2017 Honda HR-V vs. 2017 Mazda CX-3: Compare Cars

December 5, 2016
2017 Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3

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We're in the midst of a small-SUV explosion. Big-name automakers are slotting new utility vehicles at the entry position in their lineups, blending hatchback bodies with tall-wagon rooflines and SUV-style all-wheel drive.

Two of the most interesting new offerings are from automakers with a reputation for lean, sporty driving. Which one comes out a better blend of all those attributes—the new Honda HR-V, or the new Mazda CX-3?

MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2017 Honda HR-V and 2017 Mazda CX-3

The numbers give us a winner: the CX-3 outpoints the HR-V by a fraction of a point. It boils down to safety and features, of which we give the CX-3 a slight nod over the HR-V thanks to more standard equipment and a bigger range of customization. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Each is a smaller sibling to popular compact crossover SUVs, the HR-V to the CR-V and the CX-3 below the CX-5. They're very different vehicles, though, each with its own focus. The Honda is perfectly suited to city and suburban use by couples or young families, with optional all-wheel drive giving secure traction on muddy fields and unplowed roads. The Mazda is the sports car of the pair, a much lower vehicle with less room inside for people and cargo but a far more rewarding driving experience.

Both small SUVs have exaggerated styling that works to disguise the "tall hatchback on wheels" shape of most utility vehicles. The Honda is rakish but higher, using the brand's latest styling language to give the HR-V more pizzazz—a thick chrome top bar in the grille, swept-back front light units, and strongly etched side accent lines. At the rear, though, it's a shrunken carbon copy of the latest Acura MDX.

The Mazda shines on first impression. From any angle, the CX-3 is an attractive vehicle, offering an elegant, up-market feel with a clear intention for sporty behavior on its sleeve. It's simply an impressive, cohesive exterior.

Inside, the HR-V's cabin has better finishes and materials than the related Honda Fit hatchback. The clean surfaces have a few foibles, like the slim air vents cut into the passenger-side dash. Like all of Mazda’s recent vehicles, the interior of the CX-3 is remarkably upscale in appearance. Plenty of hard plastics remain, but premium elements like wrapped dashboard pieces, highlight piping on the seats, contrast stitching give a pricier impression than its sticker might indicate.

2016 Honda HR-V

2016 Honda HR-V

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2016 Honda HR-V

2016 Honda HR-V

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2016 Honda HR-V

2016 Honda HR-V

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2016 Honda HR-V

2016 Honda HR-V

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Under the hood, the Honda has a 141-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, paired to either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is an option, but only with the CVT. The most fuel-efficient model of the HR-V (front-wheel drive and CVT) delivers a combined 31-mpg EPA rating, matching the Mazda and at or near the top of the burgeoning class of mini-SUVs.

The CX-3 too has only one engine—a 146-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission—and a choice of standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. Its fuel economy ratings are 31 mpg combined for the front-wheel-drive model, and 29 mpg combined for the AWD version. We've found Mazda's engineering to pay off not only in higher ratings, but in real-world figures that often beat the EPA numbers.

The HR-V has adequate power, but it's not notably quick—although it's enough for safe highway merges. It handles well enough, although the high seating positions makes body roll more obvious. The CX-3 is more lively, and clearly the driver's car of the pair, especially in front-drive form. Unlike the Honda, it's not jacked up to provide a truck's ground clearance; it's low to the road and its cornering is correspondingly flatter. Buyers of either vehicle will largely opt for the automatic, but we enjoyed the manual-gearbox Mazda a bit more.

One of the Honda's biggest advantages over the Mazda is interior volume. The rear seat of the HR-V will accommodate two adults with generous head and leg room, as well as two up front. To get four adults into the Mazda, you have to horse-trade—it's comfortable up front but tight in the rear. Front-row seating in the CX-3 is spacious even for two large adult males, with ample leg, head, and shoulder room, and the rear seat will handle medium-height adults—but it's no HR-V.

2016 Mazda CX-3, Malibu, California, July 2015

2016 Mazda CX-3, Malibu, California, July 2015

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2016 Mazda CX-3 - First Drive, July 2015

2016 Mazda CX-3 - First Drive, July 2015

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2016 Mazda CX-3 - First Drive, July 2015

2016 Mazda CX-3 - First Drive, July 2015

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2016 Mazda CX-3, Malibu, California, July 2015

2016 Mazda CX-3, Malibu, California, July 2015

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The HR-V is by far the roomiest vehicle in the segment, and it includes Honda's unique "Magic Seat," which folds and flips the second-row seat to give multiple storage and seating configurations. For cargo, it's the same story: the Honda accommodates 25 cubic feet behind the rear seat, 59 cubic feet with the seat folded down. Comparable figures for the Mazda are 12 and 45 cubic feet, respectively.

Both vehicles are pleasingly quiet and refined inside on good road surfaces, and both drivers and passengers will find most on-road travel to be peaceful in either one.

As new entries, the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 have both been designed with all the latest crash tests in mind. The HR-V earns five stars from the NHTSA, but the IIHS rates it as just "Acceptable" in side-impact and small-overlap crash tests. Both offer a limited array of electronic active-safety systems as options.

The HR-V and CX-3 are priced on top of each other, with a base 6-speed manual, front-wheel-drive model at around $20,000. All HR-Vs include power windows, locks, and mirrors; a rearview camera; a tiling and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; and Bluetooth with audio streaming. A fully optioned CX-3 can easily get you to $30,000 however.

Both the 2016 Honda HR-V and the 2016 Mazda CX-3 are surprisingly comfortable and accomplished small utility vehicles. The Honda wins decisively on interior room, while the Mazda has the edge in design and performance. We give more points to the CX-3 for its convincing handling and slightly better utility, and in light of the Honda's mixed safety results. 

They really appeal to two different buyers: the HR-V is for those who want a smaller vehicle with traditional SUV cargo capacity, while you can think of the CX-3 as a more usable Mazda 3 hatchback with optional all-wheel drive.

We gave the slight nudge (and we mean slight) to the CX-3 thanks to its features and safety record. We're not sure there's a bad pick between the two, but if you're willing to trade agility for utility, the Honda may be a better fit.

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Summary

7.2
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 keeps the most attractive features from last year: its price and its handling.
6.8
Expert Rating
Think of the 2017 Honda HR-V as a Fit with all-wheel drive and a little more headroom. It's not as fun as it could be, but it makes a lot of sense.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
The Mazda CX-3 is a stunner on the road, and punches way above its weight class.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Simple inside and quirky outside, the Honda HR-V stands out from the crowd in ways we really like.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 isn't quick, but it is brisk—and we like it.
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6.0
Expert Rating
The HR-V rides well, but it's not especially fun to drive and it can feel underpowered with a load of passengers or cargo aboard.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is best thought of as a more usable hatchback Mazda with available all-wheel drive.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Honda's excellent packaging triumphs yet again in the versatile and roomier-than-it-looks HR-V.
Read More

Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
Ratings are fairly good for the 2017 CX-3, with one important note.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The HR-V's crash test scores aren't the best and it lacks some of the safety tech offered on rivals.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 adds bigger wheels on its mid-level trim and cuts the cost for its active safety features.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The base HR-V is outfitted nicely, but there aren't many customization options.
Read More

Fuel Economy

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is among the leaders in its class for fuel efficiency—provided you consider it a crossover SUV.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
At 31 mpg combined for the front-wheel drive HR-V, you'll pass a lot of gas stations.
Read More

MSRP

from $19,960
from $19,465

Invoice

from $19,403
from $18,937

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

31
28

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L
Regular Unleaded I-4, 1.8 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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