While Mazda's memorable "Zoom-Zoom" marketing campaign went away last decade, the company continues to carve out a market segment featuring vehicles with engaging drivability and near-premium quality.
And with car buyers still craving all-things SUV, the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5 provide credible alternatives to the dime-a-dozen SUVs that fill parking lots and driveways everywhere. No one will confuse Mazda's crossovers for a Porsche Macan or BMW X3, but those considering a Toyota or Honda should look at the offerings of this smaller Japanese competitor.
Let's explore the Mazda CX-5, the brand's best-selling vehicle, and its smaller stablemate, the CX-3. In this Mazda CX-3 versus CX-5 comparison, we'll look at the standout features and differences for both of these 2021-model SUVs.
Performance Plays A Role
For most SUV buyers, performance is not at the top of the list of desired vehicle characteristics. However, there's something to be said for a crossover that can smoothly merge with highway traffic and inspire feelings of confidence and security for the driver.
When the Mazda MX-5 Miata was first being designed in the 1980s, the company tells how its engineers took the Japanese term Jinba-Ittai to heart. The phrase captures the connected sense of oneness that a rider has for a beloved horse.
Today, Mazda says it keeps this philosophy alive through its brand-wide SkyActiv technology that integrates the engine, transmission, chassis, and body into one system. Drive a CX-5, then drive a Toyota RAV-4 or Honda CR-V. The truth is, the Mazda does feel different. It's not a horsepower thing, but a whole car thing.
Performance choices for the CX-3 are simple—a single 148 hp, 2.0L four-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. FWD is standard with an optional AWD system.
You have to give Mazda credit for even offering AWD on the CX-3 when subcompact crossovers like the Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Venue only have FWD. Regardless of the drive train, Mazda CX-3 towing capacity is 2,000 pounds—ideal for a mini-trailer or smallish boat.
While the CX-5 also offers one transmission choice, the six-speed automatic connected to a FWD setup or optional AWD system, there are two engines. The standard 2.5L four-banger outputs 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.
Thanks to an optional 2.5L turbo power plant, performance becomes impressive with 250 hp and a stump-pulling 320 lb-ft of torque. CX-5 towing capacity matches the CX-3's at one ton.
MotorTrend reports that a turbocharged, AWD CX-5 will run a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds. A base engine AWD CX-5 will take 8.4 seconds to accomplish this, which is also about the same time (8.3 seconds) for a CX-3 in AWD flavor.
While these non-turbo times may seem lackluster, in class-competing vehicles, these Mazdas are among the best for acceleration times.
CX-5 Luxury Interior - Mazda USA
The Outside Experience
Placing the CX-3 and CX-5 side-by-side, it's easy to see the familial resemblance. Mazda calls the sweeping curves and flowing body panels its Soul of Motion design language. Unlike some manufacturers, like Volkswagen/Audi, that appear just to shrink their larger models when designing smaller crossovers, Mazda SUVs have unique model-specific body elements.
For the CX-3, the blacked-out D pillar helps the floating roof effect while the curved exterior window sills keep to the softer design approach. For the CX-5, the use of somewhat straighter lines adds to the beefy appearance that's expected with an SUV.
CX-5 Luxury Interior - Mazda USA
The Inside Story
Recent Mazda vehicles are well-known for high-quality interiors that would feel right in place inside an entry-level car from Audi, Acura, or another luxury nameplate. Generous use of soft-touch materials and excellent attention to detail—like contrast stitching—are part of the Mazda experience.
Of course, given the roughly $4,000 difference in starting prices, the bottom-tier CX-3 won't seem as nice as its more expensive big brother, the CX-5.
Keep in mind that the Mazda CX-3 interior is only available with black cloth. No color choices, not even a leatherette offering. For 2021, the company dropped the more expensive Touring and Grand Touring trims for the CX-3 to make the model more value-oriented and perhaps steer some buyers to Mazda's higher-priced SUVs.
On the other hand, the CX-5 offers multiple interior colors and fabric choices, depending on the trim level. Niceties like heated seats are not available on the CX-3, even as an option.
Space-wise, the interiors reflect the size of each vehicle. The smaller CX-3 has less cabin room than the larger CX-5, no surprises here. Curiously, the CX-3 has slightly more front legroom at 41.7 inches than the CX-5's 41-inch measurement.
With rear legroom of 39.6 inches, the CX-5's back seat space is cavernous compared to the 35 inches for the CX-3. If rear-facing child car seats are in your current or expected lifestyle, then don't even bother with the CX-3. There is also a significant difference in rear cargo space, with the CX-5's 30.9 cubic feet besting the 17.8 cubic feet for the CX-3.
Both SUVs offer an impressive standard cabin technology level with an infotainment system that includes voice command and an Audi-style control knob mounted in the center front console.
The CX-3 has a 7-inch touch screen, while the CX-5 touchscreen measures 10.25 inches. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on both crossovers, too.
Mazda Plays It Safe
Advanced safety technology is becoming standard in more and more cars. And Mazda stays competitive with numerous driver aids included in even the base models of the CX-3 and CX-5.
These features include automatic city emergency braking with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, blinding spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
CX-3 Vs. CX-5: The Bottom Line
With a starting price of $22,560 or $23,960 for AWD, the CX-3 is a value-oriented smaller SUV that includes essential safety and infotainment technology and not much else. This Mazda could be the ideal vehicle for someone with only the occasional backseat passenger but still wanting the convenience of rear cargo capacity.
The CX-3’s smaller size is well suited for regular city use, while its decent performance encourages weekend highway trips to the great outdoors.
Drivers who regularly tote multiple passengers, including young children, or desire an SUV with all the bells and whistles will want the CX-5 over the CX-3. The CX-5 begins at $26,545 or $27,945 for AWD and will max out around $39,200 for the Signature model.
This top-trim CX-5 includes AWD, the turbo engine, and just about every modern automotive amenity. It's the ideal alternative to the RAV4s and CR-Vs that are everywhere and presents an interesting option for an upscale SUV shopper who doesn't want to pay for a luxury brand badge.