The Mazda 3 and Honda Civic each have a reputation for providing quality at an affordable price in the hotly contested small-car market. With the new Civic hatch still a few months away, we’re comparing the base model VTi sedan with the similarly priced Mazda 3 NEO sedan.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT | WINNER: CIVIC
Not much splits the duo in terms of price. The entry-level Mazda 3 NEO sedan has a six-speed automatic transmission costing in at $22,490 and the base Civic VTi with CVT at $22,390. The Mazda has a manual option for $20,490 but isn’t included in this comparison.
Standard features in the Mazda 3 NEO not found in the Civic VTi include automatic stop/start, curtain airbags and front-and-rear parking sensors, however it lacks a touch screen and reverse camera.
As well as a 7.0-inch touch screen infotainment that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Civic can boast a reverse camera (which is helpful because of its high rear-end) and automatic climate control.
Both come with cruise control, electronic stability control and 16-inch alloys.
INTERIOR AND VERSATILITY | WINNER: CIVIC
The Honda Civic has good interior space with excellent presentation, and refinement that makes it look and feel nicer than most small cars in its price range. It has plenty of cabin storage including a large lidded compartment complete with a slide able armrest.
The Mazda3’s cabin also provides good comfort for four adults and like the Civic also looks and feels elegant. Cabin storage is adequate.
The Civic’s boot capacity of 519-litres shames many larger cars and is substantially more voluminous than the Mazda 3’s 408-litres. Both have 60/40 split rear seats.
PERFORMANCE AND ECONOMY | WINNER: MAZDA 3
The Mazda’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine produced 114kW of power and 200Nm of torque and has a combined fuel economy rating of 5.7L/100km.
The Honda has a smaller 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine producing 104kW/174Nm but is less fuel efficient, drinking 6.4L/100km despite being around 30kg lighter.
RIDE AND REFINEMENT | WINNER: CIVIC
The Civic has a bump-absorbing and quiet suspension via the MacPherson strut-style front and multi-link rear suspension. The set-ups work together superbly, soaking up bumps and creating a comfy and refined ride. The CVT automatic feels much like an auto gearbox and operates smoothly and only whines when pushed hard.
The Mazda 3 rides quite smoothly, disposing of bumps well and settling quickly. The 2.0-litre engine copes admirably with city life and has enough power for easy highway touring. It revs freely and mates well with the six-speed auto gearbox. Noise from the tyres might intrude on coarser road surfaces, but other dins are kept at bay.
STEERING AND HANDLING | WINNER: MAZDA 3
The Civic has progressively weighted yet engagingly responsive electric steering which provides agile yet controlled handling, especially at high speeds. The chassis gels together quite enjoyably, offering fluent and predictable roadholding, whether on smooth bitumen or loose gravel.
The Mazda3 also provides polished handling, with fluent yet engaging steering and an agility that makes light work of suburban streets and country roads alike. It now has G-Vectoring Control, which adjusts the engine when you turn the steering wheel, decelerating slightly so as to transfer load to the front tyres and help them bite (and reversing the process as you return to centre).
Both are excellent but the Mazda provides a little bit more in terms of driver enjoyment.
VERDICT | WINNER: CIVIC
The Civic wins on points in a 12-round slug fest. The Mazda’s strengths are its performance and handling and it’s a delight to drive. But the Civic provides just that little more in terms of refinement, value and versatility, while still offering driver enjoyment.
If the Mazda 3 NEO came with infotainment and reversing camera it might have been a different outcome.
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