Mazda CX-30 vs Toyota C-HR vs Honda HR-V

  • The UK loves crossovers like the Qashqai and Kuga
  • But what about some interesting alternatives?
  • We try Mazda’s new CX-30 against Japanese rivals

There’s no escaping the fact that the UK is lapping up the many new crossovers and SUVs available to buyers. It’s fast becoming the most popular car style of choice, with buyers favouring the high-up driving position, enhanced visibility (in some cases) and street cred of having something that looks a bit more like an SUV than a traditional family hatchback or people carrier.

Regularly finding themselves on top 10 bestselling lists are the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga, but what if you don’t want what everyone else has? Thankfully, pretty much every car manufacturer has jumped on the crossover bandwagon, meaning there’s a vast number of alternatives available.

Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR and Mazda CX-30 comparison test

One of the latest to come to market is the Mazda CX-30. It’s Qashqai-sized, but wrapped up in a sleek Mazda body with distinctive, high quality interior to add premium appeal. It’s also got a trick new petrol engine that Mazda claims majors on performance and economy (the company calls it SkyActiv-X), so we’ve got it here in near-top-spec trim.

Alongside it we’ve got the Honda HR-V. Often overlooked in favour of other crossovers, it’s actually one of the most practical out there for its size, but is it just a one-trick pony? Finally, the Toyota C-HR competes with the Mazda’s distinctive style, but with a hybrid powertrain it’s also economy-focused. Scroll down to read more about them all in greater depth.  

Mazda CX-30: the talented newcomer 

Sitting neatly between the CX-3 and CX-5, the CX-30 looks set to become one of Mazda’s most popular models, purely because it’s the right kind of size and shape to compete with the Qashqai.

It trumps the Qashqai – and the other two in this test – when it comes to the look and feel of its interior. Plush materials, simple-yet-upmarket design and a very user-friendly infotainment setup make it by far the easiest to use, while comfortable seats and impressive refinement on the move lend it a very grown-up feel.

2020 Mazda CX-30 GT Sport Tech - Soul Red

Around town the CX-30 is easy to drive, and a slick manual gearbox aids things further, but out of town its fancy engine still doesn’t feel nippy enough compared with rivals. It offers 184hp but just doesn’t feel responsive enough to get up to speed quickly when joining faster roads, and can be quite noisy in the process (read more about our thoughts on the SkyActiv-X engine in our full review).

It does return decent fuel economy though, but in this company it feels a little lacking in terms of performance. Spend most of your time in town, however, and you’ll have no issues. But then if you’re doing that you may as well save a few thousand pounds and get the regular SkyActiv-G petrol. Otherwise there’s a nice feel to the steering that's not too light, the pedals are well-weighted and there are plenty of systems to keep you safe from bumps and scrapes at low speed. All CX-30 models are very well-equipped.

2020 Mazda CX-30 GT Sport interior

It’s average for practicality. Two adults will fit in the rear seats but won’t be able to lounge around too much, and the boot is also fairly average at 430 litres. Access is good though, with a low loading lip, wide opening and an electric tailgate on most versions.

>> Lease a CX-30 SkyActiv-X GT Sport for £289 per month* (based on £2,000 initial payment, 36 months and 8,000 miles per year)

Toyota C-HR: the distinctive hybrid

Mazda sees the C-HR as a rival to the CX-30, and we suspect it comes down to it offering a more style-led alternative to practical crossover offerings available elsewhere.

So while the C-HR is less practical than both cars here (the boot is much smaller than the Honda’s and the rear seat access is far more restricted than both), it does still deserve a look in some regards.

2020 Toyota C-HR 2.0 Hybrid - front

The interior’s a very nice place to be. It’s not as roomy in the front, but the overall feel is one of something different, interesting and decent quality. Like the Mazda. It just doesn’t have that final feel of premium-ness as the CX-30, though. The infotainment setup is far more frustrating as well, but the addition of Apple CarPlay as part of its mid-life facelift does at least gain it some extra points.

It can feel a little dark inside, but so too can the Mazda. The driving position is spot on, it’s very easy to drive and very refined as well. The new 2.0-litre Hybrid option also brings more a more responsive drive than the lower-powered 1.8, meaning it’s far better suited to longer, faster journeys than it used to be. It’s also very easy to crack 50mpg without trying. Even the CVT transmission fails to irritate too much on relaxed drives. It’s the C-HR we’d recommend for sure.

2020 Toyota C-HR interior

It’s pricey though, with top-spec models costing a similar amount to top-spec CX-30s. When you consider it’s a lot more cramped inside, it’s more difficult to overlook, but the C-HR is the one to go for if you enjoy driving. It feels surprisingly agile and quick to respond, with nicely weighted steering and a good ride quality over bad surfaces. It just lacks a bit more involvement you get from the Mazda’s manual transmission.

>> Lease a Toyota C-HR 2.0 Hybrid Excel for £321 per month(based on £2,000 initial payment, 36 months and 8,000 miles per year)

Honda HR-V: the practical one

At the other end of the practicality scale is the Honda HR-V. First introduced in 2015, it's older than the other two and it shows in some areas (the media system is fairly dreadful) and some engines available can’t come near the fuel economy claims of the other two.

Grey 2019 Honda HR-V Sport front

However it’s not without merit. This particular example is the HR-V Sport, a 182hp petrol added to the range in 2019 that solves the issues of the lack of power in other engines. It’s surprisingly rapid if you like that sort of thing in a crossover, plus the manual gearchange and overall drive is one of slick agility. It’s genuinely impressed us.

However, it’s not all about that for some buyers. The whole range needs to be considered and the lesser 1.5-litre petrol is a bit underwhelming, and if you want an automatic option you’ll have to make do with a disappointing CVT. It can also get quite noisy on the move in all models. That said, this top-spec petrol is a surprisingly good option, and the HR-V we'd recommend.

It's also the one you should head straight for if interior space and versatility is your priority, as well as strong performance from a petrol engine. Five adults fit with ease, there’s a flat floor in the back, the boot is enormous and Honda’s trick seats flip up like cinema seats if you regularly carry tall items.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport - red leather interior

You do get a decent-ish amount of kit, but the Honda isn’t especially affordable, and the other two offer more comprehensive equipment lists spec for spec.

>> Lease a Honda HR-V Sport for £279 per month(based on £2,000 initial payment, 36 months and 8,000 miles per year)

Which crossover should I buy?

These three crossovers are likely to appeal to a more specific set of buyers than something like a Qashqai, T-Roc or Sportage. The Mazda bridges the gap between mainstream and premium brands thanks to its sleek styling and lovely interior, but its engine options are a little underwhelming in action.

The C-HR is a great option if you don’t need a huge amount of space, or if you’re a company car driver. The new 2.0-litre Hybrid has unlocked its potential as a fun-yet-efficient crossover that’s eye-catching. Plus the interior is much more usable now it has proper smartphone connectivity. You just have to pay a fairly high price for it.

Mazda CX-30 is our pick of these crossovers, but there are better alternatives still

Then there’s the Honda. It’s immensely practical and a surprisingly good laugh in this spec, but most crossover buyers are unlikely to be wooed by that. It’s starting to feel its age in some key areas, but still shouldn’t be overlooked if you want something dependable, practical and sensible.

The Mazda ticks the most boxes as an alternative to the ubiquitous Qashqai, but in actual fact, something like a Skoda Karoq or SEAT Ateca tick more boxes still.

Further reading: 

>> Need some accessories? We test the best car bike racks 

>> Or perhaps a bigger car? Skoda Kodiaq vs SEAT Tarraco 

>> Other SUVs are available. Here are the best

*These deals are indicative examples of some packages available as at 03 February 2020, but are subject to change without prior notice. Everyone's financial circumstances are different and the availability of credit is subject to status. Terms, conditions and exclusions apply. Parkers cannot recommend a deal for you specifically.

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