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2016 Mazda CX-3 vs. 2015 Mazda CX-5: What's the Difference?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2015

As demand continues to grow for crossovers and SUVs, so too does Mazda's crossover and SUV lineup. First there was the midsize CX-7, followed by the larger CX-9 and then by the compact CX-5 in 2013. For the latest model year, Mazda is adding yet another SUV to the fold: a smaller crossover, dubbed the 2016 Mazda CX-3, which is designed to compete with other newly released models such as the Chevrolet Trax and Honda HR-V, but how is the compact CX-3 different from Mazda's already available compact CX-5? We're taking a close look at the two models to find out.

Exterior

On the outside, you might have trouble distinguishing the CX-3 from the CX-5. The two SUVs both feature all of Mazda's characteristic design cues, from a long, flat hood to aggressive, pointed headlights and the brand's unique grille design. Both SUVs also boast several bold character lines down either side. The main difference is probably in the roofline and pillars: While the CX-5 uses a painted D-pillar and a flat roofline, the CX-3's roofline is more sloped and its rear pillar is black, which gives the CX-3's windows a wraparound look.

Interior

The biggest interior difference between the CX-3 and CX-5 is obvious: The CX-3 is a little smaller inside, owing to its smaller exterior and platform. That isn't the only interior element that distinguishes the two SUVs, as the CX-3 also offers a more stylish, trendy cabin that features three circular air vents, a minimalist center control stack and an infotainment screen that's tacked to the top of the dashboard like in the Mazda3. The CX-5, on the other hand, boasts a more traditional center control stack, a more normal size and shape to its air vents and an integrated infotainment screen.

Mechanicals

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 offers two available engines: a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a 184-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. The CX-3 only offers the 2.0-liter. Since the CX-3 is not yet on sale, we don't have fuel economy figures from the Environmental Protection Agency or performance numbers to compare the two crossovers, but we suspect that the CX-3 will offer similar gas mileage and acceleration to its larger stablemate. That said, we wouldn't be surprised if the CX-3 ekes out a few extra miles per gallon than the CX-5 due to its slightly smaller size.

Features & Technology

Given Mazda's recent status as a leader in cutting-edge safety and convenience technologies, we expect that the CX-3 and CX-5 will offer roughly the same level of equipment. That means virtually everything you'd expect from a modern SUV, plus a few items that are more common on luxury cars than mainstream crossovers.

Both cars will offer a navigation system, along with infotainment technologies such as text-message reading and Pandora Internet Radio. Both the CX-3 and CX-5 will also include a backup camera, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control and automatic wipers. In other words, we wouldn't expect either vehicle to offer a huge benefit over the other when it comes to overall features and equipment.

Driving Experience

Unfortunately, we haven't yet had the chance to climb behind the wheel of the 2016 Mazda CX-3, as Mazda says it isn't going on sale until this spring or early in the summer, but if it's anything like its larger CX-5 stablemate, we'll be very pleased. The CX-5 offers one of the best driving experiences of any midsize crossover, combining a compliant ride with surprisingly sharp handling, which is unusual for an SUV but typical of a Mazda.

Our only complaint is that the CX-5 feels a bit lethargic with either powertrain, an unfortunate trait that we also expect to see in the CX-3. There's a silver lining to this issue, however: excellent fuel economy, thanks to Mazda's gas-mileage-focused SKYACTIV engine technology. At up to 29 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, the CX-5 offers some of the best fuel economy of any modern crossover.

Safety

Although the CX-3 has not yet been crash-tested, Mazda has announced that the new crossover will feature the brand's i-ACTIVSENSE suite of safety equipment. Those features, which include a forward-collision alert system, a lane-departure warning system and a blind spot monitoring system, are also available in the CX-5. However, we expect that the CX-3 will offer additional safety equipment, including automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control, just like the smaller Mazda3.

The CX-3 will likely offer more safety equipment than its larger and more expensive stablemate, at least until Mazda redesigns the CX-5 and adds additional technology.

Conclusions

You might think of the 2016 Mazda CX-3 as a smaller version of the CX-5. The styling, technology and equipment are all similar, and we suspect that the two crossovers will offer roughly the same level of sporty handling and steering. The CX-3 even uses the smaller, base-level engine from the CX-5.

As a result, we think that the CX-3 is for shoppers who want something bigger (and higher off the ground) than a Mazda3 but not quite as big as the CX-5. It's also a good choice for drivers on a budget who want to take advantage of the CX-5's many benefits without spending CX-5 money.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mazda CX-3 vs. 2015 Mazda CX-5: What's the Difference? - Autotrader