The CX-5 is immediately identifiable as a crossover. It’s based on a car platform, but big enough to haul around some decent cargo, and there’s enough discernible difference between it and a wagon. The CX-3, however, is even smaller, and as such, looks more like a taller hatchback. That’s not necessarily a complaint, just an observation. You’ll see at the end, this identity misconception does play a factor.
Mazda’s SUVs, like their cars, have a Skyactive 4-cylinder motor in them, however, unlike the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 that both share the same engine, the CX-5 has the 2.5 liter motor and the CX-3 has the 2.0 motor. Both sound a little buzzy when pushed, and the difference in engine size is masked by the difference in weight in the car. Side by side, you wouldn’t be able to tell that there’s a nearly 40 horsepower difference between the two. The lighter Mazda CX-3 has the edge on fuel economy.
When it comes to specifics, we’ll head over to the CX-5 first. There’s a lot of car here for the money. With an as-tested price of $34,015, it’ll draw you away from a sedan, and into the SUV segment. You won’t be wanting much for fuel economy either, because I averaged about 27 in some mixed driving.
Titanium Flash Mica paint covered the stylish outside of the car, with daytime running lights that really set it apart from the crowd. Styling is one thing that Mazda has been doing quite well lately and the CX-5 is no different. It has aesthetics that are very pleasing. White parchment leather inside made for a comfortable place to be. You can tell the seats were made for the enthusiast within, having decent size side bolsters for hip and thigh, but without being uncomfortable.
Handling for the CX-5 is decent, although the curse of electric steering does kinda put a damper on the fun. Despite it being on the taller side, it still feels relatively planted. Contrarily, the CX-3 feels pluckier, lower to the ground and more willing to take turns.
Where the CX-5 has a firm identity, the CX-3 is a little bit in between tall hatch, and small crossover. You have two choices at Mazda if you’re looking for a small hatch. The CX-3 and Mazda 3 “Touring.” Honestly, I prefer the Mazda 3. It’s sportier, it has the larger, more powerful engine, but you do have to give up AWD (Mazda, fix that). That doesn’t mean the CX-3 is bad by any means, it’s just got a tougher fight ahead for it. It’s going up against things like the Honda HR-V, but in the CX-3 you get a bit more high-end equipment. Things like radar-based cruise control, lane departure warning systems and brake assist systems are all available. Even with all of this equipment, you’re just a tick under $30,000.
Interior is also a place that Mazda shines. Both cars in this test came with the 7 inch touch screen display, which also can be controlled from a “multi function commander” in the center console. It falls perfectly where your wrist would go, similar to BMW’s i-Drive, but with none of the headache. The whole system is very intuitive. CX-5 and CX-3 both come with all wheel drive, though I didn’t encounter conditions where it would be needed.
For these two, I’d have to side with the CX-5. It knows exactly where it wants to be in the market, and has proven to be a solid performer. The CX-3 is a fun little crossover, but if I needed a smaller car with some added utility, the Mazda 3 Touring stays closer to Mazda’s own “driving matters” ethos.
2.0 L 4-cylinder Skyactiv
6-spd sport automatic
All wheel drive
Torque: 146 lb/ft
MPG city/highway/combined: 27/32/29
Base MSRP: $26,420
As tested: $29,260
2.5 L 4-cylinder Skyactiv
6-spd sport automatic
All wheel drive
Torque: 186 lb/ft
MPG city/highway/combined: 24/30/26
Base MSRP: $29,470
As tested: $34,015