Nissan Juke 2020 ti-s (fwd) (5yr), Mazda CX-3 2020 akari le (awd)

Small SUV review: 2020 Nissan Juke v Mazda CX-3 comparison

Funky new Nissan Juke takes on Mazda's popular CX-3

Show us a new-car buyer who hasn’t at least considered a crossover SUV...

The not-too-big, not-too-small body type is everywhere, and no brand is immune from its universal appeal – least of all mass-market sweethearts, Mazda and Nissan.

Both Japanese brands have tried their hand at crafting the perfect crossover SUV in the form of the Mazda CX-3 and the Nissan Juke.

A precursor to plenty of other compact SUVs that have popped up in recent months, the CX-3 is typically the top-selling model in its segment, with brand and name-plate recognition well and truly on its side.

Meanwhile, the newly redesigned Juke only landed in mid-2020 and has already emerged as a worthy challenger, offering unique looks and up-to-date infotainment and driver tech.

So, in a category that’s grown increasingly competitive, which one works harder to earn your attention?


Pricing and Specs

For this comparison, we’re testing the flagship offerings in both ranges. For the CX-3, that means sampling the top-spec Akari LE all-wheel-drive model priced from $38,450 plus on-road costs.

Heated nappa leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, automatic wipers and headlights, and a few more active safety features are the sweeteners when buying an Akari LE over other CX-3 grades. The ‘soul red’ paint option on our test car adds an extra $495 to the price.

We’re comparing the Akari LE to the flagship Nissan Juke Ti, which is front-wheel drive and priced from $36,490 plus on-road costs.

It adds a Bose sound system, privacy glass and partial leather seats with Alcantara trim on top of other grades. The 'Fuji sunset' red paint is one of two no-cost colour choices.

Only $2000 separates the list price of these two cars, but they vary quite dramatically under the bonnet. For reference, the very similarly equipped CX-3 Akari FWD weighs in at only $40 less than the Juke Ti, and although we tried to get an even pairing, Mazda wasn't able to supply us a perfect match.

There’s no longer an all-wheel-drive option in the Juke line-up, so people wanting a little more traction for their spend may have to look elsewhere.

In fact, there’s no engine option other than the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which produces 84kW/180Nm and is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

As a sign of the times, you can’t buy a manual Juke regardless of spec grade.

The CX-3 Akari LE, meanwhile, gets a slightly more powerful 110kW/195Nm 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.

There’s a slightly more affordable front-wheel-drive option in this grade, too, plus the option of a manual transmission in the lower grades.

So while they’re priced much the same with similar levels of equipment, the CX-3 range offers a bit more flexibility to play around and find a drivetrain best suited to your needs.


Tech and Infotainment

Inside, the Nissan Juke receives two digital displays – an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and a smaller 7.0-inch driver display in between the instrument cluster that also houses a digital speedometer. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard.

The CX-3 receives a smaller 7.0-inch touchscreen, with the option of a rotary dial controller that can be used when the car is in motion and touch controls are locked out.

On the face of it, the CX-3’s infotainment menu may appear a little more advanced than the Juke’s, but the satellite navigation is fairly low-res and a major oversight is the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

While several of Mazda’s models now have smartphone mirroring as standard, the CX-3 is yet to benefit from this rollout, and new buyers can only retrofit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at the dealership for a $503.53 (RRP) fee.

Otherwise, some other features the Juke has that the CX-3 doesn’t include an extra two speakers in its premium sound system (and you really do notice the difference), a bigger infotainment screen, and a second screen in the instrument cluster.

And some things the CX-3 has that the Juke doesn’t include a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a head-up display and a sunroof.

Heated leather seats are standard on both cars – the Juke’s soft Alcantara inserts add an extra level of cosiness – and both receive an idle-stop system to save on fuel.

Safety-wise, both receive a full suite of active features as standard including autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warnings, traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise with distance control, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree view monitor.

The Juke adds a speed limiter to the mix, and has a more recent five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2019, whereas the CX-3’s five-star rating is from 2015.

While both the Juke and CX-3’s infotainment systems are basic yet functional, and each car has comprehensive safety and driver-assistance inclusions, the Juke edges out the CX-3 on the equipment front thanks to a greater array of digital displays, a better sound system, and the presence of a speed limiter and the all-important Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.


Cabin

Size-wise, when you crunch the numbers, the Juke and CX-3 are essentially the same length, width and height, with only a few millimetres between them. The CX-3 is marginally heavier, and the Juke has a longer wheelbase and a smidge more ground clearance.

Where this slight size difference is most evident is the boot, where the Juke has 422L of space compared with the CX-3’s 264L. Neither car is all that accommodating for the family dog or a ton of baggage beyond the weekly shop, but the Juke has the upper hand in terms of sheer space.

Both cars have rear seats that fold 60/40 to increase cargo space, and both manage to squeeze a space-saver spare wheel under the floor.

Perhaps as the more recent model, the Juke’s interior has a more premium feel overall thanks to the use of glossy black plastic, and Alcantara on the doors and seats boosting the luxury feel.

The quilted leather front seats look racy, but manage to also be super comfortable and cushioned (although they’re manually adjustable, which seems incongruous with the rest of the cabin’s high-tech feel).

However, the tapered roof line and smaller windows make it a little darker for back-seat occupants, who also miss out on air vents but score a single USB charging port and cupholders in the door.

Leg room in the back seat is surprisingly spacious, but head room is minimised by the sloped roof and the resultant effect is that the back seat can feel dark and more cramped than it really is.

The CX-3’s two-tone nappa leather seats are polished but not as comfortable as the Juke’s, although they win points for being electrically adjustable. The cabin touchpoints are pleasant, but not overly luxurious and there’s sparing use of black plastic.

The addition of the sunroof on the CX-3 helps the entire cabin to feel substantially lighter than the Juke’s and counteracts a cramped feel in the back seat, where leg room and head room are limited. There are no air vents or USB ports for back seat CX-3 occupants either.

While a sloping roof circumvents the full potential of the Juke's interior, it wins this round thanks to a big boot, more leg room, more comfortable seats, and an all-round more luxurious cabin feel.


Drivelines

The Juke’s three-cylinder engine – which makes a distinctive sound buyers will either love or loathe – is notably underpowered when compared to its Mazda-badged nemesis.

For city driving, the Juke is certainly plenty capable with a punchy throttle response around town, but pushing it up and over 80km/h feels like a big ask, and the acceleration response can be lacking when you really need to put your foot down.

At lower speeds, the dual-clutch transmission is noticeably jumpy, and the idle-stop system has enough of a delay before turning the car back on that it can make you sweat a little at time-critical busy intersections.

The flipside of this is that claimed combined fuel consumption in the Juke is low at 5.8L/100km, although we recorded a higher real-world figure of 6.9L/100km – still an economical number for a mix of suburban and freeway driving.

Conversely, the CX-3’s four-cylinder petrol engine and smooth six-speed torque converter automatic transmission pair together nicely, delivering a reliable, albeit unexciting, on-road experience.

The engine in the CX-3 emits a consistent drone that may be unappealing to some, but it’s undoubtedly gutsier than the Juke and the accelerator response more immediate.

The idle-stop system blends well into the entire package, but fails to keep fuel consumption below its lofty real-world figure of 9.6L/100km – a sharp step up from Mazda’s quoted number of 6.7L/100km.


On the Road

Behind the wheel, the Juke boasts an elevated driving position that belies its diminutive size and gives you the sense you’re in a proper SUV.

While forward visibility is excellent, rearward visibility is limited by the tapered roof and sloped rear windshield, and the blind spot feels notable, although thankfully the blind-spot monitoring system bridges the gap.

The Juke’s steering feels light but the response is direct, and there’s a sport mode that firms it up further while boosting the throttle response and adding a bit more of a subtly playful feel.

The cabin is quiet and numbs the roughness of the road, but can come undone on sharper edges, with reverberations from particularly nasty indentations and potholes making their way up through the car’s floor.

An 11.0m turning circle, front and rear sensors, and a 360-degree monitor make parking and turning in narrow streets no problem, and there’s no great sense that traction or stability is compromised by the front-wheel-drive set-up.

The CX-3, by comparison, has a similarly light steering wheel feel, but gear changes feel smoother and more seamless by way of the six-speed automatic.

The all-wheel-drive system adds more peace of mind on rainy days, but prospective owners likely won’t be taking this petite car out on anything more rugged than a dirt road in wine country.

Much like the Juke, the suspension in the CX-3 soaks up road irregularities really well, but ride height is noticeably lower and visibility is far more reminiscent of a hatchback.

Again, like the Juke, there are front and rear sensors and a 360-degree view monitor, with a slightly smaller turning circle of 10.6m – it feels more like you’re parking and manoeuvring a hatchback.

The CX-3 is certainly a more composed, capable car on the road, but while the Juke can feel a little less polished, it makes up for it by offering a tad more personality behind the wheel.


Ownership

Mazda provides a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of roadside assistance for the CX-3, asking between $330 and $390 per scheduled service.

Base scheduled maintenance is due every 10,000km, but no longer than 12 months, whichever comes first. Extra charges also apply for scheduled replacement of cabin filter, brake fluid and fuel filter, which apply on top of the listed pricing.

The Juke also comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years' roadside assist.

Scheduled servicing is every 12 months or 20,000km, and services are priced between $287 and $477 a pop. Nissan's pricing is all-inclusive and the longer distance intervals are more likely to fit an average owner's annual distance.

Five years of servicing in the Juke – assuming a national average of 13,300km travelled each year – would tally $1889, while in the Mazda you'd have to complete six services to get to the same distance and with the little add-ons would pay $2486. Your individual driving requirements may vary.


VERDICT

While the CX-3 is more composed and competent on the road, if a little uninspiring, the Juke has more fun factor and character at the expense of a bit of power and polish behind the wheel.

As a city car – which a compact SUV tends to be – both get the job done, but the CX-3 offers a bit more on-road versatility and confidence for freeway or longer-haul drives.

But while their on-paper dimensions and unique behind-the-wheel experiences are evenly matched, the differing ownership costs, cabin layouts, levels of standard equipment and list prices of both cars are all stacked in favour of the Nissan Juke.

Those with families will appreciate the extra boot space and leg room in the Juke, as well as the superior real-world fuel economy.

For a lot of shoppers, the Juke’s unique value proposition will come down to the sheer level of standard equipment and premium cabin finishes on offer – and the way they're all packaged together.

It quite simply looks and feels more like a top-of-the-range car than the flagship CX-3. And that, for many, feels like the simplest test of bang-for-buck.

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