Head to Head: Nissan Qashqai Vs Mazda CX-3
The mini-SUV market isn’t just a battle, it’s a freakin’ war zone. First up, it’s two of the segment’s finest, Nissan Qashqai Vs Mazda CX-3.
2017 Nissan Qashqai
Pricing From $25,990+ORC – $37,890+ORC Best Buy $36,990+ORC Ti Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety 5 Star ANCAP (Tested 2014) Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol; 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power/Torque 106kW/200Nm; 96kW/320Nm Transmission six-speed manual; CVT Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4377mm (L); 1806mm (W); 1595mm (H); 2646mm (WB) Boot Space 430 litres Thirst 4.9L/100km-7.7L/100km
2017 Mazda CX-3
Pricing $19,990+ORC – $39,990+ORC Best Buy $22,390+ORC Maxx Warranty three-years, unlimited kilometres Safety 5 Star ANCAP (Tested 2015) Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol; 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power/Torque 109kW/192Nm; 77kW/270Nm Transmission six-speed manual’; six-speed auto Drive front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive Dimensions 4275mm (L); 1765mm (W); 1550mm (H); 2570mm (WB) Boot Space 264 litres Thirst 4.8L/100km – 6.7L/100km
What are we testing?
The CX-3 and Qashqai are both mini or compact SUVs, but from opposite ends of the size spectrum. The Mazda is one of the smallest you can buy while Qashqai is the biggest. That’s because the CX-3 is based on Mazda’s brilliant-but-tiny 2 while the Nissan shares big brother X-Trail’s entrails.
Pricing starts at $19,990+ORC for the CX-3 Neo petrol manual front-wheel drive (that almost nobody buys) and ends at the $37,890+ORC for the all-wheel drive diesel auto Akari (again, which almost nobody buys). Most go for the Maxx or sTouring and there are 16 distinct versions when you consider fuel types, transmission and driven wheels.
The Qashqai starts at $25,990+ORC for the ST manual petrol and tops out at $39,990+ORC for the TL, with just four distinct versions – two petrols, two diesels, no all-wheel drive. The big seller is the Ti petrol, and for very good reasons – it’s got the best spec by far but is cheaper than the diesel at $36,990+ORC.
The Mazda out-specs the Qashqai almost model-for-model (Neo excepted) and dollar for dollar and has only two no-cost option colours whereas you have to stump up $495 for most of the Nissan’s paint jobs.
What’s the interior like?
The Qashqai’s interior design (see below) is by far the less adventurous of the two, with a fairly generic look and feel. The CX-3 takes the 2’s nifty design, with it’s Audi-like circular vents and horizontal lines to make the car feel bigger. Both are composed of dark plastics, with the Mazda adding coloured strips and panels as you go up the range.
The CX-3’s MZD Connect media system (not available on the Neo) smacks the Nissan’s out of the park, but neither has the luxury of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. MZD is controlled by both rotary dial and touchscreen and is well laid-out and modern looking. The Qashqai’s is a very ho-hum, cheap-looking aftermarket system that is otherwise reasonable.
Whether your interior trim is cloth or (fake) leather, they’re both good and both are very well built, with the Nissan perhaps slightly edging ahead for overall fit and finish, but it’s damned close.
Overall the CX-3 wins for design and materials although at the top of the range, the Nissan has a massive sunroof.
What’s the passenger space like?
The Qashqai wins hands down for space. The rear seats are reasonable for even lanky teenagers (two, not three) and the soaring roofline means it feels airy and spacious. Being the bigger car, it was always going to win this fight. The view out the front is cinematic while vision all round is reasonable, making it a pleasant place to be. The only dramas are the front seats are a bit over-stuffed like a Honda’s and there are no rear air vents.
The CX-3 is a much smaller car. Front seat passengers are well looked-after, with room for folks of most sizes but once you hit the back seat, you’re in trouble. Legroom is marginal for anyone over five feet (150cm) tall, headroom is not great and you go without armrest, cupholders and rear air vents.
Both, however, are quiet, the Nissan again slightly quieter. The Qashqai also has a better view out for rear seat passengers not on booster seats
What’s the boot space like?
Once again, size does matter and the Qashqai’s boot is bested only by Honda’s freakishly large HR-V cargo space. At 430 litres, it’s markedly bigger than the CX-3’s 264 litres. Both have false floors, the Qashqai’s split into two sections so you can faff about with the depth.
Both feature split fold rear seats, the Mazda increasing to a total of 1174 litres and with the falsie in place, you’ve got a flat load area all the way through. Nissan doesn’t provide a seats-stowed figure for the Qashqai but at a guess it’d be well over 1200 litres. The Nissan also has a cubby hole behind each taillight with a stretchy strap for your thermos of pea and ham.
What are they like to drive?
Here is where the CX-3 grabs a good win. While the two petrol engines are close on power – the Mazda has 109kW/192Nm, the Nissan 106kW/200Nm, the turbodiesels aren’t quite so close, Mazda’s 1.5L producing 77kW/270Nm, the Qashqai 96kW/320Nm.
The CX-3 pulls ahead in a couple of key areas – the automatic transmission is a proper six-speed automatic from Aisin rather than Nissan’s irritating continuously variable transmission (CVT).
While not awful, the CVT is no match for the smooth, far more sensible progress achieved in the Mazda, not to mention how much quieter and user-friendly the CX-3’s transmission is. The Qashqai CVT’s only saving grace is that it makes the most of the petrol’s figures in what is quite a tubby car.
The Qashqai wins for ride comfort, part of the higher sticker price going towards a nifty multi-link rear suspension set up that delivers excellent ride and body control whether empty or chock-full of people and stuff. The less sophisticated and rather cheaper torsion beams on the Mazda are good in isolation but don’t quite match up with the Nissan’s.
If you like driving, though, the CX-3 has the edge. A recent update has added Mazda’s G Vectoring tech to make the steering more convincing and makes it a real corner-carver. There’s no reason to choose diesel over petrol (although petrol should be your choice) if you’re a city-dweller but they’re both lots of fun to drive without a significant penalty in ride quality. The all-wheel drive CX-3s are also very sure-footed in the wet or loose stuff for that extra bit of security.
The Qashqai is more relaxed and with a higher kerb weight, slovenly transmission and front wheel drive only, both the petrol and the diesel drive pretty much the same. The extra wallop of torque in the diesel is certainly handy, especially if you plan to tow anything.
What are the safety features like?
The two cars have many safety features in common: six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and two ISOFIX safety anchors as well as three top-tether points.
The CX-3 has as standard across the range forward autonomous emergency braking (which from 2017 has a camera to go with the radar), meaning it works from 4km/h up to 80km/h. The Neo goes without a reversing camera (standard on all Qashqai) but the rest of the range has one to go with the MZD Connect. The ram home the point, all CX-3s also have reversing AEB.
As you work your way up the CX-3 range, you can either pay to add or get as standard blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.
The higher end of the Qashqai range adds lane departure warning, forward collision warning, blind spot detection and front and rear parking sensors, but no AEB.
Both arrive on your drive with a five star ANCAP safety rating.
So, which one wins and why?
This is a tricky one. Trading punches all the way; the Nissan just loses out to the CX-3. The Mazda is cheaper to buy and run, perkier, probably better looking and more fun to drive. The Qashqai is undoubtedly the more comfortable car, equally well-built but lacking in sparkle when it comes to design and driver dynamics. The Mazda’s better safety package is also an important reason for its victory, with front and back AEB whether you go cheapskate or large.
In the end, it’s a points decision because the Qashqai’s clear victory for interior space is a major consideration for family buyers, but so is safety and cost of ownership. The CX-3 offers more choice, style and technology. Like I say, it’s close, but the Mazda takes the win.