The compact and subcompact crossover segments are perpetually red hot, occupied by dozens of competitors fiercely vying for the attention of customers. Mazda’s entries in these fields are the CX-3 and CX-5, respectively.
Attractive vehicles which draw much from the styling language deployed on the brand’s sporty machinery, these two crossovers are arguably two of the best looking options in their segments. The company’s reputation for injecting a bit of fun into its vehicle’s DNA doesn’t hurt, either.
Is the wee CX-3 or the alive CX-5 better for your needs? Let’s call up some detailed information and find out.
CX-3: A single choice of engine stares CX-3 buyers in the face, no matter what trim they are considering. This 2.0L inline-four makes an adequate 148 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission (hooray for the absence of CVTs!), the CX-3’s powertrain moves this little roller skate along with acceptable verve. It won’t set anyone’s hair on fire but it is certainly more than enough to get out of its own way.
SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-3 Review
CX-5: For this model year, the CX-5 has three different engine choices, one of which is a torquey diesel. Entry-level models may be equipped with a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 187 horses and about an equal amount of torque. Stepping up to the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature models grants buyers a turbocharged version of the same engine, one whose wick is cranked to a healthy 227 ponies or 250 hp if fed a steady diet of 93 octane fuel. Torque is 310 lb-ft. Finally, a new diesel makes 168 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of twist.
SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-5 Review
Bottom Line: Your author deeply recommends the CX-5 Turbo if it is in budget, as its groundswell of torque makes quick work of highway on ramps and winter’s worst alike. Yes, it does have a higher power rating on premium fuel but it will run without complaint on the regular stuff.
CX-3: Summarizing the CX-3’s fuel economy is easy, thanks to the existence of but one engine and transmission combination. Front-wheel drive models are said to get 29mpg in city driving, while scurrying about at highway speeds should return 34mpg. Adding the weight and drag of all-wheel drive scuppers both of these numbers by two.
CX-5: Non-turbo trims in front-wheel drive configuration earn EPA mpg ratings of 25/31/28 on city/highway/combined cycles. Sending power to all four corners exacts a single mpg penalty across the board. Stepping up to the turbocharged engine will not only dent your wallet at the initial purchase but also during ownership, as the more powerful engine is rated at 22/27/24 on the same measures. The diesel, available only with all-wheel drive as with the turbo, earns economy ratings of 27/30/28 on the three EPA test cycles.
Bottom Line: If fuel economy is your main criteria, there’s no doubt that CX-3 is the one to get from this duo. Like for like, the smaller rig will save owners three miles per gallon, not an insignificant amount. Based on an average American’s yearly driving, they would save approximately 40 gallons of fuel. At $3/gal, that’s a savings of $120.
CX-3: Based on small car architecture, the CX-5 is understandably compact inside. Front seat headroom is 38.4 inches without a moonroof and just 37.6 inches with it (note: tall people and hats in this car are a poor combination). Front legroom is actually more than in its bigger brother at 41.7 inches but back seat is a woeful 35.0 inches.
CX-5: Absent of a moonroof, the CX-5 offers 39.7 inches of front seat headroom, reducing by just 0.7 inches in the second row. Adding a moonroof removes just half an inch of headroom from the front and absolutely none from the rear. This is a smart design. Legroom measures 41.0 inches for the front chairs and 39.6 inches astern.
Bottom Line: If your family includes people over six feet tall who’ll regularly be riding in the back seat, be sure to sample the CX-5.
CX-3: This is a small roller skate, so be prepared to pack lightly if your family currently numbers more than two. Storage space with the rear seats up measures just 12.4 cubic feet up to the cargo shade; if you choose the Bose stereo with its extra speakers, that amount shrinks to a Miata-like 9.4 cubes. Folding down the rear seat opens up 44.5 cubic feet of room but reduces the CX-3 to a two-seat machine.
CX-5: With all seats in place and ready to accept five humans, the CX-5 can still pack away 30.0 cubic feet of gear. Folding the second-row of seats increases that measure to a hair under sixty cubes. Height from the cargo floor to roof is nearly three feet, so go ahead and buy the jumbo bag of flour from Costco. Liftover height is 29 inches though, so make sure to flag down an employee before heading out to the parking lot.
Bottom Line: The CX-3’s cargo area is exceptionally small and may foil attempts to pack in all the gear for a family weekend away. Its larger brother is much better suited to such duties. However, single people or empty nesters may find the CX-3 diminutive storage an acceptable trade-off for its city friendly exterior dimensions.
CX-3: Base model Sport trims come standard with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, both helping drivers from trying to occupy the same space and time as another car. Push button start is present thanks to the wonders of scale economics, as are a brace of USB ports and Mazda’s 7-inch infotainment system. An available i-ActivSense package brings the likes of adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings.
CX-5: In addition to the kit found in its showroom partner, CX-5 also brings options such as a 360-degree camera view and reconfigurable TFT display in the gauge cluster. Signature models are especially snazzy, especially with the Caturra Brown Nappa leather seats.
Bottom Line: According to Mazda, they’ve intentionally designed their infotainment system to not incorporate a touchscreen, as they feel such tech is distracting to the driver. To minimize distracted driving, commands can be simply done with the car’s multi-function Commander knob and shortcut buttons or by voice command. Found in both cars, it’s a clever solution.
CX-3: See CX-5.
CX-5: See CX-3.
Bottom Line: Okay, perhaps that assessment is a tad rude but it uncomfortably close to the truth. Like certain German automakers (cough, Audi, cough), Mazda likes to style their crossover vehicles as different lengths of sausage. These two are certainly attractive, with shark noses and wheel arches swollen like a bee sting. And, if we’re being honest, there are worse manufacturers with which to be compared than Audi.
CX-3: Starting at $20,390, the CX-3 makes a serious value play. Current market tastes favor tall but affordable crossover-like vehicles, often ones which project a sporty character, and the stubby CX-3 fits this bill quite well. In fact, the CX-3’s base price is over $600 less than that of Mazda’s smallest car, the 3 sedan. All-wheel drive is available on all trims, including the $25,745 Grand Touring, for just $1400.
CX-5: Aimed squarely at the heart of the murderously competitive compact crossover segment, the CX-5 sets an opening bid of $24,350. This grants access to the base Sport model, equipped with the non-turbocharged engine. All-wheel drive grip is, like its smaller brother, a reasonable $1400. Those seeking the excellent turbo mill, not available in front-drive, need step up to the snazzy Grant Touring Reserve model, priced at $34,870.
Bottom Line: The smaller CX-3 is certainly less expensive, a fact which should surprise exactly no one given its place on Mazda’s corporate totem pole. However, given the extra kit and space provided by the CX-5, it is very hard to argue against its value proposition given that it costs just four grand more compared to an equivalent base model CX-3.
Mazda CX-3 vs CX-5: The Verdict
Both of these roller skates make strong cases for themselves, packing a good dose of style mixed with active personalities. The CX-5, however, especially with its tasty turbocharged engine, wins this author’s heart for its combination of space and pace.