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Mazda 3 vs CX-3

The Mazda 3 is an Aussie favorite.

Fashion is one of those things near-impossible to understand (parachute pants, flat-brim caps, whatever the hell is going on with Björk, to name but a few examples). But the golden rule of cars has always been that, should you miraculously somehow find yourself in style, then make hay when the sun is shining.

And small SUVs are making plenty of hay. A type of car that never really existed even a handful of years ago is now one of Australia’s most important segments, with every major player either already in market or rushing to get there. 

More than 66,000 small SUVs (under $40k) have been sold so far this year, and that number continues to climb as more and more manufactures clamber aboard one of our most crowded market categories. So the rewards for getting it right can be staggering.

One of the true star performers is the Mazda CX-3, shifting 11,931 units so far this year - hoovering up almost 20 per cent of all sales in the segment. And that’s impressive, considering the quality competition on offer.

The Maxx occupies the second rung on the CX-3 ladder, above the price-led Neo and below the sTouring and top-spec Akari. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The Maxx occupies the second rung on the CX-3 ladder, above the price-led Neo and below the sTouring and top-spec Akari. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

But you can’t - with the less fashionable, more reasonable side of your brain - help asking that one seemingly obvious question; why?

This isn’t a slight against Mazda. The CX-3 is a good car (in fact, I rated  8/10 on a roadtest earlier this year). But then, so is the Mazda3, which - like most hatches compared to small SUVs - is bigger, more practical and, for some strange reason, roughly the same price. 

The point is this, if your budget will stretch to a small SUV, then it will stretch to a hatch. So we've pitched the CX-3 and Mazda3 into a heated spec battle using the key points that really matter in these segments: size, price and practicality.

Size matters:

Don’t let the ‘3’ confuse you, Mazda’s small SUV is actually based on the brand’s Mazda2 city car. As such, it measures a diminutive 4275mm in length, 1550mm in height and 1765mm in width, and it rides on a 2570mm wheelbase. 

The Mazda3 hatch is longer and wider, at 4470mm and 1795mm respectively, but predictably lower at 1450mm in height. It rides on a bigger, 2700mm wheelbase. 

Those numbers translate to space, with the 3 simply bigger than the CX-3, regardless of which seat you sit in. That said, the CX-3 is taller, and so commands a higher driving position and a better view of the road - especially if you’re stuck behind taller traffic. And let’s face it, in the slow-moving sea of SUVs that clog Australia’s roadways, you will be.

Read More: Mazda 3 reviews

Price:

The CX-3 range stretches from $19,990 for the absolute cheapest, manual-equipped model to a staggering $37,890 for a four-wheel-drive, diesel-powered model. The Mazda3, on the other hand, kicks off from $20,490 for a similarly stripped-back manual version, and stretches to $35,490 for the top-spec SP25 Astina model. 

So, there’s not much daylight between the two price lists, then. And in terms of standard equipment, the cheapest of the many trim levels (Neo, Maxx, sTouring and Akari in the CX-3 range vs the Mazda3’s Neo, Maxx, Touring and SP25, SP25 GT and SP25 Astina) are pretty evenly matched, too.

But the differences become more apparent as you climb toward the top of the model range. The six-speaker stereo in the CX-3 Akari is swapped for a nine-speaker Bose system in the similarly priced 3 SP25 GT. The leather-and-suede seats in the SUV are just leather in the hatch, too, but the CX-3 does include an as-standard sunroof in the higher grades, while the 3 does not.

Practicality:

This one is no contest, really. If your car is intended to carry adult-sized humans or luggage, then the bigger-in-every-way-that-counts Mazda3 is the one for you.

Like most small SUVs, the Mazda CX-3 is actually based on a city car, rather than a small hatch, and making it taller doesn’t improve interior space. The rear seat on Mazda’s smallest SUV is tight, and is really intended for children only.

The rear bench on the Mazda3 hatch, though, is bigger and wider, and so there’s more space to fit adults - and you can even go three-up at a stretch provided you’re not setting long-distance driving records.

The Mazda3 hatch is longer and wider than the CX-3. The Mazda3 hatch is longer and wider than the CX-3.

By the numbers, the boot in the CX-3 is 264 litres (a space Mazda concedes isn’t intended to carry much luggage given the urban demographic). The Mazda3 hatch, however will carry 308 litres with the rear seats still in place. 

It must be said, though, that the CX-3 (like some of its small SUV siblings) can be optioned with all-wheel drive, meaning light (and we mean light) off-roading is possible. Weirdly,  though, both the CX-3 and Mazda3 share an identical 160mm ride height.

It looks smaller than some of its competitors, sure. But it's more stylish than most, too. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton) It looks smaller than some of its competitors, sure. But it's more stylish than most, too. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

Verdict:

It's a battle of head versus heart here, with the Mazda3 winning on paper just about every meaningful way. But you won't be parking that paper on your driveway, and the CX-3 clearly appeals to plenty (almost 12,000 so far this year, in fact) of people drawn to its SUV styling. 

But really and truly, at least drive a small hatch before you drop the deposit on a city-sized SUV. You might be surprised at the differences. 

Hatch or SUV? Tell us what you think in the comments below