If you’re looking for a killer deal on a used Mazda CX-3 or used Honda HR-V both crossovers deserve attention, but which is better?
More automotive segments exist today than any other moment in history and to capitalize on these slivers of the market, Honda debuted its widely popular HR-V in 2013. However, they didn’t release it to the public until 2016. Mazda beat their Japanese counterparts to the party with the CX-3 in 2012. Since then, both have gained a sincere following of faithful fans who love how capable and capacious these compact cars have proven to be. Today we dive into the tiny details that set these spritely runabouts apart and decide which one is worth your hard-earned dollar on the used market for under $20,000.
We’ve decided to pit the two top trim levels against one another for this competition, because both can be found for a big discount off of their original MSRP on the used lot. For the used Mazda CX-3 that means it’s the Grand Touring trim which comes with a 148 horsepower 4-cylinder engine that gets 27 city and 30 highway miles to the gallon. Compare that to the used Honda HR-V Touring with a 141 horsepower 4-cylinder that achieves 27 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway and you can see how closely these two seem on paper. Both vehicles route power to all four wheels, but the Mazda does so through a 6-speed automatic transmission whereas the Honda goes about its business with a CVT.
Honda is well known for consistent driving experiences and the HR-V delivers the goods here just as we’d expect. It’s got exceptional visibility, solid handling, reasonable braking performance, and decent ride quality. What it doesn’t have is the ability to do anything very quickly. The sluggish motor in the used Honda HR-V is brought down even further by the snoozefest of a transmission that it’s mated to. Granted, most people buying a car like this aren’t looking to go street racing, but performance this poor makes real-world driving harder. Want to merge onto the highway without slowing down the drivers coming up behind you? You’ll need to bury your foot in the floor long before you’re officially in the slow lane.
The Mazda isn’t fast either, but it’s dramatically quicker than the Honda. The additional horsepower might not be much, but a used Mazda CX-3 makes roughly 15% more torque and it’s noticeable. Every metric where athleticism is highlighted proves that the Mazda is the more capable car. The steering wheel is particularly communicative with practically no numbness on center. There’s a downside with such good handling and that’s a rougher ride over poor roads. Still, the difference is negligible in our eyes. The all-wheel-drive system in the Mazda seems more eager to send power to the back than the Honda as well and that’s a welcome surprise. Overall, while a used Mazda CX-3 is by no means powerful, it makes do with what it has much better than the Honda.
The used Honda HR-V will suffer from that weak powerplant in this category as well. That’s because there’s a serious lack of sound deadening going on. With as much as you’ll need to be on the far end of accelerator pedal travel, you’ll be hearing the noisy engine often. We say that knowing that Honda has “Active Noise Cancelation” listed as a feature. If it’s here, it sure doesn’t seem to do much.
When it comes to seating, the HR-V does a great job of being both comfortable and supportive. In fact, that’s something that the used Mazda CX-3 could have learned from as its seats are a bit soft and spongy for our taste. Both have limited rear-seat room, but the HR-V offers just a bit extra there and the “Magic Second Row” seats offer the ability to flip the seat bottom up and transport taller objects easily. In terms of cargo capacity, both cars can handle a lot, but the added flexibility of the Honda makes it the better choice for hauling stuff.
Riding inside a used Mazda CX-3 feels much more refined as it goes down the road. It’s far quieter and more luxurious, a quality Mazda has continued to leverage and build on in recent years. We really love the driver-centric aesthetic of the interior. It’s easy to get comfortable and to drive skillfully in the CX-3 where the HR-V feels more difficult to melt into.
In the top-of-the-line used models, you’ll find a ton of exceptional equipment throughout. The used Honda HR-V features LED headlights, unique Touring only wheels, leather, power front seats, navigation, and voice recognition. We also love the sunroof and LaneWatch – a passenger mirror video feed that pops up in the cluster when you go to change lanes.
Lower trimmed HR-V’s are available in four other levels, starting with the base LX that comes with a 5-inch touchscreen, 17-inch wheels, a four-speaker sound system, and a rear parking camera. The next step up is the Sport model with 18-inch wheels, a 7-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, roof rails, and paddle shifters. The EX trim level offers the same infotainment system, but adds automatic headlights, a sunroof, automatic climate control, and the aforementioned LaneWatch system. Just below the Touring trim we have, you’ll find the EX-L which adds the luxury to the EX platform. With it, buyers will get a leather interior and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Mazda makes shopping for a used Mazda CX-3 a bit simpler with only three trims, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. The Sport model comes with 16-inch wheels, a 7-inch touchscreen, remote keyless entry, 6 speakers, and cruise control. Bump up to the Touring model and you’ll find 18-inch wheels, keyless ignition, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, heated front seats with simulated leather and cloth. Finally, the Grand Touring trim features a sunroof, adaptive headlights, paddle shifters, full leather interior, and a 7-speaker Bose premium audio system.
Both of these small cars are excellent in their own right. They move people efficiently and are easy to use. Both feature excellent safety tech standard regardless of trim level. They each were rated as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and should hold their value well over time. We like the CX-3 if we had to pick one to drive each day though. Its luxurious interior, exceptional driving dynamics, and more modern-looking interior really make it feel special. A used Honda HR-V isn’t a bad vehicle at all though, and you should absolutely drive one if you’re considering the CX-3. For some, the additional cargo area and more supportive seating will make it the better pick.