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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by

19 Oct 2018

SUVs are what a lot of people are shopping for these days, and in Australia it’s a trend that spreads across all size categories - including the now bustling small SUV segment. 

So we’ve assembled a trio of important players in the class of 2019 - the Hyundai Kona Active, the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport, and the Honda HR-V VTi. All of these small SUVs are pretty big sellers, and all offer quite different approaches in the segment.

The Mazda is the attractive, safety-conscious option. The Honda is unashamedly practical and comfort-focused. And the Hyundai is all about aggression and edgy exterior design. 

Helping us justify the choice of this trio, each has been updated recently. Yes, we could have included the big-selling Mitsubishi ASX, the chunky Subaru XV and any number of other small SUVs for that matter - but we went with three of the best examples in the broad range of options available to consumers. 

For this test we set ourselves a price target of roughly $25,000 for each of the models you see here, with all three being petrol-powered, automatic, and front-wheel drive (FWD) - because that’s what people are buying.

Let’s see how they stack up.

Design

Fellow testers Richard Berry, James Lisle and I stood around these three cars for a good 20 minutes, just looking at them, walking around them, touching them, trying to figure out what the designers were trying to achieve in each instance.

There is one aggressive, sharp-edged, youthful and style-heavy model out of this trio, and with its insect-like front end, the Kona is very much a love or hate proposition. But it certainly deserves kudos because it is so distinctively designed and unashamedly different to the vast majority of its competitors.

All three of us like the look of the Kona today, but we agreed the sheer amount of shiny black plastic on the exterior could struggle to stand the test of time, with James commenting, "The Kona will age like milk’.

  • The Kona is so distinctively designed and unashamedly different to the vast majority of its competitors. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Kona is so distinctively designed and unashamedly different to the vast majority of its competitors. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • All three of us like the look of the Kona today, but we agreed the sheer amount of shiny black plastic on the exterior could struggle to stand the test of time. (image credit: Dean McCartney) All three of us like the look of the Kona today, but we agreed the sheer amount of shiny black plastic on the exterior could struggle to stand the test of time. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Richard was keen on the design of the Mazda, which he described as "the prettiest". James agreed, but personally I'm not a huge fan of the CX-3. It just feels to me like there's a bit too much happening on too small of a canvas, a la Jackson Pollock.

But Mazda has done a terrific job of shrinking it's bold body design into the compact SUV space, and plenty of people love the design. Things like the twin chrome exhaust tips at the rear spice it up a bit - and you can option a body kit for your CX-3 if you want to. All three have a roof-mounted rear spoiler, and you can get side steps for the HR-V, if you wish. 

We all felt the design of the face-lifted Honda HR-V wasn’t improved with the recent mid-life update. The bulbous new grille - finished in an odd smoked chrome look, that just doesn’t go with the rest of the design - is pretty hard to look at. At least at the rear, the tail-lights no longer have that rosy finish to the lower lenses.

  • We all felt the design of the face-lifted Honda HR-V wasn’t improved with the recent mid-life update. (image credit: Dean McCartney) We all felt the design of the face-lifted Honda HR-V wasn’t improved with the recent mid-life update. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Honda HR-V is the longest of this group at 4348mm. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Honda HR-V is the longest of this group at 4348mm. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Tt the rear, the tail-lights no longer have that rosy finish to the lower lenses. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Tt the rear, the tail-lights no longer have that rosy finish to the lower lenses. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

In terms of dimensions, there’s more between these three for size than you might realise.

The Hyundai Kona is short, at just 4165mm long, sitting atop a 2600mm wheelbase. But it’s wide (1800mm) and in the middle in terms of height (1565mm).

The Mazda CX-3 middles the pack for length at 4275mm, but has a shorter wheelbase (at 2570mm). It is 1765mm wide and 1535mm tall. 

  • Mazda has done a terrific job of shrinking it's bold body design into the compact SUV space. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Mazda has done a terrific job of shrinking it's bold body design into the compact SUV space. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Things like the twin chrome exhaust tips at the rear spice it up a bit. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Things like the twin chrome exhaust tips at the rear spice it up a bit. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The Honda HR-V is the longest of this group at 4348mm - which could be the difference between fitting into that tight parking space or scratching a bumper - and its wheelbase is the longest here, too, at 2610mm. 

It is also the tallest, at 1605mm, and spans 1772mm wide. The extra real estate allows it more space in the cabin, as will be discussed in the next section.

Take a look at the images to see if you can pick the difference in terms of interior dimensions. You’ll note a distinct lack of leather trim in the photos - these are affordable SUVs, after all. 

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score787

Interior

Every one of these cars has a touchscreen media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and USB connectivity - plus all three have sat nav. But there are some differences in terms of their usability.

The Hyundai’s massive, newly added 8.0-inch touch screen is as close to perfect as you can get in this segment, with the best clarity, graphics and the benchmark smartphone connectivity of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the others don’t get. It also rocks a tiptop Krell eight-speaker sound system with subwoofer, even in the low grades, which was superior to the others on offer in this mix (both with six speakers). 

That said, the Hyundai is quite plain in terms of its cabin design, a letdown considering its extroverted exterior.

Loose item storage throughout the Kona's cabin is good, and there are no serious gripes with the usability of the space. There’s a pair of smallish cupholders, a decent cubby in front of the gear selector, and good sized door pockets.

The lack of an electric park brake (which both rivals have) and the abundance of hard plastics in the cabin gives away that you’re not in an expensive SUV. There’s even hard plastic on the elbow rests, which is very uncomfortable. But, it’s the only one here with a digital speedo. 

While you might struggle to like the exterior, the interior of the Kona is definitely inoffensive. It’s just a bit, well, predictable. 

  • The Hyundai is quite plain in terms of its cabin design. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Hyundai is quite plain in terms of its cabin design. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Loose item storage throughout the Kona's cabin is good. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Loose item storage throughout the Kona's cabin is good. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Hyundai offers slightly better rear seat room than the Mazda. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Hyundai offers slightly better rear seat room than the Mazda. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The Honda is almost as plain as the Hyundai, but at least it gets a bit of soft material on the dash - if you can look past the pretend stitching. 

It also gets digital climate control, where the other two cars here have knobs for the air con, and of course, it has typical Honda practicality throughout. 

There’s a big centre console area that you can store phones and wallets and drinks in, and there’s a second shelf area down low. Oddly, though, it lacks some storage options like centre cup holders in the back (and no centre armrest back there, either), and it’s the only one without a sunglass holder.

It’s a shame the USB port for the media system comes out of the edge of the screen - it looks really messy when your smartphone is plugged in. And the Honda’s 7.0-inch infotainment system is pretty poor by today’s standards. The graphics are almost ‘90s-like, and there’s not a lot of intuitiveness to the menus either. The lack of a volume knob is annoying as well.

  • The Honda is almost as plain as the Hyundai, but at least it gets a bit of soft material on the dash. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Honda is almost as plain as the Hyundai, but at least it gets a bit of soft material on the dash. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • There’s a big centre console area that you can store phones and wallets and drinks in. (image credit: Dean McCartney) There’s a big centre console area that you can store phones and wallets and drinks in. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Honda has limousine-like space in the back. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Honda has limousine-like space in the back. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

 
The Mazda steps things up in terms of front cabin presentation - it’s more appealing as you sit inside it, offering additional visual pizzazz and style. 

The materials look better at a glance, and it feels a touch more plush in here, especially considering these three are all close in terms of their asking prices. But you mightn’t want to look too closely at the fonts used in here. I’ve counted about five different typefaces just on the dash and steering wheel.

There’s a big centre console bin with adjustable cup/bottle holders, although there’s not a whole lot of room for other odds and ends, with comparatively small door pockets.

Items like push-button start are nice additions to take your mind off a few of the shortfalls. And while the dashtop media screen is a 7.0-inch unit, it looks a lot smaller. The Mazda is the only one with a rotary dial to control the screen (which is also touch capacitive at a standstill) - but the system can be hard to navigate. 

  • The Mazda steps things up in terms of front cabin presentation - it’s more appealing as you sit inside it. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Mazda steps things up in terms of front cabin presentation - it’s more appealing as you sit inside it. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The materials look better at a glance, and it feels a touch more plush in the CX-3. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The materials look better at a glance, and it feels a touch more plush in the CX-3. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Mazda offers a very cushy seat in the back. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Mazda offers a very cushy seat in the back. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Now, for family buyers, practicality will also be very high on the ‘must haves’ list. How many seats? The answer for each is five, but there are some marked differences in how practical each is. None have rear air vents, which is disappointing, and at this price point there are no rear seat charging (USB or 12-volt) options, either.

At six feet (182cm) tall, I set the driver’s seat for me to get an idea of rear space - and it was night and day. 

The Honda has limousine-like space in the back, more easily coping with long-limbed occupants by offering handfuls of space between rear-seat-knees and seat-back, and more comfortably fitting three adults across the back seat, too. It has no centre armrest and no cup holders, but there are big door pockets and a central bottle holder, too.

The Mazda offers a very cushy seat in the back, so much so that it lacks support in corners on the edges of the seat. It also suffers the worst legroom of this trio, and while headroom is okay, three across is almost impossible due to the big centre tunnel in the floor and its bulky doors. At least it has a centre armrest and cup holders.

The Hyundai is the middle ground, offering slightly better rear seat room than the Mazda - but not by much. Its seats are a bit more supportive than the other two, but its rear window line is quite high, so little ones mightn’t get a view out. There’s a flip down arm rest, but you don’t get any map pockets here - the others have one each.

All three models have ISOFIX baby seat anchor points and three top tether points. Annoyingly, however, the Honda has a ceiling mount centre belt and top tether. The others have all top tethers on the rear seat backs.

Now, boot space / luggage capacity. 

The Honda HR-V has boot dimensions of 437 litres of with the back seats up, and 1462L with them folded down completely flat. The Hyundai Kona has a lot less storage space - 361L seats up/1143L seats down, and they go fairly flat. The Mazda CX-3’s boot size is minuscule, with its compact exterior dimensions making for a 264L boot with rear seats up and 1174L seats down (there’s a large stepped section to contend with). 

  • The Honda HR-V has boot dimensions of 437 litres. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Honda HR-V has boot dimensions of 437 litres. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • With the rear seats up, the Kona has 361 litres of boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney) With the rear seats up, the Kona has 361 litres of boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Mazda CX-3’s boot size is minuscule, with only 264 litres. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Mazda CX-3’s boot size is minuscule, with only 264 litres. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Under the boot of all three of these models is a space-saver spare tyre. Our Honda had a nice cargo liner, and while its foldable/removable cargo cover isn’t to all tastes, it does open up the space really nicely. 

Acknowledging the above figures, we attempted to fit the same stuff in each of these three cars - the CarsGuide pram and a pair of hard-cover suitcases. This test offered a good indication of where each of these models stacks up in terms of family-friendliness.

  • The HR-V easily copes with our two suitcases, or the pram. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The HR-V easily copes with our two suitcases, or the pram. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The only option if you need a big boot is the Honda. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The only option if you need a big boot is the Honda. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Kona's boot is too small to deal with a pram and all the baby stuff that comes with it. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Kona's boot is too small to deal with a pram and all the baby stuff that comes with it. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • We attempted to fit the same stuff in each of these three cars - the CarsGuide pram and a pair of hard-cover suitcases. (image credit: Dean McCartney) We attempted to fit the same stuff in each of these three cars - the CarsGuide pram and a pair of hard-cover suitcases. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • While the Mazda CX-3 featured a dual-level boot floor that allowed it to just fit our single-seat pram. (image credit: Dean McCartney) While the Mazda CX-3 featured a dual-level boot floor that allowed it to just fit our single-seat pram. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The CX-3's  compact exterior dimensions affect the boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The CX-3's compact exterior dimensions affect the boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

While the Mazda CX-3 featured a dual-level boot floor that allowed it to just fit our single-seat pram. The Kona wasn’t much better, and it has to be said - if you have very young children you ought to be taking a look elsewhere. The boot is too small to deal with a pram and all the baby stuff that comes with it. But the Kona is the only model here with roof rails, which means it’ll be the best to fit a roof rack system on top.

The only option if you need a big boot is the Honda - hands-down. It’s enormous, easily coping with our two suitcases, or the pram, or the entire lot with space to spare. And the HR-V takes practicality a step further with its clever rear seat system. The so-called 'Magic Seats' in the HR-V are superb if you need something that offers terrific cabin practicality.

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score966

Price and features

How much is a Honda HR-V? How much does a Mazda CX-3 cost? What’s the pricing for a Hyundai Kona? Well, that depends…

We went for a lower grade model of each respective range, and our aim for this test was a list price guide of $25,000 (MSRP / RRP, before on-road costs - in other words, not a drive-away price).

As far as a model comparison goes, the most affordable of our trio was the Honda HR-V VTi, which has a list price of $24,990. Next up the ladder was the Hyundai Kona Active, which lists at $25,500. The most expensive vehicle on test was the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport, with a list price of $25,690. 

There’s a caveat on the Hyundai, though. Our car featured a safety pack ($1500) which we’d thoroughly recommend, that makes it the priciest vehicle here at $27,000 (vs $25,500 without the pack). All Mazda CX-3 models come fairly stacked in terms of safety, while the best gear is reserved for top of the range Honda HRV models.

In terms of trim levels, the CX-3 Maxx Sport is the second model up the range, and so is the Kona Active. The HR-V VTi is the base model of its range. Now, let’s compare standard features.

All three have sat nav / GPS systems, though as mentioned in the interior section above, the Hyundai’s bigger 8.0-inch touch screen is superior to the 7.0-inch units in the Mazda and Honda, as it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (meaning you can use the phone’s software navigation system if you prefer), and it has a better sound system with more speakers plus a subwoofer.

  • The 7.0-inch unit comes with a rotary dial to control the screen. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The 7.0-inch unit comes with a rotary dial to control the screen. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The Kona’s 8.0-inch touch screen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Kona’s 8.0-inch touch screen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • Honda’s 7.0-inch infotainment system is pretty poor by today’s standards. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Honda’s 7.0-inch infotainment system is pretty poor by today’s standards. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

You will still be able to connect your iPhone or other smartphone using Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and the multimedia systems in each car include USB connectivity (2x USB in the Mazda, where the others have one only). None of these three have a CD player or DVD player as part of their infotainment set-up, and only the Honda misses out on DAB digital radio technology. 

The Hyundai and Mazda both have leather-like steering wheel and gear selector trim, but the Honda makes do with a plasticky finish. Of course, all three have multifunction steering wheels with audio controls and cruise control, plus reach and rake adjustment. 

All three have behind-the-times halogen headlights (no LED headlights or even HID, but the HR-V has projector halogens), and the Mazda even misses out on LED daytime running lights which the other two get. At least the Mazda and Hyundai both have auto on/off headlights, and all three have lights that will turn themselves off if you lock the car. The Mazda is the only one with auto wipers, too. 

Each model here has 16-inch alloy rims, and the Hyundai and Mazda even have identical tyres, but the Honda has slightly wider rubber. The Mazda misses out on tyre pressure monitoring, but the other two have it.

Each model here has 16-inch alloy rims. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Each model here has 16-inch alloy rims. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The Mazda is the only one with push button start, but it doesn’t have a proximity key (also called smart key / keyless entry) … so you’ll still have to have the key in your hand to get in. But the Mazda is also the only one without an illuminated vanity mirror for the driver (the Honda has one, and the Hyundai has it for driver and passenger).

The Hyundai is the only one with a digital speedometer readout - handy in Victoria! And the Hyundai and Mazda also have a sunglasses holder, which the Honda doesn’t. But the Honda has climate control air conditioning, where the others have manual a/c. 

Colours for the Hyundai include some fun, bright hues such 'Ceramic Blue' (seen here) and 'Tangerine Comet' (orange). All three have white, silver and black options, and Mazda offers the lovely 'Soul Red Crystal' and 'Machine Grey' premium paint options for just $300 more than the rest of its range, or if you prefer something a little more unusual, you could go for 'Flash Mica' (basically brown). 

You can forget purple or green for any of these models - Honda offered a purplish colour for the pre-facelift HR-V, but it has been scrapped.

There’s only one colour that won’t cost you $575 more in the HR-V line ('Taffeta White'), while the better paint costs $595 at Hyundai. 

Accessories across all three models vary, but you will find things like floor mats included at the point of sale, and you could even get tinted windows if you drive a hard bargain.

Niceties such as a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, power tailgate or heated steering wheel aren’t offered at this price point, and you might need to shop the aftermarket for a nudge bar or bull bar. 

On the whole, the Mazda feels the best value of this trio… just. 

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score768

Engine and transmission

So, what about engine specs? 

The Honda has the smallest engine size and least impressive specifications of this trio, a 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol engine is capable of 105kW (at 6500rpm) and 173Nm (at 4300rpm). Not much horsepower, but with a reworked CVT auto, now with stepped ratios, it is a little zestier than before, and it offers better linearity to its power delivery this time around. It might not be exciting, but it certainly gets the job done.

The Mazda has a larger capacity 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 110kW (at 6000rpm) and 195Nm of torque (at 2800rpm), and in the version we have, there's a conventional six-speed automatic transmission (you can get a six-speed manual transmission if you don’t want an auto). 

While those numbers are pretty decent, and the CX-3 is the lightest of these three small SUVs, there is a notable difference in the usability of the power, and the level of available grunt. It just doesn't feel like it has that much.

Equalling the CX-3 for power is the Hyundai, with 110kW (at 6200rpm) but it has a little less torque, 180Nm (at a much higher 4500rpm). In this specification it has a six-speed automatic. As you may be able to tell, the Hyundai works better higher in the rev range, and while it is the heaviest SUV of this trio, it feels by far the most responsive in terms of power.

The Kona's 2.0-litre four cylinder produces 110kW/180Nm. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Kona's 2.0-litre four cylinder produces 110kW/180Nm. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The weight of the Honda HR-V VTi is 1269kg, while the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport tips the scales at 1304kg and the Hyundai Kona Active weighs 1383kg. 

If you think an SUV should be able to cope with a towbar, then you’ll want to know the towing capacity. The Honda is a lightweight, with a 500kg unbraked towing limit and an 800kg weight limit for a braked trailer. The Mazda is rated at 640kg unbraked/1200kg braked, and the Hyundai at 600kg/1300kg respectively.

All of these small SUVs are FWD drive (4x2), so anything much more serious than gravel tracks or dirt roads will be out of the question. You can get an all-wheel drive (AWD) CX-3 petrol or Kona petrol, and in the latter you get a turbo engine, too. Both have four-wheel drive (4x4) on demand systems. 

If you’re trying to figure out the whole diesel vs petrol thing, there is only one diesel option for you in these specs - the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport diesel FWD is available for a premium ($28,090). You can’t get a diesel HR-V or diesel Kona. 

What about plug-in hybrid or EV? There’s a fully electric Kona coming soon. No such thing as a LPG version of any of these models in Australia, though. 

Fuel tank capacity for the Mazda CX-3 is the smallest of this trio, at 48L. The size offered in the other two models is 50L.

And if you’re concerned about potential long-term ownership costs, you’re probably wondering whether each has a timing belt or chain? The answer for all three is a chain. 

For information on automatic transmission problems / automatic gearbox problems, clutch transmission or suspension issues, check out our problems pages.

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score677

Fuel consumption

Fuel economy for these three small SUVs in the specs we had is relatively close - on paper at least. 

The fuel consumption claim for the Mazda CX-3 is the best of this trio, at 6.3 litres per 100 km - and it is the only one here with engine stop-start technology.

The next best in terms of claimed fuel use is the Honda HR-V, at 6.6L/100 km. And the thirstiest according to official claimed figures is the Hyundai Kona, which uses 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle. 

During our involved testing, which comprised highway, urban and some spirited driving on enjoyable roads, we saw fuel figures a fair bit higher than the claims… but that is to be expected when you're trying to explore potential of the powertrain and chassis of any car.

We recorded fuel consumption at the petrol bowser for each of these models, and below you'll find a table of percentage rates that the cars were over their claimed fuel consumption. If you prefer the fuel consumption km/L figures, we’ve listed them too.

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Claimed fuel use6.3L/100km (15.9km/L)7.2L/100km (13.9km/L)6.3L/100km (15.9km/L)
Actual use on test10.3L/100km (9.7km/L)10.4L/100km (9.6km/L)9.1L/100km (10.9km/L)
Percentage over claim56 per cent44 per cent44 per cent

All three of these models can run on regular 91 RON petrol – so there's no need to fork out for premium fuel. There’s an eco mode button to help (theoretically) increase your mileage in the Honda and Hyundai, but not the Mazda. 

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score667

Driving

The best of this trio for fun? That’s the Kona. 

It feels the peppiest despite being the heaviest of this trio, with good engine response. While we didn’t run performance figures, there’s no doubting it would win a 0-100 acceleration speed test. Hyundai’s local engineers have done a good job with the handling, too.  

It has super direct steering, and the agility of it makes it feel like its on its tippy toes. The versions with all-wheel drive get a different rear suspension set-up (a multi-link rear as opposed to the torsion beam arrangement seen on this Kona, and the other SUVs here, too) and it’s even better in the bends. 

The Kona feels the peppiest despite being the heaviest of this trio, with good engine response. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Kona feels the peppiest despite being the heaviest of this trio, with good engine response. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

But the steering is really artificial feeling, and it’s a bit hard to judge and also very heavy - even if you have comfort mode chosen. As a result, the turning circle is bigger than the steering makes it feel. 

It’s really not comfortable to arm-wrestle a steering wheel, and Hyundai’s team should have done a better job of circuit-board-wizardry for the electric power steering calibration in the different drive modes. It felt almost identical between Sport, Eco and Comfort.

Richard loved the way the Kona drove, and we all agreed it offered the most mechanical grip of this trio. (image credit: Dean McCartney) Richard loved the way the Kona drove, and we all agreed it offered the most mechanical grip of this trio. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Richard loved the way the Kona drove, and we all agreed it offered the most mechanical grip of this trio. But I thought its steering felt somewhat remote, as did fellow tester James Lisle.

Plus the suspension is on the firm side, particularly if you’re sitting in the back. It verges on unpleasant back there over bumpy roads. The steering made it feel very direct when parking, requiring less movement at the steering wheel but more effort to actually turn the wheel. Plus the reversing camera was excellent in terms of clarity and light.

The Mazda CX-3 sells on style, but it also sells on what the brand calls ‘Zoom, Zoom’. 

The Mazda CX-3 sells on style, but it also sells on what the brand calls ‘Zoom, Zoom’. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Mazda CX-3 sells on style, but it also sells on what the brand calls ‘Zoom, Zoom’. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

So it’s not surprising that it has nice, real feeling steering and is very involving to drive, and the engine and transmission like to play hard - it will hang on to gears and allow you to explore the rev range more than its rivals. 

James thought this was the pick of the bunch in terms of driving, more tuned in to the surface below, and all of us thought the driving position was the best here, with a great little sports car-like feel to it.

But it’s a small SUV. And that means the sporty intent is a compromise.

For example, when you’re not carving up corners (and most of us won’t be on the daily), the suspension is way too sharp, especially when you hit hard edges. As fellow tester Richard Berry put it, it feels loose, and while our car was almost brand new, it didn’t feel it. 

The CX-3 is the loudest for road noise and suspension noise. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The CX-3 is the loudest for road noise and suspension noise. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

It’s also the loudest for road noise and suspension noise, despite Mazda’s apparently constant upgrades to make it less harsh. They need to work harder on that, clearly.

The outward vision of the Mazda was a sore point - from the driver’s seat it was hard to see around corners quite as easily, and over-shoulder vision wasn’t quite as good, either. But it was easy enough to park, even with the dinky centre screen.

The Honda HR-V is comfortable and brilliantly inoffensive. Compared with the other two SUVs here it just feels like it makes less of a fuss of things. 

Always verbose, James said, “It commits to comfort, and doesn’t go half-heartedly into sporty territory, so it should be commended for that.” Richard said “It’s so comfy." 

The Honda HR-V is comfortable and brilliantly inoffensive. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The Honda HR-V is comfortable and brilliantly inoffensive. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

That might appeal to you, or it might not. But it’s an undeniable feat to make you forget about the road around you (and the traffic, too) - the HR-V does that.

The suspension is the most supple of these three at high speeds or around town. Whether you’re up front or in the back, it’s a nice place to be.

Sure, the engine and CVT auto mightn’t light many peoples’ fires, but it gets the job done better than you might think. 

The HR-V’s steering rack is slower than the other two, meaning it required a bit more arm-twirling to park, but it's nice and light in its action. The vision from the driver’s seat was the best of this trio - but the reversing camera was poor in its clarity and badly affected by low light situations.

The HR-V’s steering rack is slower than the other two, meaning it required a bit more arm-twirling to park. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The HR-V’s steering rack is slower than the other two, meaning it required a bit more arm-twirling to park. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Just to recap - there was no off road review component of this test, as they’re all FWD drive models. 

If you want off road capability in your small SUV, you’d be best to check out our review of the Subaru XV or Jeep Renegade, as they offer more ground clearance mm (220 for XV, 211 for Renegade Trailhawk) and actual real wading depth capability (450mm for XV, 480mm Renegade Trailhawk)… heck, you could even consider a lift kit if you’re willing to spend a bit. 

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score887

Safety

Watch the video to see the difference between the reverse camera systems in these three vehicles - it’s surprising! Helping with parking, the Mazda and Hyundai have rear park assist sensors, too - the Honda doesn’t have any parking sensors. All three have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain). 

Each of these cars have the highest possible five-star ANCAP safety rating but none have been tested under the strictest modern criteria. The Hyundai was tested in 2017, and the other two in 2015.

Honda’s recent update to the HR-V saw the addition of a new low speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system, known as 'Active City Brake'. It works at speeds between five-32 km/h, and while that is a welcome improvement to the standard safety features on offer, it simply cannot match what Mazda has up its sleeve.

The Mazda CX-3 has standard-fit blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, and an AEB system (also only available at low speeds, four-30km/h, but it also includes a reversing AEB system that works from two-8km/h).

The Hyundai doesn’t come with any form of AEB as standard, which is thoroughly disappointing, especially for a city-focused SUV. However, as mentioned above, you can get it as part of the 'SmartSense' pack, which will cost you $1500. 

The pack comprises high and low speed AEB (between 8km/h and 160km/h), plus it can watch for pedestrians at speeds up to 64km/h. It also adds lane departure warning, lane assist (steering intervention - don’t think of it as autopilot!), forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, driver attention detection. You even get heated folding side mirrors, which is a decent bonus on misty mornings. 

Honda and Mazda both offer a more comprehensive safety suite on their dearest models, so it’s good to see Hyundai offering the tech lower in the price range… even if some form of AEB should be included on all models. 

If you’re wondering ‘where is the Hyundai Kona built?’, ‘where is the Mazda CX-3 built?’, or ‘where is the Honda HRV built?’, you may be surprised to learn the answers. The Kona is built in Korea, but the other two Japanese-branded models are actually built in Thailand.

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score778

Ownership

Each of these three compact SUVs is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is nice. You might even find promotional deals including an extended warranty (up to seven years) particularly if the Honda takes your fancy. 

However, the Hyundai offers a better ownership promise, with included roadside assistance so long as you service your car at a certified Hyundai dealer. The other two require you to pay extra for roadside assist. 

For maintenance, there's not very much in it in terms of service requirements and service cost per visit. And all three of these brands have a capped price servicing program: the Hyundai for the life of the car, the Honda for up to 10 years, and the Mazda for five years. 

The service intervals for the Hyundai are more generous, at 12 months/15,000km, with an average annual cost (calculated over five years) of $279.

The Mazda and Honda both require servicing every 12 months/10,000km, whichever occurs first. The average cost per annual visit for the Honda is $295, where the Mazda is dearer at $325. 

But if you do more distance, the Hyundai has an advantage - because it doesn’t require maintenance every 10,000km, you could end up saving hundreds of dollars in service fees, not to mention the additional time required.

Intriguingly, both the Hyundai and Honda require their first ‘check-up’ after a month (or 1000km for the Honda/1500km for the Hyundai). It’s a no cost visit, though.

Hyundai also offers its 'Auto Link' system, which allows you to monitor your driving info and stats, plus keep an eye on your car’s vitals (including tyre pressure monitoring), all by using an app on your phone. 

Most of these models shouldn’t incur any form of wait time, as vehicles are in stock nationally.

For more detail on problems, issues, complaints, common faults, defects, recalls, reliability, resale value and more, be sure to check our Honda HR-V problems page, our Hyundai Kona problems page, or our Mazda CX-3 problems page

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda CX-3
Score897

Verdict

There is no question your pick of these SUVs will be dictated by your preferences and circumstances. (image credit: Dean McCartney) There is no question your pick of these SUVs will be dictated by your preferences and circumstances. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

There is no question your pick of these SUVs will be dictated by your preferences and circumstances. But we came into this task with the focus of choosing the best all-rounder at a strict price point… and we did. It is worth noting that in every instance, you will get an improved version of these cars if you can afford to spend more - it's arguable that the sweet spot is around the $30,000 to $34,000 mark for small SUVs - the same point at which you can get some pretty impressive mid-sized SUVs...

But, working to the parameters set out at the beginning, we came up with a result. 

If you value safety gear and style, you could well choose the Mazda CX-3 Maxx Sport. Plenty of people do, and if you don’t have babies, toddlers or small children, it could be a nice fit with your lifestyle. However, its practicality shortfalls and disappointing comfort levels relegate it to third place here. 

The Hyundai Kona Active is definitely the most aggressive model of this trio, and the sportiest to drive, too. We thoroughly recommend the $1500 Safety Pack, as it’s an impressive bit of kit - if a little exxy. If you like the design and prefer a more sporting drive experience, you could do worse. But it’s not good enough to claim top spot here.

Our winner is the Honda HR-V VTi, which is the correct choice for small SUV buyers who need space and practicality, and value comfort in equal measure to convenience. If that stuff isn’t important to you, maybe you should buy a small hatchback instead - and we have a great resource for you to check out, if that’s the case. 

The HR-V VTi mightn’t be a thrilling car to drive, but gee whizz is it easy to live with. 

 Honda HR-VHyundai KonaMazda C-X3
Score7.37.17.1

Do you agree with our choice? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.



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