Car manufacturers are engaged in a mad scramble to offer as many small, high-riding crossover hatchbacks as they possibly can in a bid to capitalise on market demand.
Naturally, Australia’s two top-selling brands, Toyota and Mazda, are strong contenders. The former recently updated its unusual-looking C-HR by fitting a better touchscreen and adding a hybrid option, while the latter launched a whole new model called the CX-30.
Both models sit above small hatches – Corolla and Mazda 3 respectively – with which they share many components. The C-HR’s aggressive styling is aimed at younger buyers, while the CX-30 goes in the other direction, being more conservative than the sleek 3.
Pricing and Spec
Both cars tested here are flagship specifications. Toyota only offers two spec grades, whereas Mazda offers four. The C-HR Koba wears a starting sticker price of $33,940 before on-road costs, with the petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain tested here commanding a $2500 premium, at $36,440.
The CX-30 that actually lines up closest to the Toyota on price is therefore the G25 Touring at $36,490, but instead we were able to borrow the range-topping G25 Astina at $41,490. While not a perfect match, these are the two range-toppers.
For the sake of fairness, I’ll compare the specs in the C-HR Koba and CX-30 Touring grades, and then add the extra features you get for the $5000 jump to the Astina as tested.
Both get: 18-inch alloy wheels with a temporary spare, LED headlights, proximity key fob, auto-folding side mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers. Inside, each has dual-zone climate control, leather seat trim (’leather-accented’ in the Toyota), satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Safety features in both include seven airbags, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping aids, active cruise control, and forward autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection. Each has a maximum five-star ANCAP crash rating, the Toyota’s from 2017 and the Mazda’s from 2019.
The Mazda has two extra speakers, digital radio, a head-up display, and expanded AEB that can detect cyclists and function in reverse. The Toyota counters with exclusive features such as LED daytime running lights instead of the Mazda’s yellow halogens, heated front seats, and a 360-degree camera view.
The jump to the CX-30 Astina brings a 360-degree camera, frontal cross-traffic alert that warns of approaching cars at intersections, driver-health monitor, 12-speaker Bose sound system, adaptive high beam, LED daytime running lights, powered tailgate, sunroof, and heated seats and steering wheel.
Tech and Infotainment
The Mazda’s infotainment is projected on an 8.8-inch centre screen controlled not by touch, but by a rotary dial near the gear shifter and flanked by shortcut buttons. This interface works well on the move, since your hand can rest comfortably and be less affected by bumps. The software is quite uncluttered and it’s rarely unintuitive to find what you need.
But at standstill it’s a more lengthy process to input addresses or dig through menus, and while Mazda has attempted to marry things up, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work best on touchscreens. Full stop.
The presence of a head-up display (HUD) is most welcome, since you can see your speed and navigation data on the windscreen right in your line of sight. You can also change the TFT driver instruments, though they’re either tastefully minimalist or overly cluttered.
The Astina grade tested also comes with a 360-degree camera that splits a rear view with a pieced-together overhead view using side/front/rear cameras. What really sets it apart over others is the crisp resolution.
Further mention should go to the 12-speaker Bose audio system, which is absolutely brilliant, and helped no end by the car’s overall refinement and noise-suppressing abilities.
The updated touchscreen in the C-HR is miles better than the pre-update model’s, which was always a weak point.
Toyota’s satellite navigation is basic and simple, and offers switchable audible warnings of fixed speed cameras, red light cameras, and school zones, and also offers SUNA live updates.
The small buttons flanking the screen are helpful shortcuts, and I like the way the default home screen can be configured to show various tiles or widgets, including maps, phone, media, and drive data.
You also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time, and we are glad Toyota has adopted such systems. I’m a podcaster, Spotify-er, and user of live Waze maps, so this applies to me particularly.
One cool function unique to the hybrid is a live animation showing you what the system is doing at that moment. The driver’s instruments also show a small display of this type, as well.
While Toyota’s Camry comes with a HUD and the Corolla can be had with a wireless phone charger, the C-HR comes with neither. And while the 360-degree camera is a welcome addition, its resolution is not as sharp as the Mazda’s.
The Mazda’s cabin design is lifted wholesale from the 3, but the driver benefits from a higher seat. The wheel is beautiful to hold, and the air vents bracketing the instruments are angled into the driver like a sports car’s might be.
Mazda makes no secret of its primo aspirations, as evident in the quality of materials used. The buttons and dials on the wheel and controlling ventilation feel expensive, and there are soft plastic and leathery panels covering every touchpoint finished in brown. It’s Lexus-lite.
The back seats are more capacious, and it’s easier to see out than in a Mazda 3 hatch because the side windows are bigger. Mazda claims 29mm more rear head room, 80mm more shoulder room, and 33mm more leg room than the CX-3, as well. I’m 194cm and had room… Just.
The boot space is 317L, which is 53L more than the CX-3’s and 22L greater than a Mazda 3’s, but 125L less than what you get in the CX-5.
Meanwhile, Toyota’s presentation on the inside earns high marks. With a bold appearance, clever use of texture and patterns, and decently impressive materials, it’s a nice place to spend time. It’s a little less plush than the Mazda, but it’s also more affordable.
As we’ve said before, the C-HR’s driving position feels more like a regular hatch than a raised SUV, but the extra height gives a raised view of what’s ahead. There’s enough space to make yourself comfortable, though the lowered roof line makes itself known to taller passengers.
My colleague Kez summed the practicality up well when he said, “The rear seats themselves are comfy, but the dramatic rear design has some shortcomings. If you’re travelling with kids, they may struggle to reach the rear door handles, and once inside the tiny rear windows limit visibility and make travel sickness a very real possibility”.
Regardless of the powertrain choice, all C-HR variants claim a 318L boot.
|Mazda CX-30||Toyota C-HR|
The biggest areas of difference between this pair are their respective drivetrains.
While the Astina can be had with a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine, the version we’re testing has the more powerful ‘G25’ 2.5-litre with 139kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at 4000rpm. Those outputs easily supplant most competitors.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic as standard, and can get to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds. The transmission has a sports mode that holds lower gear ratios for longer to improve response out of corners.
Aside from being loud and buzzy on cold starts, it's a good engine, and one that thrives the harder you drive it. Larger-displacement naturally aspirated engines aren’t overly common in this segment, but Mazda has stuck to its gun.
High-compression-ratio fuel burning, idle-stop and active cylinder deactivation reduce petrol usage, with the figure a claimed 6.6L/100km on 91RON. On highway runs you’ll beat this, but around town expect to see the figure climb into the low- to mid-7s.
Entry Toyota C-HR models use a 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine with 85kW/185Nm, a CVT with seven stepped ‘ratios’, and use 95RON premium petrol. But the hybrid is both more interesting and efficient. It pairs a 1.8-litre petrol unit with an electric motor for a combined 90kW, an e-CVT, and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
This means that at standstill, in reverse, and at initial take-off, the car uses silent battery power, but above 40km/h (best-case scenario) both petrol and battery power drive the car. The engine and recuperative braking team up to keep the small battery’s charge at a useful state.
Toyota has made gains in refinement, meaning the petrol engine is quieter and less buzzy when it kicks in than older hybrids. In cities the unit is particularly efficient since the electric motor can do more work, though above partial-throttle the car won’t drive fully electric.
Using cheaper 91RON fuel the system can use as little as 4.3L/100km, and around town you’ll achieve that. My combined-cycle run returned 4.8L/100km. The downside is that while initial response is good, it runs out of puff more quickly on the open road than the Mazda.
While the hybrid drives better than the 1.2 petrol, does it stack up economically?
The 1.2 engine uses 2.1 litres more every 100km. So, if you drive 300km per week that’s 6.2 litres. Factoring in the 95RON premium, you may save $10 per week, or $520 per year, so in this scenario you’d pay off the $2500 impost in five years, excluding additional resale-value gains.
If you do most of your driving in stop-start traffic, the C-HR’s hybrid makes a huge amount of sense in particular, since its gains over the Mazda are more stark.
|Mazda CX-30||Toyota C-HR|
|Engine||2.5 petrol||1.8 petrol + electric motor|
|Power||139kW||90kW total (72kW engine and 53kW motor)|
|Torque||252Nm||142Nm (120Nm engine and 163Nm motor)|
|Fuel use 91RON||6.6L/100km||4.3L/100km|
On the Road
The CX-30 offers a more commanding driving position and has less invasive blind spots than the 3 hatch (or the C-HR), and also handles steep driveway entries and exits better on account of its greater ground clearance. But it remains car-like in its dynamics.
Mazda has made strides in isolating occupants from tyre roar over coarse asphalt and wind noise. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH)-reducing features include rigid damper mounts, thick carpets and headlining, and quality door sealing. It’s impressively quiet.
The balance between ride comfort and agile handling is pretty good – hard to parse from a 3, despite this car being about 40kg heavier and a smidge taller.
The steering is quite numb but direct, the body stays flat against lateral forces, the nose tucks in readily, and the updated G-Vectoring software cuts engine torque when needed to transfer the centre of gravity, and applies individual wheel braking to negate understeer.
Ride comfort is at its best at higher speeds. With the 18-inch wheels and 215/55 rubber, there is a surprising ‘crashiness’ over speed bumps and potholes that can be felt through the wheel in urban driving, and which stands out all the more due to the refinement levels in other areas.
While an on-demand AWD system is available, I cannot think of many scenarios where a typical CX-30 buyer would need it.
The active safety features are a highlight on paper. The head-up display's arrows show you where perpendicular traffic is coming from (if something tall is in the way), and the AEB system can stop the car in reverse, for instance.
That said, the active cruise control is a little jerky in the way it locks onto traffic and slows the car more quickly and later than we’d like, and the lane-keeping steering aid only picked up road lines half the time.
The Toyota C-HR shares its underpinnings with the Prius and Corolla, and that is actually a very good thing because the company’s engineers are now making mainstream cars that are a joy to drive.
It’s never quite as refined on highways as the Mazda, with more tyre roar entering the cabin, but at lower speeds and particularly at idle its hybrid unit helps turn the tables.
It has more sophisticated double-wishbone independent rear suspension than the Mazda’s torsion-beam set-up, plus the relatively minimal weight impost thanks to the hybrid’s small battery, which means it’s an agile car through corners, as befits the racy design.
It also has a more comfortable ride quality than the Mazda, ironing out corrugated roads more effectively. Despite offering less clearance, the C-HR’s cabin design means the driver's seat actually feels a little less low-slung and coupe-like.
The biggest downside to the Toyota is the simply massive rear three-quarter blind spot, a trade-off for the aggressive design. The presence of blind-spot monitoring lights in the side mirrors helps, but still…
It’s also worth noting that those after an AWD C-HR need to get the 1.2 petrol, since the hybrid is 2WD only.
In terms of driver-assistance aids, I found the Toyota’s active cruise control to feel a little more natural, but bemoan the lack of a speed limiter (which you do get in the Mazda). The Corolla’s brilliant lane-centring aid called Lane Trace Control is also missing.
Mazda Australia and Toyota Australia both offer a five-year warranty with no distance limit, roadside assistance, and a captive finance company with tailored rates and a guaranteed future value or balloon payment at the end of the term.
Mazda’s advertised service prices, at intervals of 12 months or 10,000km, cost $309, $354, $309, $354, and $309. Toyota’s intervals are a superior 12 months and 15,000km, and the first five visits are each capped at $200 a pop. There may be some consumables that command extra charges.
Side note: the C-HR 1.2-litre costs the same to service over the first five years. The hybrid's battery is warrantied for 10 years so long as you return to Toyota for an annual service, at which time they’ll do a ‘health check’.
Both brands have vast dealer networks and offer rapid servicing – 60 minutes for Mazda and 90 minutes for Toyota, at key dealers at least.
I think there's a case that the CX-30 Astina stacks up against a base Lexus UX or BMW X2 given its premium cabin feel and enormous list of standard equipment. Badge equity aside, that is. It also addresses most of the packaging issues found in the 3 without losing style, and for an acceptable impost.
It's not the most affordable small SUV, but nothing about it feels cheap, except for the occasionally loud engine and the tendency for suspension crashiness at low speeds.
The Toyota C-HR polarises instantly on account of that design, which will leave absolutely nobody on the fence. Its interior feels more cramped and less primo than the Mazda's, but the infotainment is better than before, and the quality and ergonomics are typically great.
The hybrid drivetrain is far more economical in urban conditions than the Mazda's, though slower on the open road. Dynamically, they are the two class-leaders: both super agile, the Mazda quieter, and the Toyota more comfortable in terms of ride.
Personally, I'd go the Mazda because of its more occupant-friendly back seats and sumptuous cabin, though the lure of Toyota's smooth and efficient hybrid and head-turning looks made it a tough call.
What's clear to me is that each of this pair, plus the almost-as-new Kia Seltos, lifts the bar in the segment and should now be the sum total of your shortlist.