Mini mud-pluggers match up: Mazda CX-3 v Mitsubishi ASX
The small SUV market is threatening to break the monopoly hatchbacks hold on the British car market, and manufacturers everywhere are looking to cash in.
Two of the latest additions are Mazda’s CX-3 and Mitsubishi’s facelifted ASX, which now boasts a revamped engine range and updated trim levels.
We put the two Japanese crossovers head-to-head to find out which is most worthy of sitting on your drive.
Mazda’s Kodo design is back, and we’re glad about that. The CX-3 is a sharp-suited little thing that actually manages to look pretty mean in an angry small dog sort of way, but its taut lines can’t hide its lack of stature.
When viewed in isolation, the CX-3 is surprisingly easy to confuse with the little Mazda2 supermini, although once seen side-by-side, the difference is evident. The CX-3 is somehow slightly chunkier, but that isn’t quite enough to make it imposing. If you want a small SUV to bully people in hatchbacks with, look elsewhere.
If hatchback bashing is your sort of thing, then the ASX may be a better bet thanks to its boxy shape, but even the Mitsubishi doesn’t have that much presence. It does, however, have a rather handsome ruggedness to it, and we’re fans of the Lancer-style front end.
In truth, Mitsubishi has played it a little bit safe with the ASX, perhaps aware that more controversial designs like have a nasty habit of alienating buyers. There’s little to criticise about the ASX’s aesthetics, but there isn’t that much to praise either. If this is a straight-up beauty contest, it’s first blood to the CX-3.
Never have two supposed competitors been so diametrically opposed inside. Mazda’s approach is similar to that used on the outside, with sharp lines, decent materials and style aplenty, but it’s let down by the odd area of sloppy build quality.
The transmission tunnel, for example, shifts alarmingly whenever you so much as nudge it, while some of the switchgear feels a little loose and flimsy.
In the Mitsubishi, on the other hand, build quality is reasonable, but the cheap plastics and a complete absence of any sort of styling leave it looking bland next to the altogether more intriguing Mazda.
The ASX is the more practical of the two, however, with a bigger boot and slightly more interior space.
On the road
We’ve always been a trifle disappointed in the CX-3’s handling, but then Mazda is retreating back into a world of comfort-focused cars, possibly with an eye on the Chinese market, which tends not to buy into cars that handle well.
That doesn’t mean the CX-3 is that bad, though. A lack of height reduces lean and there’s a fair bit of grip, but there’s a stodginess to the steering that makes you feel that it could have been even better.
In contrast, the ASX feels like it’s stretching the limits of what that car is capable of. Body roll is well controlled considering the size and ground clearance, and although the steering is light, it’s quite old-school in its directness. When push comes to shove, however, it can’t quite match the agility of the smaller Mazda.
There will be some readers, though, who want their SUV to work off-road, and the ASX is the clear leader in that respect. Both cars are offered with four-wheel drive, but it’s the Mitsubishi with the ground clearance to tackle the rough stuff.
Unfortunately, you pay for that with a far less refined drive. Road noise floods the cabin at every available opportunity and it’s less comfortable than the relatively cushy CX-3.
With purchase prices starting from £15,434, the ASX is far cheaper than the £17,595 CX-3, although based on typical three-year, 30,000-mile deals, the gap is narrowed by leasing. Average business rates for the ASX stand at £220 a month, while CX-3’s average £233. For personal customers, The averages are £266 and £279 respectively.*
The Mazda will be cheaper to run though, with the 1.5-litre, 103bhp diesel engine taking the most frugal variant over 70 miles on a single gallon of diesel. The Mitsubishi’s 112bhp 1.6 still manages a respectable 61.4mpg, but the CX-3 is in a different league.
Company car drivers will like the CX-3 too, because its 105g/km CO2 emissions make the benefit-in-kind payments much more palatable than the ASX’s 119g/km figure.
The gap is less pronounced if you need all-wheel drive though. Send the power to all four wheels and the 60.1mpg CX-3 is only 3.6mpg ahead of the Mitsubishi, while the 123g/km emissions lead the ASX by 9g/km.
In a world where SUVs are more commonly seen in the hands of Cheshire housewives than Yorkshire farmhands, the CX-3 is the clear winner, offering better style and road-holding, while leasing allows you to negate the price gap.
Provided you go for four-wheel drive, there is definitely a place in the market for the more practical ASX, but it isn’t the lifestyle SUV Mitsubishi might like to have you believe.
*Figures from ContractHireAndLeasing.com data and correct at time of writing.