-V comes with the Lane Watch system, which displays on the screen a view of the right side of the vehicle when the turn signal is activated – a benefit that is worth noting. Less stellar are several of the tactile commands that may darken the mood of however has to use them. The conventional buttons present in the Mazda are significantly more practical.
On the road
Given their personalities that lean more towards the practical than the sporty, it’s clear neither of these two vehicles are inherently pulse-raisers. That said, their performance on the road is more than adequate, the driving experience they offer growing more pleasant as the road gets curvier.
The CX-3 comes out ahead in terms of its steering, which is more precise, and the way it handles the road is more gratifying for the driver. These pluses are even more pronounced when the Sport mode is activated. What’s more, the CX-3 has less of a tendency to under-steer in turns, and this is true even for the all-wheel drive versions. On the other hand, the HR-V exhibited a braking distance that was shorter by some 500 cm.
Lastly, fuel consumption is practically identical in each vehicle, any variation more likely to result from the driver than the cars themselves. In both cases, you can expect to use just under 9L/100 km, with the Mazda holding an ever-so-slight advantage.
Nearly equal, but…
Victory in this head-to-head battle goes to CX-3, but the win is a very narrow one. Factors tilting in the Mazda’s favour include driving enjoyment, engine performance and dashboard presentation. The HR-V does get the edge for practicality, thanks principally to the Magic Seat and the larger trunk.
Of course, the final choice is yours; as always, you should make that choice based on your specific needs.