Comparo: 2019 Nissan Kicks vs Honda HR-V vs Hyundai Kona vs Mazda CX-3

Comparo: 2019 Nissan Kicks vs Honda HR-V vs Hyundai Kona vs Mazda CX-3

As comparison tests go, this isn’t the most exciting, but it is probably relevant to a whole lot more people than pitting Porsches and Ferraris against McLarens and Lamborghinis yet again (spoiler alert: Porsches and Ferraris are always better). What we have here today are the newest segment of vehicles to sprout from the SUV revolution — the sub-compact crossovers. Not quite SUVs, but not really cars either, the sub-compact crossover gives owners the feeling of driving an SUV while keeping ownership costs within car-like levels. The newest of the bunch is the Honda HR-V, going up against the immensely-successful Nissan Kicks. For good measure, we’ve thrown in the interesting new Hyundai Kona that debuted a few months ago. And Mazda wouldn’t give us a CX-3, so we rented one out.

Sure, there are other options out there. Renault, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Chevrolet and MG sell perfectly viable sub-compact crossovers as well, but the above four are the newest and most popular of the bunch.

Style & Desirability

We generally don’t rate on styling as it is a subjective choice, but we’ll throw in our comments anyway. The Mazda CX-3 would’ve been the best-looking in top-spec trim, although what we have here is a fleet-spec base model that still comes with smaller 16-inch alloy wheels, a chrome grille and a roof spoiler. The Hyundai Kona is the love-it-or-hate-it head-turner with its stack of front lighting elements, tasteful black plastic cladding, integrated spoiler and 18-inch alloys.

The Nissan Kicks, in top-spec trim, now comes with an attractive two-tone paint option, slim roof rails and diamond-cut 17-inch wheels. The least adventurous is the Honda HR-V, with a spherical profile and a flaccid alloy-wheel design, but the hidden rear-door handles are a nice touch.

Interior size & cargo room

1st: Honda HR-V

By far the one with the most rear legroom and the rear seatback even reclines. It also has the widest boot floor, and volume is pegged at 448 litres with all seats in place. It also comes with “magic seats” which allows for the rear seat-bottoms to fold upwards to carry tall items, in addition to folding down like the others. The boot cover is a flimsy piece of cloth though.

2nd: Nissan Kicks

Noticeably less rear legroom than the HR-V, but still pretty decent. Boasts the longest boot floor, but narrower than the HR-V. Boot volume is at 400 litres with all seats in place. The boot cover is a solid piece that flips up with the boot lid.

3rd: Hyundai Kona

We now start getting into cramped territory. Rear legroom allows adults to just about squeeze in. Taller folks need not apply. The boot has 361 litres with all seats in place. The boot cover is a solid piece that flips up with the boot lid.

4th: Mazda CX-3

It has the most cramped rear seat and the worst boot space, at 350 litres with all seats in place. Adding to that, the load floor is very high. Our basic test car was missing a boot cover, but we saw a mechanism for having one.

Interior trim and useability

1st: Honda HR-V

In top-spec trim, the HR-V comes with fully-padded leatherette door skins, even in the back, as well as a rubberised padding with faux stitches on the dash face and the centre-console sides, with the least amount of hard plastics among the four cars. It also has a full centre-console with an armrest at waist level, 3 adjustable cup-holders just in the front, storage space under the shifter console, an armrest cubby, a single floor-mounted cup-holder in the back, door bottle-holders and a rear-seat middle armrest.

2nd (tie): Nissan Kicks

In top-spec trim, the Kicks has hard plastic door skins with padded door inserts and a leatherette-padded dashboard face. There is no centre-console storage, but you do get a couple of low-mounted basic cup-holders and a small phone shelf, with a single pull-down rubberised armrest. In the rear, there is no middle armrest, but it gets what looks like a single bottle-holder on the floor, in addition to the door bottle-holders.

2nd (tie): Hyundai Kona

In top-spec trim, the Kona is almost the same, but with a rubberised dash face, while the padded door inserts are nice and everything else gets hard plastics. However, it has proper centre-console storage with an armrest and basic low-mounted cup-holders. There is also a little shelf for the phone that doubles as a wireless charger. The rear gets two proper cup-holders in the middle armrest, aside from door bottle-holders. The red seat-belts are cool too.

2nd (tie): Mazda CX-3

Our rental-spec CX-3 is awful with every inch of the dash made up of hard plastics, but the top-spec version gets a patch of leatherette along the dash face. The door panels are hard plastic with padded inserts. There is no centre console storage except in top models, but it does have low-mounted basic cup-holders and a holder for small phones, as well as door bottle-holders. There is no middle armrest or cup-holders in the back except in top models. It’s more or less a tie with the other two.

Technology

1st: Hyundai Kona

The top-spec Kona comes with a capacitive 7-inch touchscreen with a nice interface, 6-speaker stereo, 3.5-inch colour screen in the gauge cluster, rear camera, navigation, wireless charger shelf, a small sunroof, cruise control and auto LED headlights. The smart key requires a button press to unlock the door, and it gets a regular handbrake. All these four cars, in top-spec form, come with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESP so we won’t mention them again.

2nd: Honda HR-V

The top-spec HR-V gets a 6.8-inch touchscreen but it loses points for being a resistive type with average resolution, a rear camera with poor resolution at night although it offers multiple angles, and no navigation. It also comes with a 4-speaker stereo, simple gauges with a basic old-fashioned LCD display, and cruise control. What we liked was the colour-changing ring around the central gauge that highlights your driving style in case you want to save fuel. It is also the only one to come with a panoramic glass roof, an electric parking brake and a smart key that does not require any button press on the handle to unlock the door. It has diffused LED taillights as well as LED headlights, but not the auto-headlight function.

3rd: Nissan Kicks

The top-spec Kicks comes with a 7-inch resistive touchscreen that boasts a nicer interface than the HR-V, a segment-first 360-degree camera, navigation, a 6-speaker stereo and a segment-first 7-inch screen that takes up half the gauge cluster on top-spec models. It has no sunroof, no cruise control, halogen headlights (with auto-headlight feature), the smart key that requires pressing a button on the door, and a regular handbrake. It also has the best a/c in the bunch.

4th: Mazda CX-3

Our fleet-spec CX-3 had nothing but a basic 4-speaker stereo, a gauge cluster with dual screens and keyless entry. However, the specs sheet says the top model gets a 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, rear camera, 6 or 7 speakers, heads-up display, sunroof, electric parking brake, LED headlights and smart keyless entry. However, the price is sky-high for the top version, going well beyond the price-points for this segment.

Engine power & acceleration

1st: Mazda CX-3

The quickest car in this group by far, the CX-3 comes with a 146 hp 2.0-litre mated to a 6-speed auto. Our stripped-down fleet special did the 0-100 kph run in 10.1 seconds. It’s also spritely around town and never felt overly slow. All-wheel-drive is optional, but unnecessary.

2nd: Honda HR-V

Powered by a 139 hp 1.8-litre mated to a CVT auto (with optional paddle shifters for simulated gears), the HR-V managed the 0-100 kph run in 10.9 seconds. It also offers up adequate power in most situations, and although Honda has done a good job on reducing the rubber-band effect of a CVT, it is still noticeable on full throttle.

3rd: Hyundai Kona

The most powerful of the bunch, the Kona comes with a 147 hp 2.0-litre mated to a 6-speed auto. However, it only managed 11.0 seconds in the 0-100 kph run. The gearing was also so poor around town that we had to switch to sport mode to induce better gear-shifts. A more-powerful turbo engine with all-wheel-drive is optional.

4th: Nissan Kicks

The Kicks “only” has a 118 hp 1.6-litre mated to a CVT, but is the perfect example of less-is-more. With a time of 11.3 seconds in the 0-100 kph, it is only slightly less quick than the Honda and the Hyundai that have a fair bit more power. With improved CVT tuning and weighing in the lightest, the Kicks feels perky in city driving with more than enough juice as a daily driver.

Fuel economy

1st: Mazda CX-3

Mazda’s impressive “SkyActiv” engine continues to dominate with a fuel consumption figure of 8.9 litres/100 km (11.2 km/litre) in our test.

2nd: Nissan Kicks

The smallest engine in this group offers up 9.2 litres/100 km (10.9 km/litre) in our test without using any fancy tuning.

3rd: Honda HR-V

Honda’s VTEC wonder burns at a rate of 9.8 litres/100 km (10.2 km/litre) in mixed driving, which isn’t far off from the smaller Nissan motor.

4th: Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai comes in last at 11.4 litres/100 km (8.8 km/litre). Part of the reason for the poor showing could be the due to having the widest tyres in this group, aside from the haphazard gearing.

Ride comfort & noise

1st: Honda HR-V

The HR-V offers a fairly smooth ride on 17-inch wheels, with moderate wind noise on the highway and some road noise. The CVT revs the engine harder than the Kicks, hence there is a bit more engine noise.

2nd: Nissan Kicks

The Kicks has a slightly firmer but still-compliant ride on 17-inch wheels, with slightly less wind noise and slightly more road noise. There is also a bit less engine noise as the CVT revs up the engine more casually and has fake “gear shifts” to break up the racket.

3rd (tie): Hyundai Kona

The Kona has the least engine noise, and at least as quiet as the Honda, if not more. The problem is that the Kona rides pretty firmly on those 18-inch alloys. It’s potentially better in the lower-spec models with smaller wheels.

3rd (tie): Mazda CX-3

On the other hand, the CX-3 offers up moderate engine noise, but has a pretty decent ride, probably helped by fatter tyres on the base model’s 16-inch wheels. We suspect the top-spec model with 18-inchers would be harsher.

Handling & driving dynamics

1st: Mazda CX-3

The CX-3 offers the most entertaining handling, with a confident little chassis, fair brakes and decent steering that’s light but offers a bit of feel. The understeer at the limit is gradual, but the limits of grip are low compared to the others (maybe due to high mileage on the tyres). The top trims get the same 215-width tyres.

2nd: Honda HR-V

The HR-V offers good neutral handling, but feels less playful than the CX-3, offering up better grip from its fresh 215-width tyres. It has good brakes and firmer-than-most steering but still easy to park, and offers no feedback.

3rd: Nissan Kicks

The Kicks offers neutral handling and good grip even with just 205-width tyres. It has a slightly more playful chassis than the HR-V, and light steering with no feedback, but the brakes are decent.

4th: Hyundai Kona

The Kona offers good neutral handling as well, with the most grip from its 235-width tyres. But the chassis tuning is dull and the rubbery steering is lifeless. The steering is well-weighted though, and the brakes are good, but it’s the least fun to drive in this group.

Verdict

1st: Honda HR-V

The HR-V is the overall winner thanks to having best-in-class features where it counts — space and comfort. The power, tech and drive are among the best as well. It has a high base price compared to the Nissan and the Hyundai, but you also get more. If the price bothers you, wait for a special offer. > Prices & Specs

2nd: Nissan Kicks

We actually quite liked the Kicks. With a funky paintjob, fun drive and premium feel from the driver’s seat thanks to the generous use of LCD screens, it was the surprise performer of the bunch, given its relative shortage of power. If the Honda is too expensive for your tastes, you’re not losing much space by going with the Nissan. > Prices & Specs

3rd: Hyundai Kona

As with all Hyundais, the Kona punches above its class by offering a ton of features for the lowest price. However, it comes in third in this comparo because it’s not as spacious as the top two and does not stand out in the ride and drive either. Interestingly, the Hyundai Creta, designed for “developing markets,” is larger and in the same price bracket. > Prices & Specs

4th: Mazda CX-3

We gave the CX-3 a fair shake, despite being a rental special, by taking the top-spec model into account as well. The truth is, as pretty as it looks and as well as it drives, being the most expensive while offering the least amount of space isn’t going to win this comparo. If you never intend to carry adults or large suitcases, and you enjoy driving, then this is the car for you. > Prices & Specs

For more comparos, click here.

What do you think?

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Comments

  1. Pretty fair result there… I thought the Mazda was going to get a panning because the distributor would not play nice (what good does it do anyone to keep the toys at home?) but you played fair!
    Good story and worthwhile reading, if you are in the market for one of the pumped-up poser prams.

  2. Top of the range CX-3 is extremely well equipped. It comes with adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, auto emergency braking, head up display, Bose sound system, padded knee pads, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

  3. Nice comparison, I’m looking for a car in this segment for my wife as her Santa Fe got old and we dont need that big car anymore, the point is, one of the main reasons Im changing my car is that I faced problems with AC and frankly I dont have time to bother with garages, so in a place in the world that temperatures reach over 50, it would be nice if you post your experience with how the AC performed. also, this segment is thriving and toyota is sleeping, they keep good models of the US and bring us the Rush with Yaris engine, come on, bring the CH-R here, im sure it will sell like hot cakes

    • Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury Author

      The A/C was equally decent on all of them so we didn’t see that as a point of comparison. We did the tests when the weather was slightly better, maxing out at 35 degrees.

  4. The Nissan would be great, but with no cruise control in today’s age and UAE massive highways is baffling.

    • My mate has a Kicks, it has cruise control, but it’s an option you have to order at the dealer along with the armrest and Bose audio system

  5. Wonderful Comparison! Love your articles. Little surprised that Mazda did get the 4th.Never be a fan of Honda so I am eliminating that (personal reasons). I thought it would be 1st however when I look at Nissan kicks seems way better than the other. Anyway, I will definitely choose Nissan over Mazda right now.
    Please share more comparisons!

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