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SUV Showdown: Jeep Renegade vs. Mazda CX3

Full disclosure: I’m a Jeep girl. I’ve always been a Jeep girl. I drove a Jeep Wrangler all through college, later swapping it for a Patriot. My folks drive a Grand Cherokee. My sister drives a Rubicon. Jeep is just a part of the family.

So, imagine my excitement when I set my sights on the newest member of the Jeep family: the Renegade. My immediate thought was: I want one. Get me to Miami Jeep dealerships, stat!

Fortunately, this job has taught me to slow my roll and actually do some research.

I have. I still want one.

That said, I couldn’t help but let my eyes wander over to a most unlikely manufacturer, one that I have never driven, nor have ever considered driving.

Behold, the Mazda CX-3. With so many sub compact crossovers infiltrating the automotive market, Mazda was not going to be left behind. In fact, according to some industry experts, the Mazda CX-3 is actually leading the pack.

Does this mean my Jeep loyalty might actually be tested? I almost didn’t want to find out, but find out I did.

Fellow Jeep lovers, rest easy. The Mazda CX-3 is a serious contender, but ultimately no real match for the Renegade because the CX-3 can’t deliver what Jeep drivers have always pined for: Fun.

The Challenger: Mazda’s CX-3

Alright, my fellow Jeep enthusiasts, let’s take a hard look at the competition.

The Mazda CX-3, Mazda’s first small SUV, has been ranked number one in the sub-compact crossover segment by Car and Driver.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at why.

Well, first of all, it looks good. It’s sharp and sleek, sculpted and sophisticated. Let’s put it this way, you’ll want to drive this car to work in order to polish up your professional image.

Powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, and operated by a six-speed automatic transmission, the CX-3 comes standard with four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available, too.

This five passenger, four-door hatchback, struts its stuff backed by 146 horsepower at 6,000 rpm with 146 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm.

Pretty powerful for a commuter car, I’d say.

And it looks it. Muscled design with bold styling, the CX-3 comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, but you can always upgrade to the Touring’s same size aluminum wheels or the Grand Touring’s 18-inchers.

Approximately sixty-three percent of the Mazda’s lightweight unibody is built from seriously strong steel, but the struts and torsion-beam axle in the rear keep passengers from feeling jostled or bounced around.

Mazda spread its Skyactiv engineering philosophy throughout the CX-3, meaning that all of the car’s components work together seamlessly for ultimate efficiency. According to those who have already test driven it, the CX-3 remains true to that philosophy.

The drive is reportedly pleasing, with some reviewers even claiming that driving the CX-3 feels just like driving a regular hatchback car, which might disappoint those who are looking for that boosted feeling one would expect behind the wheel of an SUV or…Jeep.

Mazda’s  CX-3 Takes the Inner Track

The interior of the CX-3 delighted reviewers. Representing Mazda’s KODO design philosophy, which seeks to capture the muscular beauty of an animal leaping to action, the interior is meant to evoke art in motion.

Check out the video and you’ll see exactly what it is that Mazda is trying to capture.

Despite these animalistic ambitions, the classy red and metallic-accented interior of this car is surprisingly high end for entry-level.

While it is supposedly very comfortable, those seated in the front seats reap the most benefit. Although the rear row seating is designed stadium-style for improved visibility, most adults would find the leg and shoulder room lacking.

Same goes for the cargo area – you’re not going to embark on a serious road trip in this car, particularly not one that requires gear, like say…camping.

Standard fair in the CX-3 includes cloth-covered split-folding rear bench seats, a push-button start, a tilt-and -telescoping steering column, rearview camera, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system. For a single step up, the Touring trim level offers improved materials and an enhanced, six-speaker audio system, as well as cold-weather creature comforts like heated exterior mirrors.

The top of the line is the Grand Touring. Buzzing with bells and whistles, like leather upholstery, LED lighting, automatic climate control, a Bose sound system, and just all around higher-end touches, Mazda’s i-Activsense package, loaded with advanced safety features, is exclusive to the GT models.

Priced between $20,000 – 25,000, the Mazda CX-3 gets an EPA-established 29/35 fuel economy, officially making it the year’s most economical subcompact SUV.

The Renegade can’t quite compete with that kind of fuel efficiency; however, it wasn’t really designed to when you consider why people buy Jeeps. They are, at the end of the day, true utility vehicles.

After all, where Mazda claims, “Imagination drives us,” I would argue that adventure drives Jeep.

What would an adventure in a Renegade look like?

Defending the Jeep Name takes a Renegade

In this showdown, I’ve already dubbed Mazda’s CX-3 the Challenger, making the Renegade the defender.

Remember how I said that Jeep drivers are looking for fun?

Well, Autoweek awarded the Renegade its Editor’s Choice Award for…drumroll please…Most Fun. That’s the spirit we’re talking about when it comes to the Jeep brand and the Renegade is the latest and greatest part of that.

Although some folks have pointed at the Patriot and Compass as Jeep’s small SUVs, the Renegade is even smaller, and sports Cherokee and Grand Cherokee-like capabilities. In other words, don’t dismiss this vehicle as something Jeep already has or doesn’t need.

Either of the two available drivetrains delivers more power than the CX-3 could ever dream of, with the standard 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder generating 160 horsepower with a six-speed manual and the 2.4-liter Tigershark four cylinder operated by a class-exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission, roaring along at 180 horsepower, available in either front or four-wheel drive.

Adventure requires power and the Renegade packs a punch.

The Renegade Realizes Its Adventure Potential in the Trailhawk

With top speeds of 115 miles per hour and a zero to sixty dash in 8.8 seconds, the Renegade performs beautifully on the road, but it’s the Renegade’s off-road prowess that keeps so many Jeep lovers committed to the brand.

Available in Sport, Latitude, and Limited trim levels, the trail-rated Trailhawk will take you off the beaten path and over whatever terrain you feel like conquering on any given day.

Equipped with the class-exclusive Selec-Terrain dial, drivers can choose five settings, including Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock. Offering Best-in-Class 4X4 capability, and Jeep Active Drive Low 4×4 system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, the Renegade’s off-road suspension lifts it 0.8 inches off the ground. Hill descent control is supported by 17-inch off-road aluminum wheels, with even more off-road representation coming from the red tow hooks, black accent roof rails, off-road fascias, and skid plates. And the Trailhawk can tow up to 2,000 pounds for whatever gear you might want to bring along on your next excursion.

In order to be officially trail-rated, the Renegade has been tested on landscapes all over the world and has proven itself more than capable of crushing all of them.

See for yourself…

Enhance your off-roading experience by letting the sun shine in when you retract or remove the My Sky dual-panels lining the roof. The panels retract easily, but if you rather remove them entirely, you can simply store them in the cargo area.

As much as I love Wranglers, they can be tricky when it comes to taking the top down or, more importantly, getting it back up and securely in place if the rain starts pounding. The My Sky panels offer the best of both worlds: convenience and accessibility without sacrificing the Wrangler-esque wind in your hair.

Ingenious Interior

When it comes to storing those panels, the Renegade offers Best-in-Class volume with a range of seat configurations, allowing you to create more space if needed, for passengers or cargo.

Covered in leather trim or premium cloth, the Renegade’s interior colors come in solid black, or two-tone options in bark brown/ski gray or black with red accent stitching.

Once seated, drivers and passengers will enjoy cutting-edge tech, like the Uconnect system which displays on the 6.5-inch touchscreen and integrates the Uconnect Voice Command and Bluetooth functions, supporting hands-free calling and voice texting. Additional gadgets include sensor-assisted GPS, speed-adjusted volume, GPS navigation, and a twelve-month subscription to Sirius XM Premium.

And if you opt for the available nine speaker 506-watt audio, boosted by a 6.5-inch subwoofer, you’ll be rocking in that Renegade in no time. Buttons on the steering wheel allow you to control the drive without taking your eyes off the road. Information is easy to access on the available 7-inch color display, and the digital speedometer makes it easy to keep your speed in check.

Maybe it’s just my feminine sensibilities, but I love the Renegade’s color palette, though I have no idea which color I would choose: Anvil, Alpine White, Black, Carbon Black, Colorado Red, Commando Green, Glacier Metallic, Mojave Sand, Omaha Orange, Solar Yellow, or Sierra Blue.

I just love tough decisions, don’t you?

By definition, the word renegade means an individual who deserts a party or a cause for another. While I might appreciate the finer qualities of the Mazda CX-3, I’m no renegade.

Jeep is in my blood.

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