Compact crossovers are probably the fastest growing area of the market right now, and the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V are two of the newest entrants. They’ll be going up against the likes of the Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka and the Citroen C4 Cactus, so the competition is already pretty fierce.
To help you decide which one is right for you, we’ve put together this head-to-head comparison. If you’re already in love with its curvy bodywork, put the Mazda CX-3 in our car configurator to see what discounts are available.
The Honda HR-V looks a bit like a shrunken CR-V. It follows the current Honda blueprint so gets angular creases, but it’s not a head-turner. It’s neat enough and looks modern, but its squashed dimensions will either be cute to some, or a turn-off to others.
The Mazda follows the company’s ‘KODO’ design philosophy, but whatever the brand wants to call it, it works! Its graceful roofline echoes the curved one found on the Mazda 6 and slim headlights give its ‘face’ a distinctive glare.
The Honda’s design will have its fans of course, but we think if you parked them next to each other and asked passers-by to choose between them, the Mazda would come out as a clear winner.
The CX-3 shares much of its interior with the current Mazda 2 but that isn’t a bad thing because it’s a modern and attractive place to sit. Back seat space, however, is more city car than compact crossover in terms of passenger room.
The HR-V is based on the Jazz mini-MPV so you get the same clever magic seat system that lets you fold the rear seat bases up for vertical storage. The Honda also has its fuel tank located in the centre of the car rather than underneath the rear seats, which adds rear headroom.
Although there are some hard black plastics on display in both, for the most part, quality levels stay high. Both Mazda and Honda are known for building sturdy, reliable cars.
The Mazda comes with either a 104hp 1.5-litre diesel or a 2.0-litre petrol with 118 or 148hp. The diesel isn’t particularly quick, but it’s responsive to throttle inputs making it easy to exploit gaps in traffic. It comes with a manual gearbox as standard, but you do have the option of a six-speed automatic as well. The petrols are fairly refined and surprisingly economical, and make good sense if you’re not covering huge mileages.
The Honda HR-V gives you the choice of a 118hp 1.6-litre diesel, or a 1.5-litre petrol with 128hp. Both engines come paired to an excellent six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the petrol will also be available with a CVT auto as an option. The latter won’t be as smooth as Mazda’s auto but shouldn’t be too noisy around town.
The most economical Honda is expected to return an impressive 71mpg. The diesel version of the Mazda is only fractionally less efficient than the HR-V – they’re so close to each other, economy isn’t really worth worrying about.
If you choose the top-level Sport trim on the CX-3, you can have four-wheel drive on both diesel and petrol engines. Go for a diesel CX-3 Sport with four-wheel drive and the automatic transmission, and you’ll still get almost 55mpg combined. The HR-V is front-wheel drive only in the UK.
Reviewers seem to think these cars fall into two categories – one is sporty while the other is comfortable. Mazda has a legendary reputation for building sporty cars with the MX-5 and the older RX-7 both considered as some of the finest driving cars ever built. Honda’s core audience tends to be older so the company has fitted softer suspension that ‘glides’ over bumps.
While the Mazda can’t match the comfort of the Honda, it easily beats it for driving fun. The Mazda’s steering, suspension and engine all feel like they’ve been tuned to deliver an experience that’s more fun than many so-called hot hatches. In the Mazda, you’re never unsure of what the wheels are doing and whether they have grip while the Honda isolates its occupants from the dirty job of driving.
Value for money
Both cars are closely matched for price. The Mazda costs from £18,795 and rises to £24,695 while the Honda costs from £17,995 up to £24,945. This puts both cars at the more expensive end of the segment and comfortably within the £18,545 price for the well-respected Nissan Qashqai.
The Mazda is expensive for the segment but, when you consider the high levels of standard equipment, it looks like it represents decent value for money. Equipment levels are yet to be confirmed for the Honda but we expect it to follow a similar logic to the Mazda.
If you’re buying this car for your family with refinement, comfort and practicality in mind, then the Honda HR-V is probably your best bet. Its clever seats, marginally larger cabin and smooth ride all make it the perfect family taxi.
If, however, you prefer style over practicality and enjoy driving then the Mazda CX-3 is better suited to you. It does everything a family car needs to but still feels like a sports car on the right road.
Read our preview of the new Honda HR-V or, if you’re taken with the Hiroshima native, pop the Mazda CX-3 in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, check out our deals page or, if you need help picking your ideal car, check out our car chooser.