Caution! Hatchbacks crossing: Honda HR-V vs Mazda CX-3 vs Jeep Renegade vs Fiat 500X, CAR+ October 2015

Published: 16 September 2015

► Hatchback crossover group test
► Honda vs Mazda vs Jeep vs FIat
► Mazda steps onto the top podium 

‘Greetings, Tim the Enchanter’

Honda HR-V: Honda’s second foray into a compact crossover segment which it claims to have invented with its first HR-V in 1999, and then studiously ignored for a decade. Odd decision, and a long time to wait for...

Mazda CX-3: By what name are you known? As Katie Melua will probably never sing, this is the closest thing to a conventional hatchback posing as a crossover I have ever seen. Deflate the tyres for proof.

Jeep Renegade: A refreshing change from this raft of teetering hatchbacks wrestling with SUV nomenclature, this, first and foremost, is just a Jeep; alone here in offering proper off-road potential.

Fiat 500X: Approve of the inappropriate, marketing-driven sub-species craze hatched by the lard-arse Mini Countryman? Then this just has to be the disease for you. Want a 500 but need a bigger car? This is supposed to be it.

The Shard took less time to create

Work of art, or turnkey tart?

Honda HR-V: ...depressingly generic cross-hatch styling boasting more relentlessly creased surfaces than a Rolling Stones 50th anniversary photo call. An offensively inoffensive offering; in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Mazda CX-3: If the Jeep’s cubic couture doesn’t blow your frock up, then this is the best looking car here, even if there is a slightly unsettling semblance of the gurning Alan Partridge about the mouth parts.

Jeep Renegade:  Styled as the birthday packaging children attack with blunt scissors whilst studiously spurning the contents, the Renegade is chunkier than a 3am Newcastle-upon-Tyne pavement pizza. No bad thing in this company.

Fiat 500X: From cute to corpulent in the puff of a bicycle pump. Something this swollen is usually extremely painful to the touch, so I suppose we must be grateful that the 500X is merely painful to the eye.

Mazda, like Federer, keeps hitting winners

Toys R Us or hot fidgety fuss?

Honda HR-V: Touch panel air-conditioning all very well, but every bit as tricky to stab with Brutus accuracy on the move as any other screen. Best infotainment array here, and thoughtful his ‘n’ hers phone platform with twin USBs.

Mazda CX-3: DAB, sat-nav, Bose sounds, reversing camera and head-up display all standard, as are under-illuminated driver’s binnacle numerals and annoying lane-departure warning system which must be switched off every time you switch on.

Jeep Renegade: The proximity of the 500X spotlights high levels of shared Fiat group wiring loom sub-strata tunnelling furtively under the dash, and attendant equipment. All the toys, however, including the only electric seat adjustment and heated helm.

Fiat 500X: Spec suspiciously akin to the Renegade’s. Jeep’s 4x4 drive mode switch substituted by ‘Drive Mood Selector’; so ‘Chilled’ dashboard storage compartment presumably murmurs ‘Hey man, what’s happening?’ when opened.

Fashion not function? Nobody told Jeep

Kiss goodbye to acid rain with an eco-friendly powertrain?

Honda HR-V: Engine surprisingly noisy, but feels consistently lively enough to make a mockery of bald 0-62mph figures. Far more engaging than the petrol alternative, in which ‘VTEC’ stands for Voraciously Tepid and Eco-Centric.

Mazda CX-3: Easily the least powerful unit here but, installed in easily the lightest car, still makes a decent, if vocal, fist of shifting the tin whilst winning both the fuel consumption and emissions stakes by a nose.

Jeep Renegade: By the time a 1500kg kerbweight and permanent all-wheel drive have had their say, 400 extra cubic centimetres doesn’t equate to all that much added oomph, whilst mpg and emissions suffer. A tad noisy.

Fiat 500X: On-paper performance parity with the Honda, but a far quieter, smoother unit which pulls lustily from lower revs. The only engine here quiet enough to allow road noise to dominate proceedings instead.

What Fiat 500 did when it grew up

Drives like a hatchback after one too many Malibu & cokes?

Honda HR-V: Lovely, short-throw, rifle-bolt gearchange, the best helm here for accuracy and feel, and terrific brakes. One stout vodka Martini’s worth of roll more than the Mazda equates to a far more pliant ride. A good thing.

Mazda CX-3: Actually, just drives like a hatchback. Fine steering, slick gearshift, minimal body roll and sharp turn-in make for enthusiastic and engaging handling. But should a family car really ride like thimbles over a Zydeco frottoir?

Jeep Renegade: Indeed. Softest ride and more roll than the rest, but still well controlled, with a tenacious aversion to understeer. Steering less amusing; feels exactly akin to winding up the propulsion unit of a Keil Kraft Senator.

Fiat 500X: Fine ride quality marred by poor seat comfort (the only thing it actually shares with the 500), but otherwise a quiet, perfectly pleasing proposition that may be chucked about with greater alacrity than its remit justifies.

Verdict

Honda HR-V: Clear space-race and flexibility winner, but otherwise presented as simply a 51st shade to add to an increasingly grey segment.

Mazda CX-3: The driver’s car of the compact crossover segment, but at the price of somewhat tough love for the rest of the family.

Jeep Renegade: Engaging, cartoon carton proposition for those seeking a genuine alternative to the segment norm. Stand-alone status enhanced by proper all-wheel drive.

Fiat 500X: May appeal to young, fashion-conscious, partially-sighted parents with cutesy-chic 500 aspirations. May appall many others.

The specs

Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX Manual

Price: £24,945
As tested: £25,470
Engine: 1597cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 4000rpm, 221lb ft @ 2000rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual, fwd
Performance: 10.5sec 0-62mph, 119mph, 68.9mpg, 108g/km CO2 
Weight: 1324kg
On Sale: Now 
Rating: ***

Mazda CX-3 1.5 105ps 2WD Sport Nav Diesel (CAR winner)

Price: £21,895
As tested: £23,235
Engine: 1499cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 104bhp @ 4000rpm, 199lb ft @ 1600-2500rpm 
Gearbox: 6-speed manual, fwd
Performance: 10.1sec 0-62mph, 110mph, 70.6mpg, 105g/km CO2
Weight: 1275kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: ***

Jeep Renegade 2.0 Multijet II Limited 140hp 6-Speed

Price: £25,395
As tested: £27,935
Engine: 1956cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 138bhp @ 3750rpm, 258lb ft @ 1750rpm
Gearbox: Six-spd manual, all-wheel drive 
Performance: 9.5sec 0-62mph, 113mph, 55.4mpg, 134g/km
Weight: 1502kg
On Sale: Now 
Rating: ***

Fiat 500X 1.6 Multijet 120hp Cross

Price: £20,095  As tested £24,320
Engine: 1598cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 118bhp @ 3750rpm, 236lb ft @ 1750rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd manual, fwd
Performance: 10.5sec 0-62mph, 115mph, 68.9mpg, 109g/km CO2 
Weight: 1320kg
On Sale: Now
Rating: ***

CAR winner: Mazda CX-3

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

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