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Look up and down when shopping for a small SUV

Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. (Photo: Joshua Dowling)

Without doubt, mini-SUVs are the next big thing. You only have to look at the initial sales of the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V to see that.

The Mazda racked up more than 800 sales in just eight days, while the Honda found 1081 buyers in March, outselling its larger and more established CR-V stablemate.

But before you head into your nearest dealership, it might pay to pack a calculator and a tape measure, because you may be paying for style over substance. The top of the range CX-3 diesel costs just $1300 less than the cheapest CX-5 diesel, and for our money, the CX-5 is by far the better buy.

Yes the CX-3 has more luxuries, including extra safety equipment and leather trim, but the CX-5 brains it on engine power, driveability and sheer size. Go the other way and the Mazda2 hatch is significantly cheaper and not that much smaller.

We get the appeal of the mini-SUV - it's an SUV for the price of a hatchback

In fact the wheelbase - the distance between the front and rear wheels and the main factor determining leg room - is identical in the hatch and SUV. Much of the size difference between the two is in the pumped up guards and bumpers.

The Honda HR-V is bigger than the Jazz, with more luggage space and a larger engine, but is it worth $10,000 more? By way of comparison, the difference between a Mercedes-Benz GLA soft-roader and the A-Class on which it's based is only $6000. And the Germans don't usually miss when it comes to charging a fashion premium.

If you feel you need something bigger than a Jazz, you could get a Civic hatch with similar room to an HR-V and still keep $3000 in your pocket.

We get the appeal of the mini-SUV - it's an SUV for the price of a hatchback. But before you sign on the dotted line, ask the sales staff to show you the hatchback it's based on and the next size up in both hatchbacks and SUVs. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.