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We Compare 3 of the Best Small SUVs Available in Australia: Hyundai Kona vs Mazda CX-3 vs Kia Stonic


Tom White
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

12 Mar 2021

This comparison test is a sequel of sorts to one we brought you earlier in 2021. In that light SUV test we told you the Kia Stonic was on the way in the booming light SUV segment, and now it’s here.

For this test we’re pitting the brand-new Stonic against a light SUV segment veteran, the Mazda CX-3, but we’ve also got a twist in the form of the newly facelifted Hyundai Kona.

Technically the Kona is a small SUV, in a size-bracket above the other two here. We know there’s a good chance these size definitions mean little to you, the buyer, and you’ll be cross shopping these models anyway as they are at the same price-point, so we thought it would be a good test to see if its worth it to go a size up but a spec down for the same money.

Will the new, old, or slightly larger emerge the victor? Read on to find out.

Price and specs

For this test we had a target of the mid-$20,000 region. We know this is one of the most hotly contested price-brackets for SUVs in this class, accounting for a large portion of sales, so we thought the specs chosen here would appeal to the broadest spectrum of buyers.

Our Kia Stonic and Mazda CX-3 are both mid-spec cars, while the Kona is an absolute base variant. All cars have basic features like cloth seats and halogen headlights, but aside from that there are some intriguing differences between them.

They also all have impressive safety suites which we’ll look at later.

The Maxx Sport features 16-inch alloy wheels. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Maxx Sport features 16-inch alloy wheels. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Our Kia Stonic is a mid-grade Sport. Wearing a before-on-road price-tag of $25,990, the Sport sits above the base Stonic S and the sportier GT-Line. Intending to land it with a bang, Kia has specified the Stonic well, even against tough segment competition.

Included is an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in sat-nav, keyless entry and push-start ignition, 17-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera with rear sensors, a leather bound wheel and shifter, and a digital TFT screen between its analog instruments.

Next up is the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport. Long regarded as a well-equipped car for its size and price, the CX-3 is slowly but surely starting to date in some areas. Our car wears an MSRP of $26,890, making it the most expensive car on this test by a small margin.

The Stonic Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The Maxx Sport’s standard spec includes a 7.0-inch multimedia screen which is primarily operated via a physical dial, partially digitised driver instruments, wired Apple CarPlay connectivity, built-in sat-nav, push-start ignition (sadly not paired with keyless entry), rear parking camera with sensors, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The CX-3 is the only car in this test with climate control instead of basic air conditioning.

Finally, we have the Hyundai Kona. A base-model, the Hyundai Kona has no variant name and wears an MSRP of $26,600.

The previous base-model Kona’s standard steel-wheels and hubcaps deal is swapped out for 16-inch alloys. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The previous base-model Kona’s standard steel-wheels and hubcaps deal is swapped out for 16-inch alloys. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

It scores an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity and a matching wireless phone charging bay.

The previous base-model’s standard steel-wheels and hubcaps deal is swapped out for 16-inch alloys, although the Kona has a dorky turn-key ignition, no rear parking sensors, and no built-in sat-nav.

There are more twists and turns to do with each car’s safety suite and engine tech, so don’t write anything off just yet. But as it stands, the Stonic takes a narrow lead with excellent equipment and the lowest price tag.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Price (MSRP)

$26,890

$25,990

$26,600

Multimedia screen

7.0-inch, non-touch

8.0-inch, touch

8.0-inch

Digital instruments

Partial

No

No

Apple CarPlay/Android Auto

Yes, wired

Yes, wired

Yes, wireless

Wireless phone charging

No

No

Yes

Bult-in sat-nav

Yes

Yes

No

Keyless entry and push-start

Push-start only

Yes

No

Headlights

Halogen

Halogen

Halogen

Wheel size

16-inch alloy

17-inch alloy

16-inch alloy

Cruise control

Yes

Yes

Adaptive

Climate control

Yes

Air conditioning only

Air conditioning only

Parking sensors

Rear

Rear

None

Parking cameras

Rear

Rear

Rear

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

7

8

7

Design

Which car you prefer of these three will be largely subjective. Let us know which one takes your fancy in the comments below, but we’ll point out some interesting details on each one.

  • The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere). The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere).
  • The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere). The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere).
  • The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere). The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago (image credits: Rob Cameriere).
  • There’s a particular refinement in the CX-3s chrome highlights (image credits: Rob Cameriere). There’s a particular refinement in the CX-3s chrome highlights (image credits: Rob Cameriere).
  • There’s a particular refinement in the CX-3s chrome highlights (image credits: Rob Cameriere). There’s a particular refinement in the CX-3s chrome highlights (image credits: Rob Cameriere).

The CX-3 has remained largely the same since it launched years ago, but it’s a testament to its endearing design that it still looks like a car that could have launched yesterday.

There’s a particular refinement in the CX-3s chrome highlights, and the way the brand’s swoopy 'Kodo' design language works its way down the CX-3’s flanks makes for a classy silhouette which should prove inoffensive to all ages.

Inside the chrome-accented design continues with delicate switchgear and an abundance of varied textures (image credits: Rob Cameriere). Inside the chrome-accented design continues with delicate switchgear and an abundance of varied textures (image credits: Rob Cameriere).

Inside the chrome-accented design continues with delicate switchgear and an abundance of varied textures and nice finishes.

The interior is where this car starts to date a little, with its small media screen and some hard, nasty plastics, but at least the brand has gone to the effort of cladding key touchpoints like the doors in soft materials.

  • There’s something modern and fresh about the Stonic. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) There’s something modern and fresh about the Stonic. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic has a squared off side-profile. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic has a squared off side-profile. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic's bumpers and bodywork are largely finished with paint. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic's bumpers and bodywork are largely finished with paint. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic has gently rounded headlight fixtures. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic has gently rounded headlight fixtures. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic certainly isn’t as flash as the Mazda. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic certainly isn’t as flash as the Mazda. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The CX-3’s wheel is a premium touchpoint, and while the semi-digital dash cluster appears a tad cheap it does suit this car’s overall design well.

Next up is the Stonic Sport. There’s something modern and fresh about Kia’s latest offering, with its gently rounded headlight fixtures and the way its bumpers and bodywork are largely paint finish instead of populated by potentially tacky plastic finishes.

Inside the Stonic features conservative design choices (image credits: Rob Cameriere). Inside the Stonic features conservative design choices (image credits: Rob Cameriere).

There’s a pleasing contrast between this SUV’s curved features and it’s squared off side-profile which keeps it modern with a hint of toughness.

Inside, the Stonic certainly isn’t as flash as the Mazda, with conservative design choices mirrored from its Rio donor car.

That’s not entirely a bad thing, it has an expansive dash, quality finishes, and tasteful looks, but it doesn’t quite have that wow factor the CX-3 possesses.

The big multimedia screen helps lift the Stonic’s interior up a notch though, and it’s nice to have a leather bound steering wheel and Audi-influenced shifter, too.

Finally, the Kona. Hyundai has decided for its new-generation products to put the styling rule-book in the shredder, and the Kona stands apart with an outlandish face and interesting highlights that's likely to ultimately polarise onlookers.

  • The Kona stands apart with an outlandish face. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona stands apart with an outlandish face. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Kona will ultimately polarise onlookers. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona will ultimately polarise onlookers. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • Hyundai has decided for its new-generation Kona to put the styling rule-book in the shredder. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) Hyundai has decided for its new-generation Kona to put the styling rule-book in the shredder. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Kona's headlights are interesting. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona's headlights are interesting. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • You can tell our Kona is an absolute base model. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) You can tell our Kona is an absolute base model. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The interior is where you can tell our Kona is an absolute base model. The entire inside is clad in a monotone grey plastic, and crucial touch points like the wheel, shifter, and elbow-rests are finished in nasty polyurethanes.

Particularly insulting is the cladding the multimedia screen sits in. While the screen itself is a nice-enough 8.0-inch unit with usable software, the cladding in which it sits is a big blank slate of grey plastic reminding you that you didn’t splash out for one of the higher grades with a 10.25-inch unit.

There's a blank slate of grey plastic surrounding the 8.0-inch touchscreen. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) There's a blank slate of grey plastic surrounding the 8.0-inch touchscreen. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Where the Kona excels is its width and height of interior space. It’s here you can really tell its mid-size i30 underpinnings grant extra airspace compared to its smaller rivals on this test.

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

8

8

7

Practicality

You’re looking at SUVs, so there’s a good chance practicality will be higher on your list than if you were looking at a light hatch.

All cars here have the ride height and extra tall seating position granted to an SUV but there is one particular practicality winner here.

Let’s start with the CX-3. This is the car that most wears its light-hatch underpinnings on its sleeve. It feels the smallest of the options here on the inside, and cabin storage is also somewhat limited.

  • The boot is the real travesty in the CX-3, with just 264-litres on offer. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The boot is the real travesty in the CX-3, with just 264-litres on offer. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • That makes it almost 100 litres smaller than its nearest competitor on this test. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) That makes it almost 100 litres smaller than its nearest competitor on this test. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • It could only fit two of our three 'CarsGuide' test luggage cases. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) It could only fit two of our three 'CarsGuide' test luggage cases. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Unlike the Mazda2 on which it is based, the CX-3 gets a small centre armrest console box, which sits over a large cutaway with two variable bottle holders inside.

It also features a small storage tray under the climate controls, and large bottle holders in the doors. Connectivity-wise the CX-3 gets two USB ports, a 12-volt outlet, and an auxiliary input, all housed under the climate unit.

Space for front occupants is decent, with the CX-3 feeling more like a hatchback than the other two. Headroom proved good for someone my (182cm / 6'0") height, although knee room was a little limited. Wheel adjustability is good, too, but in a typical Mazda quirk, the wing mirrors are strangely close, offering a relatively limited field of view to the neighboring lane.

  • Space for front occupants is decent, with the CX-3 feeling more like a hatchback than the other two. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) Space for front occupants is decent, with the CX-3 feeling more like a hatchback than the other two. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The seating arrangement is quite high and narrow, with my head almost hard against the roof, and my knees against the driver's seat set for my position. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The seating arrangement is quite high and narrow, with my head almost hard against the roof, and my knees against the driver's seat set for my position. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

In the back seat and things are less good. The seating arrangement is quite high and narrow, with my head almost hard against the roof, and my knees against the driver's seat set for my position.

There are small bottle holders in the doors, but no power outlets or air vents for rear passengers.

The boot is the real travesty in the CX-3, with just 264-litres on offer, making it almost 100 litres smaller than its nearest competitor on this test. It could only fit two of our three CarsGuide test luggage cases. A space-saver spare resides under the floor.

  • The Stonic’s boot is only a few litres down on the larger Hyundai Kona. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic’s boot is only a few litres down on the larger Hyundai Kona. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • But we found its low, flat load floor to offer a more squared-off and useful space (image credits: Rob Cameriere) But we found its low, flat load floor to offer a more squared-off and useful space (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • Especially when it came to loading our 'CarsGuide' demo cases, which fit with ease. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) Especially when it came to loading our 'CarsGuide' demo cases, which fit with ease. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Next up, the Kia Stonic. This car also shares much with its Rio light hatch donor car, but the Rio is huge on the inside for the segment, and the Stonic turned out to be, too.

Storage for front passengers includes a small console box, dual bottle holders between the front two seats (oddly the Stonic is the only car here to get a manual handbrake), and a large two-teired shelf under the air conditioning unit. There are also large bottle holders and bins in the doors.

Adjustability is good for the driver, with comfortable headroom and telescopic adjust for the steering, although knee room is a little limited, as it is in the CX-3. It also share’s the Mazda’s hatch-like seating position.

  • The Stonic's low seating position means you do have to lean down the most to get into it. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic's low seating position means you do have to lean down the most to get into it. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The back seat has a generous amount of knee room on offer for someone my height, as well as decent headroom. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The back seat has a generous amount of knee room on offer for someone my height, as well as decent headroom. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The back seat is impressive given the Stonic’s diminutive dimensions, with generous amounts of knee room on offer for someone my height, as well as decent headroom.

The Stonic's low seating position means you do have to lean down the most to get into it, but overall the rear seat is a comfortable place to be.

Rear seat passengers in the Stonic get a tiny bottle holder in each door, as well as a small storage tray and USB outlet on the back of the centre console. There are no adjustable air vents for rear passengers.

  • The Kona has the largest boot on this test in terms of litres, but we found this comes with a catch. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona has the largest boot on this test in terms of litres, but we found this comes with a catch. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Kona’s boot floor must be taken down to its lowest position to make the most of the space, at which point its floor is slightly uneven. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona’s boot floor must be taken down to its lowest position to make the most of the space, at which point its floor is slightly uneven. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • This made it a little more awkward than the Stonic when it came to loading our 'CarsGuide' luggage set. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) This made it a little more awkward than the Stonic when it came to loading our 'CarsGuide' luggage set. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The Stonic’s boot is only a few litres down on the larger Hyundai Kona, but we found its low, flat load floor to offer a more squared-off and useful space when it came to loading our CarsGuide demo cases, which fit with ease.

Finally, we have the Kona. It’s the largest car on this test, and with its mid-size i30 hatch underpinnings, it has much more space in its interior. You also sit the highest in the Kona, and it has the most commanding view of the road.

Headroom and adjustability are great for the driver, and there’s a large bottle holder and trench in each door, two large bottle holders in the centre console, and a single large tray with the wireless phone charger under the air conditioning controls.

The Kona gets a large soft-trimmed armrest box, but it's worth noting that overall, its storage space for front passengers is basically the same as the Stonic, despite its extra size.

  • The Kona’s higher seat bases and tall roofline make it the easiest car of these three to get in and out of. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona’s higher seat bases and tall roofline make it the easiest car of these three to get in and out of. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • Rear seat passengers in the Kona get decent knee room and excellent headroom. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) Rear seat passengers in the Kona get decent knee room and excellent headroom. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Rear seat passengers in the Kona get decent knee room and excellent headroom, plus the Kona’s higher seat bases and tall roofline make it the easiest car of these three to get in and out of.

Passengers in the back of the Kona get a large bottle holder in the door and an odd little storage tray on the back of the centre console, but there are no power outlets or adjustable air vents.

The Kona has the largest boot on this test in terms of litres, but we found this comes with a catch. The Kona’s boot floor must be taken down to its lowest position to make the most of the space, at which point its floor is slightly uneven.

This made it a little more awkward than the Stonic when it came to loading our CarsGuide luggage set.

All three cars get space-saver spares under the boot floor, check out the table below to get an idea of how they compare on the numbers.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Boot space (seats up)

264L

352L

374L

Boot space (seats down)

1174L

1155L

1158L

Spare

Space-saver

Space-saver

Space-saver

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

6

8

7

 

Engine & transmission

None of the cars in this test impress us with an interesting drivetrain, as all three possess traditional non-turbo, non-hybrid, four-cylinders.

The CX-3 and Kona both have 2.0-litre engines with similar outputs with the Mazda driving its front wheels via a six-speed automatic, and the Kona driving its via a new continuously variable set-up.

  • The CX-3 and Kona both have 2.0-litre engines with similar outputs. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The CX-3 and Kona both have 2.0-litre engines with similar outputs. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Mazda’s slight bump in torque and leaner kerb weight should give it an advantage here. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Mazda’s slight bump in torque and leaner kerb weight should give it an advantage here. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic has a much smaller and less powerful 1.4-litre unit which we fond breathless even in its smaller Rio donor car. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic has a much smaller and less powerful 1.4-litre unit which we fond breathless even in its smaller Rio donor car. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The Mazda’s slight bump in torque and leaner kerb weight should give it an advantage here.

Finally, there’s the outlier, the Stonic. It has a much smaller and less powerful 1.4-litre unit which we fond breathless even in its smaller Rio donor car.

Thankfully it gets a six-speed auto instead of the base Rio’s dreadful four-speed auto, but its relative lack of oomph still sets it back points-wise here. Check the table below for exact power figures and how each car compares.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Layout

2.0-litre four-cylinder non-turbo

1.4-litre four-cylinder non-turbo

2.0-litre four-cylinder non-turbo

Power

110kW

74kW

110kW

Torque

195Nm

133Nm

180Nm

Transmission

Six-speed torque converter auto

Six-speed torque converter auto

Continuously variable automatic (CVT)

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

7

6

7

Fuel consumption

As you might imagine, three old-school engine solutions will produce less than impressive fuel numbers, and that certainly was the case over our largely urban-cycle fuel test loop.

The Mazda’s natural advantages of having a larger engine with less weight to carry and a stop/start system proved their worth, as it produced by far the lowest fuel number.

Meanwhile the Kona overshot its number by a larger margin than the Mazda, and the Stonic was disappointing with its as-tested fuel consumption well into double digits.

All cars here are capable of consuming entry-level 91RON fuel, and all have decent fuel tanks.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Official/combined consumption

6.3L/100km

6.7L/100km

6.2L/100km

Real-world test

9.5L/100km

11.0L/100km

10.6L/100km

Minimum RON rating

91

91

91

Fuel tank size

48L

45L

50L

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

6

6

6

 

Safety

Every car in this test has a reasonably impressive suite of active safety features considering their market position, although there are some key differences, and areas in which each car makes compromises.

All cars have auto emergency braking, although the CX-3’s only operates at city speeds. The Mazda makes up a little lost ground with the addition of blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Meanwhile the Stonic and Kona have freeway-speed auto braking function, as well as cyclist detection, and while they both lack blind spot monitoring or rear cross traffic alert, they gain driver attention alert and lane keep assist.

The Kona has the bonus of adaptive cruise control but misses out on rear parking sensors, while the Stonic is the only car here not to yet wear an ANCAP rating as it hasn't been tested.

The CX-3 has a maximum five-star rating to the 2016 standards, while the Kona is five-star rated to the 2017 standards. All cars have the expected array of six airbags.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Auto emergency braking

Yes, city-speed with pedestrian detection

Yes, freeway-speed with pedestrian and cyclist detection

Yes, freeway-speed with pedestrian and cyclist detection

Lane keep assist

No

Yes

Yes

Blind spot monitoring

Yes

No

No

Adaptive cruise control

No

No

Yes

Rear cross traffic alert

Yes

No

No

Driver attention alert

No

Yes

Yes

Traffic sign recognition

No

No

No

Airbags

Six

Six

Six

ANCAP rating

Five-star (2016)

Not rated

Five-star (2017)

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

8

8

8

 

Ownership

Warranty-wise it’s hard to go past the Stonic with its seven year/unlimited kilometre promise which is still one of the best in the business. There is a cost though, which we’ll get to in a second.

The CX-3 and Kona have the current industry-standard five year/unlimited kilometre warranty cover with the Mazda including five years of roadside assist, and the Kona including a year every time you service with Hyundai (same as the Stonic).

The Stonic and Kona require servicing once a year or every 15,000km whichever occurs first, while the Mazda’s interval is 12 months or 10,000km.

Over the first five years of ownership the Mazda will cost you around $354 annually while the Stonic costs significantly more with a yearly average of around $420.60 according to each brand’s official service calculators.

The Kona meanwhile did not have its capped price servicing schedule locked in at the time of writing, but the brand told us it won’t stray far from the current car which would have the cheapest servicing here at a yearly average of $284.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Warranty length

Five years/unlimited km

Seven years/unlimited km

Five years/unlimited kilometres

Yearly average service price (over five years)

$354.00

$420.60

Not yet available

Service interval

12 month/10,000km

12 months/15,000km

12 month/15,000km

Roadside assist

Five years included

One year included, renewed each year with Kia genuine service

One year included, renewed each year with Hyundai genuine service

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

8

9

8

 

Driving

First up, we’ll look at our veteran entry here, the Mazda CX-3. The CX-3 has always been great to drive courtesy of a sporty ride designed to live up to Mazda’s ‘Zoom Zoom’ promise of a few years ago, direct steering, and a relatively large engine.

That continues today. While the Stonic languishes with an outdated and tired 1.4-litre non-turbo, the Mazda’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder is punchy and oversized for its trim weight-class.

It provides no lack of oomph when you put the accelerator down, and that’s helped along by its predictable six-speed automatic transmission, which I tend to prefer over complicated dual-clutches and rubbery CVTs.

Interestingly though, despite this Mazda’s extra power and favourable weight, the heavier and slightly less powerful Kona proved to have a little more urgency off the line.

The Mazda has downright firm suspension. We discovered after our test loops that the Mazda’s tyre pressure was well above average, but regardless this little SUV has always had an almost unnecessarily firm ride, crashing over bumps and communicating even the texture of the road through the steering and into the cabin.

  • The CX-3 has always been great to drive. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The CX-3 has always been great to drive. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Mazda has downright firm suspension. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Mazda has downright firm suspension. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The CX-3 handles nicely. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The CX-3 handles nicely. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Mazda’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder is punchy and oversized for its trim weight-class. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Mazda’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder is punchy and oversized for its trim weight-class. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

As a result, it handles nicely, eating up corners with the prowess and satisfaction of a hatchback.

Sound deadening in the Mazda is by far the worst of the three cars here with notable noise intrusion from the road and tyres, and even its engine and transmission add mechanical clutter to the cabin’s soundscape.

While that all adds to the engagement of the Mazda, it’s easy to anticipate this little SUV getting tiresome on long open-road trips. We think it’s best suited to keen drivers rather than families looking for a bit more comfort.

Next up is our newcomer, the Kia Stonic. The Stonic is based on the Rio hatch, which is already a good little car to drive, but I was very impressed to see how much extra engineering has gone into this small SUV.

The ride and even the steering have been heavily re-worked to give the Stonic a smoother and more comfortable character than the Rio hatch and its Mazda CX-3 competitor.

While it doesn’t quite have the comfort the extra ride height in the Kona grants, it is an excellent balance between driver engagement and all-road ride quality.

Despite its similar size to the Mazda and its larger wheels, the Stonic’s sound deadening in the cabin is far better, making for a less intense driving experience.

  • The Stonic is based on the Rio hatch, which is already a good little car to drive. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic is based on the Rio hatch, which is already a good little car to drive. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The ride and steering have been re-worked to give the Stonic a smoother and more comfortable character. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The ride and steering have been re-worked to give the Stonic a smoother and more comfortable character. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic’s weakest point is that 1.4-litre engine. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic’s weakest point is that 1.4-litre engine. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Stonic is the polar opposite of the Mazda. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Stonic is the polar opposite of the Mazda. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

The Stonic’s weakest point is that 1.4-litre engine. I was surprised to find that it's fine when you’re plodding around suburban streets and on main roads with traffic, as the six-speed automatic's gearing seems to help this SUV feel robust off the mark.

Ask too much more of it and it loses its poise, however, with the engine flying up the rev-range and the otherwise-smooth six-speed struggling to keep up.

This is certainly not the most engaging car for the open road or the corners. In a way, it’s the polar opposite of the Mazda.

It’s frustrating to think how much better this car could be with the three-cylinder turbo available in its top-spec GT-Line form.

Still, the ride and steering are communicative and ultimately the best balanced of the choices here, and if you’re spending most of your time around the suburbs, there’s no reason why the Stonic can’t be as fun as the Mazda and significantly more forgiving.

Lastly, we’ll look at the Hyundai Kona. Again, this car’s larger i30 underpinnings are on show, with the quietest and softest ride of the cars on this test.

Its seating position is the most SUV-like out of these three, offering that commanding view of the road that many buyers of cars like this are searching for.

  • The steering in the Kona is by far the lightest.  (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The steering in the Kona is by far the lightest. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The 2.0-litre engine in the Kona is more than enough to power it. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The 2.0-litre engine in the Kona is more than enough to power it. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Kona's softer suspension and extra ride height do make it less balanced than the Stonic. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona's softer suspension and extra ride height do make it less balanced than the Stonic. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)
  • The Kona will jiggle from side to side in the corners. (image credits: Rob Cameriere) The Kona will jiggle from side to side in the corners. (image credits: Rob Cameriere)

Its softer suspension and extra ride height do make it less balanced than the Stonic, however, as the Kona will jiggle from side to side in the corners and take an extra moment to settle over corrugations.

The steering in the Kona is by far the lightest and most electrically-assisted of the cars on this test, and while that might not be as good for those seeking driver engagement, it does make it an easy companion in multi-storey carparks and the tight streets of the suburbs.

The 2.0-litre engine in the Kona is more than enough to power it, and despite the Kona’s extra heft, it feels more spritely than the CX-3.

This is despite (or perhaps due to) the Kona’s new-for-2021 continuously variable automatic transmission, which replaces a six-speed automatic.

All drivers on test were surprised to find how good Hyundai Group’s new CVT is, as it throws up few of the nasty rubbery characteristics these transmissions are known for.

The Hyundai is the most comfortable and the least engaging of the cars here overall, but we think it’s a much better fit for the family buyer who is looking for the feeling of security that SUVs offer, as well as a more comfortable long-distance tourer.

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport FWD

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

8

8

8

 

Verdict

All things said and done these cars are pretty evenly matched, but we think each will ultimately suit a different buyer, despite their similar price and target audience.

The Mazda CX-3 is feeling a little dated and harsh from behind the wheel, and it has a tiny back seat and luggage area, but makes up for it with still dashing style, decent price and features, and an engaging drive experience. We think it will suit a driver-at-heart, or someone wanting a city-sized hatch with that extra bit of SUV-ness.

The Kona meanwhile is at the other end of the spectrum. Being larger at the same price, it feels more basic on the inside but brings some of the latest multimedia innovations over the Mazda. While its new look might polarise buyers, we think its strong SUV characteristics will be better suited to family buyers looking for the extra comfort and security it offers.

Finally, we have our winner. The Kia Stonic notches ahead in our point marking scheme, largely thanks to its blending of the best characteristics of the other cars here, as well as a stellar overall value, design, and practicality offering. It’s not really the best driver’s car thanks to its outdated engine, but we think it’s the most ideally suited to the toils of urban life where it’s likely most buyers of SUVs in this class will be spending their time.

See our overall score table below, for a reminder on how we came to our verdict.

 

Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport

Kia Stonic Sport FWD

Hyundai Kona 2.0 FWD

Price and features

7

8

7

Design

8

8

7

Practicality

6

8

7

Engine and transmission

7

6

7

Fuel consumption

6

6

6

Safety

8

8

8

Ownership

8

9

8

Driving

8

8

8

Overall

7.3

7.6

7.3



Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.

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