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Honda HR-V Vs. Mazda CX-3: Compare Cars

2016 Honda HR-V
7.8
/ 10
TCC Rating
2016 Honda HR-V
People's Vote votes Read full review »
2016 Mazda CX-3
8.0
/ 10
TCC Rating
2016 Mazda CX-3
People's Vote votes Read full review »
By John Voelcker
Senior Editor
February 8, 2016

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?

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.

MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2016 Honda HR-V and 2016 Mazda CX-3

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 four-cylinder engine, paired to either a continuously variable transmission or a six-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-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-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 SkyActiv 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (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 similarly priced, with a base six-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.

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Front Leg Room (in)
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Second Leg Room (in)
39.3 35
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