Price & Equipment - Winner: Mazda 3 SP25 GT
The $32K Honda Civic RS sits a rung below the flagship VTi-LX and gets smart key entry/keyless start, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a DAB radio tuner, rain- sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlights, a tyre pressure monitor, speed-limiter cruise, LED headlights, daytime running lights, foglights and a powered sunroof.
The Mazda 3 SP25 GT shares much with the Honda, including its price, however you get a six- rather than eight-way drivers seat and normal cruise control. You get sat-nav here, which the Civic misses, but not front parking sensors. A blind-spot monitor, driver attention alert, rear cross-traffic alert and
smart city brake support are all pluses.
Interior & Versatility - Winner: Honda Civic RS
The Civic shares its 2700mm wheelbase with the Mazda and at 1799mm is just 4mm wider than its rival. The dash is busy rather than elegant – at least it’s not boring – and the materials quality and finish satisfy. Heated leather front seats are comfy and the back is spacious. The 330-litre boot is well shaped and usefully bigger than the Mazda’s.
The Mazda’s dash is plainer and might please conventionalists more than the Honda’s. Sculpted wheel feels good and leather-trimmed front seats offer a bit
more side support than the Civic’s. It’s easy to get comfy up front and in the back, but there’s not quite as much room for lugging stuff in the 308-litre cargo bay.
Performance & Economy - Winner: Mazda 3 SP25 GT
The ‘RS’ badge oversells the Honda’s straight-line performance but the brand’s first mass-produced snail- assisted mill in three decades is a smooth, likeable engine. The 127kW/220Nm unit is economical, claiming 6.1L/100km, but the rubbery CVT auto is a weak link that detracts from the overall appeal of the drivetrain.
The 3’s 138kW, 250Nm atmo four and six speed conventional auto make a good team. The Mazda deftly avoids the small displacement turbo path yet
delivers economy to match its rival thanks to measures including a high 13:1 compression ratio and direct injection. Yet, like the Honda, it’s happy on 91RON.
Ride & Refinement - Winner:Honda Civic RS
The Honda’s highway demeanour is matched perfectly with the torquey turbo engine – a decent conventional auto would seal the deal. The Civic, despite the sports badge and poised handling responses, is supple and absorbent over bad roads over a range of speeds. It’s hushed too, especially alongside the Mazda.
Mazda has a history with road/tyre noise and the third-gen 3, in part because it’s getting on a bit, is not as refined as the Honda. With no help from the 215/45R18 tyres, the SP25 GT is not especially smooth over the small amplitude bumps that are everywhere in cities, though its handling of larger undulations tells of a well-judged primary ride.
Steering & Handling - Winner: Honda Civic RS
Quick steering and a responsive chassis give the Civic RS a sporty flavour and if you push the strut front/multi-link rear chassis (a basic layout it shares with the Mazda), the rear end can be provoked to adjust the angle of attack. It’s a pity the steering ultimately lacks feel, and a far greater shame the CVT won’t let you take the Civic by the scruff.
Some of the millennial zoom-zoom has dissipated in even the sportiest of the current 3s which isn’t all bad – some of the responses of the first-gens were over-eager. The Mazda’s steering is more measured than the Honda’s. Here, you have to go looking for the sportiness. But press on a bit and you’ll find the inherent balance and playfulness.
Verdict - Winner: Mazda 3 SP25 GT
The scores reflect the closeness of this pair in an overall sense, yet taking these warm hatches category-by-category it’s apparent they’re not quite as close as they might seem.
If you’re looking for generous standard active safety and other niceties, you’ll find them in the Mazda. Cabin appeal might be a matter of taste but the fact the Honda rides well and is quiet, while the Mazda is busier and noisier is black and white.
We’d wager that Honda’s little turbo four would use a bit more juice than Mazda’s big atmo one in the real world, but officially they both use the same amount of fuel. But the Civic’s CVT isn’t anywhere near as good as the 3’s auto. The Honda better blends sportiness with comfort – it’s got more of both.
But the Civic’s advantage is lost in the transmission.