The CX-5 SUV was the first of a new generation of Mazdas, following the company’s divorce from Ford. Buyers instantly fell for its sharp styling and fun handling so the Japanese marque is looking to repeat that success with the new, smaller CX-3.
You might already know which of these cars you’d choose – dictated by budget or space requirements but, if you’re between the two, we’re here to help you pick. If you’ve made your mind up, pop either the Mazda CX-3 or the Mazda CX-5 in our car configurator to see how much you could save with carwow.
You can instantly tell the two cars are cut from the same cloth on the outside. Unlike some rival manufacturers, however, the two are more than just resized photocopies of one another – there’s enough difference to tell them apart.
The older CX-5 appears somewhat truck-like from the side – thanks to its greater interior space – but, nevertheless, the proportions are excellent and the overhangs minimal.
The CX-3, on the other hand, looks more youthful. Little kinks on the shoulder line, narrower headlights and blacked-out rear pillars all make it look eye-catching. To our eyes, the CX-3 looks newer which, for some buyers, will be enough.
The CX-3 has a cracking interior. The asymmetric circular heating ducts are a neat feature and, if you go for top spec Sport Nav trim, you get extra leather and a head-up display.
The CX-5 looks a little more dated. It uses broadly the same interior as the Mazda 6 – this means no head-up display and you’re stuck with the older sat-nav recessed into the dash, which is both smaller and further away than the CX-3’s version.
You’re not pressed for space in the CX-3, but its Mazda 2 supermini origins are obvious by comparison. The boot is 40 per cent smaller than the CX-5’s and the seat backs are noticeably closer to rear passengers’ knees. It’ll handle the school run, but we’re not sure we’d want to spend a longer journey cooped up in the back.
All engines in both cars are from Mazda’s newest range of SkyActiv petrol and diesel units. That means that all are four-cylinder units, with only the diesels turbocharged because Mazda is eschewing the current trend for turbo petrols.
Both cars use versions of the 2.0-litre petrol – the CX-3 gets either 118 or 148hp, while the CX-5’s only option is 163hp. On the diesel front, the CX-3 uses smaller 1.5-litre, 104hp models, while the CX-5 gets a 2.2-litre option in 148hp or 173hp guises.
As you might expect, the smaller diesel in the smaller car is the fuel economy champion – 71mpg in the 2WD CX-3. Going for four-wheel drive strips 11mpg off that figure, while specifying the automatic option robs another 6mpg, for an average of 54mpg.
The CX-3 steals the performance headline too – the 148hp petrol strapped to a 4WD manual ‘box means this model leaps to 60mph from rest in just over 8 seconds – about as fast as a Mazda MX-5. None of the CX-5s are slow or thirsty however – whatever engine, drivetrain and gearbox option you go for, you’re facing 0-60mph times between 8.8 and 9.5 seconds and all will return between 47 and 61mpg.
The CX-5 is arguably the best handling car in its class and doesn’t sacrifice ride quality to get there either. The way the CX-5 drives like a sporty car while riding as smoothly as an executive saloon feels uncanny.
There’s no argument with the CX-3 though – it is the finest handling car in its class full stop. Where the CX-5 drives like a performance saloon, the CX-3 is more akin to a hot hatch. Buyers looking for the utmost comfort should consider the CX-5 but those seeking a bit of fun behind the wheel should pick the smaller car.
Value for money
Both cars look pricey compared to rivals, but this is thanks to Mazda’s insistence on stuffing its models with just about all the gadgets you’d find useful.
The CX-3 costs from £17,595 for the basic petrol SE. Entry-level kit includes 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, all-round electric windows, DAB and internet radio. Go for the range-topping £22,495 148hp petrol in Sport Nav trim and you’ll enjoy sat-nav, heated seats, climate control and a Bose audio system.
That’s only £200 more than an entry-level CX-5. The bigger car isn’t wanting for equipment either – you get essentially the same kit as the CX-3: climate control, DAB and internet radio, cruise control and an electronic parking brake with hill hold. The CX-5 range tops out just shy of £30,000 but, again, this includes just about every toy you could want.
There’s so little to choose between these cars that it might simply boil down to just what your space requirements and budget are.
You’ll never wish you had that extra capability on back roads if you bought the CX-5 and you’ll never notice the slightly diminished refinement of the CX-3 at motorway cruising speeds. Only driven back-to-back do these differences seem more obvious.
It’s fairer to say you’ll spot the extra money the CX-3 leaves in your wallet every month, just be aware that those with larger passengers might need the extra room.
Pop either car in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, check out our deals page or, if you’re still struggling to pick a car, head over to our car chooser.