By on January 29, 2021

In our last edition of Buy/Drive/Burn, we took a look at three subcompact American CUVs competing at the $25,000 price point. Most of you seemed to agree they were all terrible, but the Trax edged out the Buy in the comments.

Let’s see how you feel about the Japanese competition.

Honda HR-V

On sale elsewhere since 2013, Honda’s HR-V made its way to North America in 2016. On the same platform as the Fit, the HR-V was refreshed in 2019 with a new grille and more LED goodness, most of it designed to make it look more familiar to Civic customers. The HR-V is available in LX, Sport, EX, and EX-L trims, and all-wheel drive is available at all levels. Today’s budget nets us a low-level Sport AWD. Priced at $24,470, the HR-V uses a 1.8-liter inline-four for 141 horsepower and wrangles those horses with a CVT.

Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 is the newest competitor of our trio. Introduced for 2020, CX-30 occupies a similar market space as Mazda’s other subcompact crossover, CX-3. CX-3 uses the old Mazda 2 platform, while the larger CX-30 is a Mazda 3 underneath. CX-30 is available in seven different trims, from Base to Turbo Premium Plus. Front- and all-wheel drive are available throughout the range. Today’s version is a lower-level Select Package AWD for $25,300. Power arrives via the 3’s 2.5-liter inline-four, which produces 186 horsepower. The transmission is a six-speed auto, also from the 3.

Toyota C-HR

The CH-R arrived for the 2017 model year as Toyota’s smallest crossover. Based on Corolla, the CH-R was initially intended to wear a Scion badge before that marque’s untimely demise. In a strange product planning decision, the CH-R is the only car here to forego an all-wheel-drive option. However, in other markets, the CH-R is available with all-wheel drive, which means Toyota would prefer you purchase the more expensive RAV4 if you’re in North America. There are four CH-R trims: LE, XLE, Nightshade, and Limited. Today’s budget mandates a Nightshade, which has lots of black trim and additional trim-specific paint options. CH-R is powered by a 2.0-liter engine from the Corolla, good for 144 horsepower, and all CH-Rs use a CVT in North America.

Three Japanese crossovers asking for your dollars, which one’s worth buying?

[Images: Honda, Mazda, Toyota]

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32 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Affordable Japanese Subcompact Crossovers in 2021...”


  • avatar
    spookiness

    Buy/Drive the Mazda.
    Burn the others. The HRV gets some merits for space efficiency.

  • avatar
    EX35

    Small displacement turbo engine and non-cvt is the only acceptable answer.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Although these are less terrible than the previous trio, can we burn all of them too?

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Last time, I just copied in a few verses of the old Tramps song “Disco Inferno”. I do not wish to change that sentiment for today’s B/D/B.
    None of these are better than the cars they are based on. They’re worse. Much, much worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Please explain. And without the old saw about ‘handling’ because the vast majority of drivers never take a modern vehicle even close to its maximum handling capabilities. Particularly with all the ‘safety nannies’ in place.

      The Mazda and Honda are based on hatchbacks but certainly we can all agree that a hatch is far more functional than a trunk.

      And are CVT’s still something to be feared? Particularly since most major auto manufacturers are now using CVTs in some of their vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The C-HR gets 20% worse fuel economy and has 17% less power than the Corolla hatch. It also has its rear door handles in an awkward place and the CUV doesn’t offer AWD. In exchange the C-HR does have 1cuft more interior volume. Pricing is about equal.

        The HR-V FWD gets 13% worse fuel economy and has 25% less power than the Civic hatch. The CUV has 1cuft more interior volume and you *can* get AWD although that makes the fuel economy gap 22%. Pricing is again about equal.

        The CX-30 seems like the best one. Fuel economy is nearly equal (3% better for the 3 in both FWD and AWD versions), power is equal, and interior volume is virtually equal. However the CX-30 AWD starts about $3k less than the AWD 3 hatch.

      • 0 avatar
        dougjp

        ” certainly we can all agree that a hatch is far more functional than a trunk ” Ah, the old ‘bandwagon’ technique.

        NO we don’t. Its less functional as it stores much less stuff in real life, and, it doesn’t hide your stuff as well either. And by ‘stuff’ I mean the kinds of things that go in there most of the time, not a chair or filing cabinet.

        By real life, I mean open the back, put stuff in, and close the back, nothing else. Nobody in real life stops what they are doing and messes around putting the back seats down and finding some place to put the flimsy cover before they use the storage space, then reverses that work after taking stuff out. And nobody likes the added road noise that comes from always leaving the back seats down.

        What a waste for having sacrificed the cu. ft. by buying a hatch, especially some of them that have almost no room like the Corolla.

        • 0 avatar
          SoCalMikester

          my back seats stay down all the time. no extra noise. perfect for tossing the pupper in for the dog park trips (tethered), toss the bike in with no disassembly to go check out a river bike trail. no worries about “how will it fit” when i make my several times a year trips to costco, lowes, sams, home depot. fit a full size clothes dryer in the back.

          try all that EASILY with a corolla.

        • 0 avatar
          Russycle

          There are certainly trade-offs between hatches and sedans. That said, I frequently fold the back seats down. If the car ever had a cover for the cargo, I’ve never seen it, don’t miss it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Forced to choose, I’d buy and drive the Mazda, and burn the others.

    The Mazda has cleaner lines and actual gears in its transmission.

  • avatar
    here4aSammich

    +1 buy/drive the Mazda. The CVT is a deal breaker on the others.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    Mazda is probably the best overall in this vehicle class.

    Tried and true 2.5L + 6A combination may not seem “cutting edge”, but it works well in use and should be durable and reliable, and the vehicle will probably handle similarly to the 3. This is almost certainly significantly more satisfying than what the HRV or CHR would seem offer (though in the interest of objectivity, I concede I haven’t driven either of them).

    Looks are subjective of course, but I don’t think anyone would call it “ugly”, and most would find it at least reasonably attractive. (I think it is the best in the class.)

    Interior is better than in the Honda and Toyota, and absolutely trounces the interior quality in the “American” competition.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    @ajla:
    Excellent analysis with proper data. You have done your homework.

    Personally, I think I have outgrown that segment. The Mazda looks appealing, but I would not purchase it

  • avatar
    Mr. Monte

    Drive and buy the Mazda, just burn the Honda, burn the hideous Toyota to the ground!

  • avatar
    quaquaqua

    The HR-V is at least roomy, it’s just woefully underpowered. CH-r ain’t much quicker and the inside is a depressing cave.
    The CX-30, Kona, and the Soul are some of the only decent choices in this uninspired class.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Like the last grouping, I’ve driven 2 of the three either as a rental or on an extended test drive.
    Buy: Mazda CX-30. Extended test drive. By far the best interior of the bunch and the most comfort up front. Has a smooth engine and transmission and decent economy. Plus is is not overstyled like the other two.
    Drive: Honda HR-V. I haven’t driven this one, so why not take it for a spin? The styling refuses to grow on me though.
    Burn: C-HR. Long weekend rental. I hated almost everything about this car, except the shade of blue! Terrible engine/transmission combo, lukewarm power, pitiful for its size highway economy, wretched infotainment system.
    But I would still take it over an EcoSport…

    And for the same money, you can get something like a GLI, Civic Si, or Forte GT that has similar usable cargo space (if not more), more room on the inside, more power, better economy, and more fun to drive. I guess the allure of sitting a couple of inches higher overrules all common sense.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Mazda CX-30-burn the other two. The C-HR is just plane hideous. It’s makes a Datsun F-10 look like a Pininfarina.

    The Mazda 3 and Corolla hatch are fine alternatives or better yet find the final Hyundai Elantra GT hatch.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Buy the Honda just because it’ll probably hold its value the best.

    Drive the Mazda because zoom, zoom, and because it has the nicest cabin.

    Burn the Toyota. It’s a disappointment all around. Front wheel drive, no power, terrible interior, etc.

  • avatar
    toronado

    I have the Mazda and like it. It replaced my XC60 which I liked much better but was quietly depreciating in my garage due to my new work at home routine. It feels more upscale than the price and I like the overall package, although the option structure is a bit odd. I have standard adaptive cruise, LED headlamps, rain sensing wipers, and no satellite radio. The “leather like” seating I am a huge fan of.

  • avatar
    theonlydt

    I’d drive the Toyota far enough to park it next to the HRV which will be set merrily ablaze and hopefully the wind is blowing the right direction.

    The CX-30 is fantastic, and reports on Mazda’s increased reliability are pleasing. I was nickel and dimed on older Mazdas, love them as I did, as they aged and mileage racked up.

    The CHR isn’t a terrible car, it has some fun colours, it’s just not as good to drive OR own as the Mazda.

    The HRV is an abortion-carried-to-term of a car. That 1.8 is old and rough. It’s not comfortable, nor cheap. It’s got space, but so have any number of better cars. I’d burn it twice just to make sure.

  • avatar
    4onthefloor

    Having just purchased a 2021 Mazda CX-5 signature turbo, I’d take the Mazda CX-30 only with the turbo, but Mazda charges too much for the turbo on the CX-30 from what I’ve seen, and you will quickly realize you want to upgrade to the CX5 unless you have some compelling reason not to, like it won’t fit in your garage. Plus no stop start or cylinder deactivation on the turbo! ( puts on flame suit) blow up the other two!

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    Burn the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo
    Buy and drive the Mazda
    Shove that dreary lump of a Honda off a cliff. Has anyone under the age of 50 purchased one of those? I’m well over 50 yet the only thing about it I find remotely interesting is why the designers thought that hideous character line running up the side was a good idea.

  • avatar
    Sigfried

    Both my daughter and my sister have Hr/V’s and love them. Personally my 6’2″ xxxl frame doesn’t fit into anything in this class without wrapping my shoulder around the doorpost or banging my head getting in and out.

  • avatar
    4onthefloor

    One thing I wish all manufacturers would do is get rid of the hideous plastic wheel surrounds and trim, and just go back to metal, because this plastic, whatever it is, turns a horrible ghoulish whitish grey after only a few years from sun and UV exposure, and cannot be revived in any meaningful way. I see otherwise polished, pristine CUV’s every day, whose look has been ruined by this problem. If this has happened to your ride, I suggest doing what I did with my CRV, inherited from my wife when I bought her a new vehicle. And that’s using SEM bumper coater, and dye the plastic after thoroughly cleaning the plastic, and masking off all vulnerable paint. It looks fantastic, and according to others who have done it, lasts a long long time. It totally changes the look of the vehicle, and is well worth the time, and modest investment. It cost me about $80 for all the supplies, and about 4 hours of my time.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I don’t mind the black wheel trim if it’s thin. The trim on the Mazda is too wide. I’ve had my Escape for 4 1/2 years, 78K miles, no garage, and the black wheel trim still looks new. they also make some sort of black trim renewer that I’ve used on another vehicle that works well.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m not going to make a choice. I’m just going to note that in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Japanese produced a number of subcompact tall wagons, some with AWD, that had better visibility and space utilization than any of these. The main differences were that the older versions were underpowered, and folded like a cheap suit in a crash. Although I like the power and crash-worthiness, I believe they lost the plot.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    There’s no question the CX-30 is the best of the bunch – even though I hate Mazda’s radio control interface. And the CX-30 is pretty peppy with the same engine as the base CX-5.

    The HR-V is nothing great but a friend of mine has one. Actually, it’s fine for many people – in the same way a base Civic sedan is. But Honda’s obvious cost-cutting is almost shocking.

    The CH-R? I have no idea who that vehicle is for.

    So… buy the Mazda, drive the Honda (but only briefly) and burn the Toyota.

  • avatar
    millerluke

    Buy the HR-V
    Drive the Mazda
    Burn the Toyota – cause it’s hideously ugly. I think it unintended accelerated out of the ugly garage and hit every beam on the way by…

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