By on December 14, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Until recently, American car shoppers generally treated hatchbacks with a level of disdain normally reserved for that fetid cheese you forgot about in the back of the fridge.

It made sense; most of them were base-model penalty boxes with all the charm of plain oatmeal. Now, though, the market is awash with five-doors featuring content levels and power outputs formerly reserved for much more expensive machinery.

Honda recently re-entered the hatchback game with its 2017 Civic, while Mazda has been hawking a five-door 3 since its introduction a dozen years ago. Last week, the stars aligned and the press-fleet gods shone upon TTAC by placing a Honda Civic Hatchback and Mazda 3 5-Door in the grubby hands of Tim and Matt during the same week.

While the two cars were optioned differently (a CVT-equipped Civic LX and a manual-equipped Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring), we nevertheless took the opportunity to get these two hatchbacks together and ask the question: “Which is gooder?”

PICK YOUR POWERTRAIN
Tim: Our test included models that weren’t directly comparable: the Mazda was not only a higher trim level, it also arrived with an excellent, unbeatable six-speed manual transmission. The Honda Civic Hatchback is shipped from the UK exclusively with the 1.5-liter turbo — an upgrade for other Civic body styles — but our car’s 1.5T was joined to a CVT. Yet even the Mazda’s six-speed, naturally aspirated throttle response, and rev-happy nature couldn’t mask the fact that, in the real world, I’d rather have the Civic’s 1.5T.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs. 2017 Mazda 3 Sport GT - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Matt: True, while there was a fair price and content spread between them, the bones of these cars do compete against each other. Boosted powerplants are a lot of fun, and I did appreciate the 1.5T in the Honda. Nevertheless, that SkyActiv-G 2.5-liter made me grin every time I turned a wheel, especially around 3,500 rpm in third gear. That I can get my grins using regular fuel is a practical bonus.

Tim: Grins matter. I had other problems with the Mazda’s 2.5, however. A week with the Mazda resulted in fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon. The very next week, the Civic averaged 36. (Perhaps I have myself to blame. The Mazda’s manual may have caused me to drive, shall we say, differently.) So here’s the answer: put the Civic’s 1.5T in the Mazda with the Mazda’s shifter and chassis and we’d have a comparison test winner already.

Matt: That combination would make an excellent Franken-car. It’s no coincidence the Mazda’s torque peak and my grin meter both light up at 3,250 rpm. I agree the trade-off is in fuel economy, as I also found myself rowing my way through fourth and even third gear to maintain flank speed in December traffic. The cheaper fuel is nullified, then, by dint of burning more of it.

Tim: Profound.

2017 Mazda 3 5-Door vs. 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

WHICH ONE WOULD YOU TAKE TO THE NÜRBURGRING?
Tim: It’s not just the engine that would have you stealing the Mazda’s keys every time you knew the road had twists and turns, though, eh?

Matt: I’d jack the Mazda’s key if my driving plans included some twisty bits. The Mazda’s responses seemed a bit sharper and I felt more connected to the car. And no, it’s not just because of the manual. I did feel like the Civic was more insular than the 3, like listening to music through a wall instead of being in front of the stage. This attribute is great for commutes, or for taking the family on a jaunt. I appreciate not everyone wants their driving experience turned up to 11 at all times.

Tim: It’s not just the manual. And it’s not that the Civic isn’t a capable car when speeds rise. Flat cornering is fine, but the Mazda is both the more comfortable and better-handling car. More importantly, the Mazda is interactive. The Civic’s steering is quick; turn-in is downright abrupt. But the Mazda’s steering fosters a connection. The 3’s suspension accepts what the road throws at it and works with the road. The Civic, despite an identical 106.3-inch wheelbase, feels like the firmer, less tolerant car — and that’s on 16-inch wheels. The Mazda’s on 18s with lower-profile rubber.

Matt: I would take the 3 to the Nurburgring, then, but I understand if commute-weary folks choose the Civic.

Tim: Better fuel economy. Better on-ramp power.

Matt: Yes. Which brings us neatly to where people actually spend their time: the interior.

2017 Honda Civic Civic Hatchback LX vs 2017 Mazda 3 Grand Touring - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

TOUCHSCREENS OR CONTROL KNOBS
Tim: I can’t think of a way in which the Civic interior, particularly the control layout, is better. Oh wait: the armrest.

Matt: The armrests in the Mazda were both ill-placed. This 6-foot-6 author didn’t find the armrest on the door extends far enough aft when he pushed the driver’s seat all the way back, while the centre console was odd too.

Tim: You’re too tall. But I, too, was never perfectly comfortable in the Mazda’s driver seat.

Matt: True. I don’t fit properly in many cars.

Tim: Beyond comfort, minimalism has run amok in the Civic. I need buttons. I need feedback of some kind if I’m driving down the road attempting to perform important functions while operating a 3,000-pound machine.

Matt: The capacitive touch volume slider is ridiculous. I’m glad they’re employing an actual knob in the near future. TTAC employs actual knobs, too.

Tim: Let’s make a list.

Matt: Not enough paper in the world.

Tim: And we’re supposed to be the nice guys …

Matt: The gauges in the 3 remind me of a bike, which is no bad thing. The jumbo tach fitted front and centre with a neat digital speed readout tucked in the corner announce the 3’s sporting intentions.

Tim: I’m just happy there’s a center controller with vital quick-access buttons. The whole infotainment system could be quicker; the screen could be bigger. But the Mazda simplifies life. The Civic complicates it.

Matt: The quick buttons are fantastic. They dedicated an awful lot of space on the left side of the tach to telling me what gear I should be in, and a couple of the buttons on the left spoke of the steering wheel controlled a menu on the right side of the tach. Also, Mazda should let us use the touchscreen above 5 miles per hour.

Tim: You’re not to be trusted.

Matt: No, I’m not.

2017 Mazda 3 5-door cargo area vs. 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

ROCKING CHAIR
Tim: If you need to carry people and load stuff, the Civic’s less frolicking back road manners and convoluted interior are, to some degree, cancelled out by greater flexibility.

Matt: That chair wouldn’t fit in the 3, no matter how many times (and ways!) we tried.

Tim: But there was not a moment of difficulty getting it into the Civic. My grandfather built that chair four decades ago. If I want to take it in my hatchback, I better be able to take it in my hatchback. Is that too much to ask?

Matt: Not at all, good sir.

2017 Mazda 3 Grand Touring interior - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Tim: It’s also easier to get people into and out of the Civic’s back seat — especially kids into car seats. Allegedly, the Civic has 27 percent more cargo capacity — it feels like 50 percent more. Allegedly, the Civic has 1 percent more passenger volume — it feels like slightly 5 percent more. Maybe 6.

Matt: The Civic’s cargo cover may have been as unfinished as an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but at least it didn’t intrude rudely upon the cargo space.

Tim: The Civic’s cargo cover was purchased from the scrap pile at your aunt’s favorite bargain fabric store. Unfinished edges. Thin as paper. An embarrassment to cargo covers everywhere.

Matt: It’s worth noting that the 3 is one of the few cars in which a taller-than-average elementary school aged tyke has opted to sit behind the passenger “for legroom”.

Tim: Crazy that you would have a taller-than-average child.

Matt: I know, right? The Civic is the one to get if you care about your family. The 3 is the one to get if you care about yourself.

2017 Honda Civic LX Hatchback interior - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

STYLE ARBITERS
Tim: The 3 is not the better family car. That fact is undeniable. But, would you want to be seen in the Civic? I realize we’re not the most handsome, most stylish, most iconically decked-out men this side of the Tokyo Fashion Week, but we can tell when a car is terribly unattractive, can’t we?

Matt: I am not given to bouts of vanity, but the Civic is a hard looking car, especially in white. The gaping jowls, especially on the rear bumper, are particularly galling.

Tim: I’ve probably said too much about the way the Civic looks. But the people, en masse, agreed.

Matt: That particular car, in LX trim, would probably look better in their Aegean Blue. White Orchid Pearl did it no favours. Rallye Red shows up in the next highest trim level, and would be okay, too.

Tim: Don’t defend that car by bringing out your paint chips.

Matt:My eyes! The goggles, do nothing!

CONSENSUS
Tim: Is it just our reasonable, east coast, easy-going means of going along to get along, or would you and I have just as easily have reached the same verdict on these cars if we approached them separate from one another?

Matt: 50/50, methinks. The 3’s the better driver’s car, and that’s what matters to me. Others may disagree and prioritize cargo space and such. They are also free to make Excel spreadsheets and organize their sock drawers.

Tim: I had extensive driving experiences in both of these cars before this two-week stretch of back-to-back driving. I knew ahead of time the Mazda was the better car to drive. But the latest Civic is a big leap forward, so I wondered whether the fun-to-drive gap would be that significant. Driven back to back, the gap was indeed significant.

Matt: The latest Civic is a huge leap forward, and they will sell a ton of them to many happy customers. They just won’t be selling one to me.

Tim: You’re resolved. The Mazda frustrates me, I’ll admit. It’s too noisy. The driver’s seat never fit me right. There are some cheap bits like the head-up display and tinny rear doors. This could be a near-perfect car with more rear seat space and cargo capacity, Honda levels of space efficiency. But the Mazda is too good not to want.

Matt: Oh, the wind noise from the side mirrors is biblical.

Tim: But essentially, we drove out to an airport to drive cars and take pictures, meet one another for the first time, and discover we think the very same thoughts?

Matt: Bingo.

Tim: Well then, stop talking. We’re done here.

Matt: Cool.

[Images: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Matthew Guy is a lifelong gearhead who freelances for TTAC, wheels.ca, and CAA Magazine. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram where he lights the fuse on his humor and love of cars. 

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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122 Comments on “Comparison Test: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs. 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door – Grins Matter...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    OH MY GAWD! An actual comparison test!

    Although the Siskel and Ebert thing wears a little thin very quickly. It would be better as a video. Show us driving footage of the cars and then have your little back and forth “tete a tete” style conversation.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ll keep playing with the format until we find one that works.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Well, I enjoyed the format. Silly yet informative, well played good sirs!

      I really hope Honda fixes the front and rear jowls soon. If I were shopping these two I’d lean Honda, but the controls and gauges would probably put me in the 3. All easily fixable if Honda gets motivated.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Sat in a Civic Hatch a couple weeks ago while at the dealer for my Accord’s oil change. The looks are an acquired taste, but what might be the big deal-breaker is the blind spot courtesy of the DLO-fail-spec plastic roughly where the C-pillar glass resides on the Sedan. The idiot designers responsible for the CrossTurd likely penned that!

        Azera from the side = Good! Gaping maws of WTF in back = Try again, Honda!

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      Not a fan of this “multiple presenters” format, but thanks for the comparison test.

    • 0 avatar
      blackEldo

      While reading it I thought about how the back-and-forth was well-suited to a video review/discussion…then I remembered that I was reading it at work and if it were JUST a video I couldn’t watch it.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Both vehicles are essentially compromises. Not true driver’s cars and not true family vehicles. As compromises go I think that I would prefer the Civic as it does ‘more’ things adequately than the Mazda. And would have better re-sale value.

    However the better family vehicle in either case would be a Kia Rondo 5 passenger which has far more interior cargo capacity than most small to mid SUV/CUV’s, and plenty of passenger room, including sliding adjustable back seats. Or a Mazda 5.

    And both are available with manual transmissions. However neither is available in the USA. So a VW Golf wagon?

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      I’d argue that the 3 is, in fact, a true driver’s car.

      But the Civic doing more things isn’t lacking accuracy, and resale matters.

      Drive a Rondo back to back with either of these and you’ll feel a dramatic drop-off in performance, not just when driven hard but in the real world, day-to-day.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        Tim,

        When will the SI make an appearance and any word on its specs?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @tim: Do not disagree entirely. However there are a number of better driver’s cars than a Mazda 3, it is compromised to include usable space. The Rondo is certainly not a driver’s car but much better in dense urban centres than a minivan while still providing expansive interior room and carrying capabilities. More than either of the tested hatches and more than most mid to small CUVs/SUV’s. And at the same price point a Rondo may include more amenities welcome by the family than either the Civic or the 3.

        And it can be purchased with a stick.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Rondo? Thanks for the tip

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Golf wagon or a C-Max with a CVT, just like the Civic. Sad that there’s no Rondo or 5 any longer, but the U.S. market spoke and ‘Mericans don’t like them weirdo cars.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        Hmm, we still have both the 5 and the Rondo available in Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        There is a big difference between a hybrid “CVT” and a conventional gas engine belt drive CVT. I had the C-Max’s sedan cousin, the Fusion Hybrid last weekend, and was very impressed with it, as with the Toyota Hybrid CVTs. I have never liked a single conventional belt drive CVT in anything. Haven’t driven the new Civic, but hated the latest Accord with it.

      • 0 avatar
        rolando

        Just looked up that Rondo at Kia Canada. It is a nice looking car, I would might have chosen that over my Mazda3! I wish Ford would sell its Euro B/C/S Max models here, even put a Lincoln face on them to cover the costs!

    • 0 avatar
      bludragon

      On paper, the Mazda5 is the perfect size for our family. However, most days I would be commuting in it by myself. I rented one for a few days to try it out. Came very close to purchasing, but in the end decided I could not do it. Part of the problem was the fact that it was an automatic, but road & wind noise were also higher than I’d like, and the seats just OK for me.

      On the other hand, a 2016 Mazda3 was big enough and quiet enough whilst also being fun enough for me to enjoy driving on a daily basis :-)

      Didn’t even consider a Rondo. Had one as a rental ~8yrs ago and it was exceedingly practical, but automatically disqualified from purchase consideration due to my enjoyable-to-drive requirement.

      • 0 avatar
        Giltibo

        My wife drove a 2012 Mazda5 for a little under 6 years and 93 000km: even with a 6MT, the vehicle was anemic, drank like a large V6, with seats that were worse than kitchen chairs. And the RUST! THE RUST! The undercarriage was almost all rusty after less than 6 years – Had to change a rear suspension arm and a transmission mount that corroded through and broke. The motor mounts are gonna most likely let go in the next few months (for the next owner). Mazdas and Canadian winters are arch-enemies!

        Now she drives a 2018 Sport Touring Hatch 6MT. To put it in a few words: it’s a sporty mini-Accord. The exterior design takes a bit of getting used to, but it grows fast on me! Especially in Red!

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Awesome comparison guys. I think you did a great job of getting to what you found to be the essential differences of the cars, despite having not directly comparable models. As someone for whom both of these are top contenders for my next car, I found the information helpful. Two questions for ya: if you could’ve equipped them more comparably, would that change anything? IE would a Mazda 3 with the 2.0 that’s closer to the Civic LX in price still be the fun to drive champ thanks to the chassis, or would the power deficit be too much to ignore at that point? Secondly, I assume fitting the Civic with its (reportedly excellent) manual wouldn’t have helped it edge the Mazda in fun to drive?

    • 0 avatar

      The Civic manual gearbox is not that excellent, IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        No, it isn’t.

        In the naturally-aspirated sedan, I found myself preferring the CVT.

        And with that, I brand myself a heretic.

        And I’m on record with the base 2.0 Mazda3 being the best model. At a high-$20,000’s price point, the 2.5 is outgunned badly by the VW GTI, but for $20,000 or so, the 2.0 is a terrific deal. The actual performance difference between the 2.0 and 2.5 is incremental.

        Try the 2.0 with a manual. You won’t be disappointed.

        • 0 avatar
          bludragon

          I have not tried driving the civic, but everything else you have written I completely agree with.

          I dd an MZ3 2.0 MT, and it is a really good car for the money (I paid significantly less than 20k for mine).

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      good to know. I thought I saw positive reviews of it but perhaps Honda’s reputation for excellent manuals may be clouding my memory. sounds like that win can stay with Mazda.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven both the 2.5 mazda 3 manual and now own the civic sport hatch manual, and can say that in sport, with the more responsive steering rack, bigger wheels, better suspension and slightly more horsepower is the hatchback to own these days. it’s got 99% of the pizzazz that the mazda 3 has, with more room and a likely better resale value.

      • 0 avatar
        syncro87

        I’ll be interested to see if the Civic hatch delivers on the typical Honda resale. I thought the hatch would be a home run, but they are lingering on dealer lots in my area. I talked to a Honda salesperson I know, and he told me that they are getting a less play on the hatches at his store than they thought they would. Hatch sales have been very lackluster according to that guy.

        I think Honda may pushed the looks thing too far with the hatch. The sedan is a bit polarizing looks-wise, but not so much that it can’t be overcome due to the car being so good. The hatch…time will tell, but I think it’s too odd looking and the strange aesthetics are really going to hurt sales outside of a few hardcore Honda hatch fans.

        I can foresee a future where Civic hatches aren’t really desirable trade in material to dealers down the road. Might be too niche and difficult to sell as a used car. I could be wrong, of course, but I’ll be curious to see if the Civic hatch sales hold up over time. They aren’t selling in my area.

        The current hatch reminds me a bit of the 2012 Civic sedan. Honda tried something, and it didn’t work. They quickly reacted and fixed the car for 2013. I can see them perhaps toning down the front and rear fascias of the hatch in a year or two in an attempt to make the car less in your face.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    a pretty good “comparison test” considering the difference levels of cars involved, 18 in wheels in the 3, that’s gonna hurt at replacement time, this is a economy car at its heart, I would more than likely take the civic for overall day to day driving in metro NY and can someone up north finally put to rest do the Mazda’s still rust, I see a ton around GTA when I visit Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      Der_Kommissar

      Yes- “economy car at heart”. Can’t forget that if you buy this because your expectations will be beyond what the car can support. If you’re thinking its something higher end, you’re better off with an ace of base lux model.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Living in snowy, salty Montreal, I’m sad to report that the Mazda3 is still the poster boy for rust. I regularly see ones from the mid-2000s with rot all over their bodies. It starts at the rear wheel arches, but hoods, trunk lids, doors and roofs eventually rust, too. Mazda has been claiming to have fixed it since the Protégé days, but whenever a new model gets to be about 6 years old, the truth comes out that they’re still behind the competition. I guess we’ll find out in a few years how the current 3 fares.

      And I say this as a Mazda apologist; I like their cars and want them to succeed. My own ’99 Miata is rust-free, but like most Miatas up here that’s because it’s never seen a winter.

  • avatar
    Der_Kommissar

    Great review- totally agree. When I bought my 3 (now sold), it was head and shoulders better than the old civic. In fact, I felt its competition was near lux ILX and such. It’s so close to being perfect, but the commitment to being a drivers car all the time, without the extra cash in development to spend on making it true near lux, makes it a long term drag to own. I think I’d get the Civic hatch this time, in EX trim however.

    • 0 avatar

      My little Mazda3, with 120k on the clock, still makes me grin when I take it through the mountains. I still enjoy driving it, even when I’m commuting. I have no idea why you’d ding the ‘3 for not being “lux” enough and then postulate the Civic would be a better choice.

  • avatar

    I can’t get over the second photo. Those gaping black holes need to go.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I’m not usually motivated by exterior styling, but the Civic Hatchback is just too ugly to consider.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    I almost broke the rear window on my 07 mazda3 hatch a few times trying to fit stuff back there… Having an even greater sloping rear window would render the hatch friggin useless…

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Why can’t Mazda make an engine and put it in there? Surely they hear the message year after year, and the ‘zoom zoom’ company is capable of doing so. They even had Mazdaspeed, remember that?

    Instead they have some Japanese executive guy admonishing potential and existing customers saying torque isn’t important, or big power, we should know better and not want. Yet they run a massive boost 2.0 turbo engine in IMSA in their factory advertising car. Where’s the beef? Hypocrisy I say.

  • avatar
    Turbo Is Black Magic

    What happened to Zoom-Zoom Mazda of years past? The 3 was on our short list for the new baby hauler car last year and while we loved the interior, style, ride, and handling…. we just could not get past how underwhelming the 2.5 was. If they had a speed 3 would have bought it on the spot. The Civic is just too ugly to bring home. Ended up with a GTI.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Mazda is zoom-zoom. Get it up to speed and hit the curve. there ya go

      • 0 avatar
        Turbo Is Black Magic

        They used to do that and be able to keep up with GTI’s and Si’s as well… those days are long gone :(

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          Give them time. With the CX-9, they once again have an engine that they could use in a performance model. I think they were on record saying the 2.5t fits anywhere the 2.5 na fits. We should be grateful that Mazda is still alive. They need to focus on producing models that generate the volumes necessary to keep the brand alive until cash flow gets better, not spend lots of $ on low volume models of questionable profit that will hurt their CAFE numbers. The Miata already fits the halo model role nicely. They have probably the most competitive on the market while still being enthusiast oriented lineup of any carmaker with no losers. We should be cheering them for giving everyone the chance to own an affordable efficient fun to drive car.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Mazda’s never been good at engines, really. It’s always been the weak spot in the Miata, for example. But yes, the 2.5L in my 3 is pretty underwhelming. And I’m not as big a fan of the manual transmission as these guys are. Coming out of a 2002 Miata, I find the 3’s transmission to be rubbery and hard to heel-and-toe (that’s mostly due to the throttle pedal being bottom-hinged, which is the dumbest thing ever).

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Looks like the Golf would eat either of these for lunch in most categories, except of course long-term reliability.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Great article.
    The main issue with these two hatchbacks is that the design team dropped the ball on the rear ends. Honda has the monkey butt and the Mazda is so contoured it cuts into usable space. Both are subpar when it comes to the wagon end of things. To me these two almost look embarrassing.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Man, I love Hondas, but I just can’t.

    The Mazda just looks so much better, it is so much better looking that you just can’t ignore it. It overrides everything else.

    Even with rust holes in the rear fenders, the Mazda would still look better.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Nice review guys!

    Matt – as a similarly tall driver – I hear you.

    Most cars I drive I just can’t get comfortable in. It’s either not enough headroom, or leg room, or the seats don’t adjust enough.

    For me, if I can’t get comfortable, I can’t enjoy the rest of the car – even if everything else about it puts a smile on my face.

    Caught between a rock and a hard place.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    A couple of thoughts…the Civic and Mazda were both part of my car search, so I spent a lot of time in the more basic versions. In fact, the Civic was my runner-up.

    Civic:
    1) The anime-spaceship rear styling works a lot better on the Civic hatchback than it does on the sedan…kind of a Mobile Suit Gundam shuttlecraft, if you will.

    2) I loved the seating position and cockpit “feel”, and the sliding armrest is a neat feature.

    3) On the naturally aspirated model, the CVT is actually a better choice than the manual. Strange but true.

    4) The touchscreen on non-LX Civics is AWFUL, particularly the volume control. I actually preferred the LX model, which has an old-fashioned, button-and-knob interface. However, I could never get the voice command system to work. Apparently no one at Honda speaks Klingon.

    5) The digital displays on the LX/EX models are terrific.

    6) Good luck getting a deal on the hatchback model.

    Mazda3:
    1) Best manual or automatic transmissions in class (though I’d say the Golf’s automatic is a close second). But the six-speed manual is a blessing.

    2) Said it before and I’ll say it again: skip the 2.5 model and go straight for the 2.0 “base” version with the manual. It offers fully nine-tenths of the 2.5’s performance envelope at a far lower price.

    3) Mazda needs to re-think the base 3’s instruments – the tach washes out in any kind of sunlight.

    4) The 3 is by far the best pure driver’s car in this class.

    You’ll find far better deals on the basic Civic models than you will on the Mazda3, particularly if you lease (the Honda has far better residuals).

    Enjoyed the review, by the way!

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      I hear you on the 2 liter stick Mazda FreedMike, though I’d go for the sedan. It’s on my radar. I can’t stomach the new Civic… and that’s that.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Good list of impressions. What did you end up purchasing?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        A Jetta, with the 1.4 turbo and a manual. It wasn’t even on my radar when I started my search, but damned if it didn’t do a great puppy dog imitation on me.

        (The deal they made me helped GREATLY, but the car itself is a darn fine little piece of work.)

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Wow, not what I was expecting.

          That Jetta has been a whipping boy in the auto forums since its debut, but I think it is a fundamentally solid car and the drivetrains and interior have improved over the model run. It’s a nice combination of refinement and driving manners. The 1.4 is about as quick as the 5 cylinder with much better mileage. Congrats.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            It wasn’t what I was expecting either, so it came as a very pleasant surprise.

          • 0 avatar
            syncro87

            The Jetta (1.4t) has a great engine, and with the tall 5 speed manual, delivers great MPG. VW also does a nice job with the suspension, which is a good daily driver balance of compliance and firmness. Most manufacturers give you a manual (if at all) where even the top gear is too short. VW, 5th is super tall, a boon on Midwest interstates. Kudos to whoever made that call in VW engineering.

            I had a 1.4T manual Jetta SE. Have driven VWs my whole life. What led me to trade it off was the incredibly creaky, chintzy nature of the interior.

            My car’s center console creaked and crackled incessantly, and the dashboard would chime in with occasional pops and clicks. Worse in cold weather, but even in summer it was non-stop. I tried felt, teflon tape strips, etcetera at various points to quell the demons to no avail. VW service visits resulted in the “cannot duplicate” as expected.

            Also, the stereo in my ’16 SE was terrible. VW used to put a half-decent 6 speaker setup in the SE, but recently cheaped out and puts a really lifeless 4 speaker setup in the car.

            I agree that in some ways the Jetta is under rated and takes too much of a beating in public perception. The engine and transmission were fantastic. Since VW went to IRS a few years back, the suspension is very good. Too many people type cast the Jetta based on the original 2011 redesign. VW has since rectified many of the issues of that car.

            I got tired of driving a new car that sounded like my 150k mile 1993 Chevy pickup every time I hit a bump, so I traded it off when my wife conveniently needed a new car.

            If VW could get their squeak and rattle suppression down to the level of some of the Asian makes, I’d probably go back. The Jetta was light years more fun to drive than our old style ’14 Civic, but the Honda at 40k miles is a bank vault compared to what the Jetta was with 3k on the clock. VW’s quality is too hit and miss for me, the older I get. When I was 25 I was more willing to over look the baggage that came with owning Volkswagens, but I guess I’m getting older, softer, and less willing to deal with crap.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The Civic could have the chassis and engine of a BMW and it would still not be an acceptable choice thanks to the hideous body and trim design.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      everyone’s priorities are different. if the Civic drove like a BMW for $21k, I wouldn’t really care what it looked like.

      • 0 avatar
        RedRocket

        The only problem with that theory is that the visually impaired seldom buy or drive automobiles.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          my vision is fine thanks. I get it checked annually. Being visually impaired would actually disqualify me medically from my job so they make sure of that. Considering that Civic hatchbacks are already selling, apparently either the visually impaired either do buy and drive cars, or perhaps I’m right and everyone’s priorities (and tastes in style) are different.

  • avatar
    V16

    The interior and exterior of the new Civic, are in complete contrast.
    Functional, stylish interior.
    Cringe worthy, overwrought exterior.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I like this new review format. Keep it up!

    As for the cars, both are both close to greatness.

    The Mazda manages to mess it up with way too much road and wind noise and seats that only fit a narrow demographic. If it wasn’t for that I would probably own one.

    The Civic is an awesome commuter that desperately needs a better infotainment system. Also, if they are going to offer a manual for enthusiasts then at least put some effort into it.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I like this fun format quick review. And I like that dudes have similar opinion to mine. Mazda is the ultimate driver’s cheap ride. “But the Mazda is too good not to want.” I understand that Civic is larger but for that I have Highlander, you know, to move grandpa’s chairs around. I am absolutely unimpressed by Civic’s interior. For the exterior, I don’t care. It is almost sounds like better to buy last year’s Si with 2.4 to have a good Civic

  • avatar
    quaquaqua

    Loved this format. And the “TTAC employs a lot of knobs” line was effin hilarious.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    My take: based on history a Civic mid model refresh is probably a year or two away. Wait and see if Honda de-uglifies the exterior and brings some rationality into the interior, and buy an Si.

    If I can help it, I think my current Civic will be my last car with an N/A 4 banger. For a street car with only 4 pots, a turbo is just necessary.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    I much prefer the interior on the Mazda, but when practicality as a small family vehicle is the name of the game (for most people). But when every_single_review cites a lack of space in the 3 hatch, the Civic becomes the default choice. Again. Since 1988.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Oh please. Lack of space… Its a compact after all. It has just normal space for compact. Much more than 1988 Civic. BTW, ’88 Civic was a washboard on wheels. I had ’90 Civic. when I parked 98 Protege next to it, I realized that car can still drive well and not punish your butt

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        No, you’re wrong. The 3 sucks for backseat space the way no other compact does and no one gives a flying ___ about how the 1988 Civic was small as well because, wait for it, it’s not 1988.

        Seven years ago I was in the market for a compact car that could fit car seats because kids and because I wanted a smaller car. The Mazda 3 was on the short list but the backseat was ridiculous. Seven years and a full model cycle later and it is still a problem and I still couldn’t buy one for the same reason.

      • 0 avatar
        syncro87

        We shopped the 3, and I drove it a few times trying to justify it over a Civic. The cramped-feeling rear seat was probably the deal breaker for us. Another car that we would have considered but ruled out in this regard was the Focus.

        Not sure what the actual measurements are, but the Civic seems to have a fair bit more usable rear seat than the 3. If your family consists of more than two people, this is a fairly significant issue.

        The 3’s back seat may not suck, but it’s pretty close to suckage if not officially there.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It’s not *bad* in the back of the 3, Corey, but you’re right – it’s tight back there. It’d be OK for a double date, but not a long trip.

      Now, the CX-3, on the other hand…well, I’d suggest transforming into a Jawa if you want to ride back there.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Would have loved to see the Cruze Hatchback included, but probably too soon to get one and would have complicated the review (you’d need to find a third writer!) My guess is that the Chevy would come in third in the performance metrics, but would be enjoyable to live with day in and day out (the Civic slightly better to drive but much harder to look at). My other guess is that it will quickly out-sell the Mazda 3, but never catch the Civic hatch.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I’ll be interested to see how the Cruze hatch sells. I see a lot of Focus hatches, so theoretically Chevy should be able to move some of theirs. Personally, I think they’d have done better to offer a wagon. Hardly anyone plays in that space, and I think Chevy might have done OK to bring the Cruze wagon here. The old gen Focus wagon sold pretty well, and I still see them on the roads. A fair number of people would like a compact wagon but don’t trust VW reliability…so I think it might work if Chevy brought it.

      I am not so sure the Civic hatch will sell that well, at least after the initial pent up demand is met. Too weird looking. If they tone it down with a mid cycle refresh, I think it will do better.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      The new Cruze hatch is as good looking from behind as the Civic hatch is ugly. I want to like the Civic, but it is just trying way too hard with the styling. We already have that awful Hyundai Veloster if someone needs a hideous Asian brand hatch.

      Diesel/manual/hatch/better looking combo aside, I think I’d still prefer the Honda, but would give both quite a bit of thought before choosing.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      I would certainly look at either the Cruze or Focus hatch before either of these. Not everything Mazda and Honda do is holy grail praiseworthy.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    As for fuel economy, you did note the cost benefit of regular fuel, but let’s run the numbers using today’s national figures from AAA website!

    Mazda goes 29 miles for $2.22 for an average of $0.0765 per mile.

    The Honda goes 36 miles for $2.72 for an average of $0.0755 per mile.

    That’s an operating-cost tie in my book.

  • avatar

    You may be onto something with this format. I enjoyed reading it, even if the results were predictable (Mazda better to drive, Honda easier to live with but ugly).

    That Civic looks like two cheeks full of chaw. Egads….

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Thank goodness these aren’t the only hatches on the market. Battle of the fatal flaws.

  • avatar
    Trucky McTruckface

    Two Canadians comparing two cars no one is going to buy.

    Dykes and Karesh are sorely missed. This was fun and all, but you guys really need a real full-time reviewer.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I’d be curious to know how many manual transmission 3s Mazda sells a year in the USA. Can’t be that many.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        @syncro87 – Mazda reports a “nearly” 15% take rate on manuals in the 3, with their popularity extending to the higher trimlines.

        “We are more than happy to give our customers what they want with greater availability of the manual transmission,” said Robert Davis, senior VP, U.S. Operations, MNAO. “Mazda3 has a nearly 15-percent take rate for its manual transmission, with most of those buyers opting for higher trim levels. Where so many competitors have retreated in the segment, we see an opening to engage those who enjoy the driving experience without compromise.”

        http://insidemazda.mazdausa.com/press-release/2017-mazda-3-pricing/

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Nice comparison, guys, it is good to see this here.

    I really like the current Mazda3. Sure it feels a bit thin and tinny, but it also feels light, agile, communicative, and–despite all the complaints I see on TTAC about the 2.5 engine–it accelerates very well for not being a hot hatch competitor. Great little car, but I need more backseat space and the road noise is still a bit much for commuting use.

    I haven’t driven the new Civic but it is almost too heinous looking to consider and I would rarely strike a vehicle from consideration due to styling. The less-polarizing sedan with 1.5 + manual would be a really strong proposition.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I would love to see a comparo between the new Cruz hatch, the Focus (non ST), Golf (non GTI), or even Kia Rio.

    I had a focus hatch for a long term rental and grew to love how it drove, the dual clutch transmission was fine if you actually drove it and didn’t baby it.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Ugh I saw a CrossTurd in the parking lot while shopping yesterday and realize that the new Civic is just a shrunken CrossTurd.

    Honda just won’t let that awful design language go.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    Tomorrow I will have had my ’17 Fit EX manual 3 months. It has 10,300 miles now and says it averaged 38.1 mpg. Yesterday I squeezed into a small parking place everyone else passed by and unloaded a passenger and $900 of Lowes including 5′ pvc, and a Kohler pedestal sink. Perfect for what I expected and currently need. But I came out of the building later and stared at that nasty rear end and knew when it came time to replace it, unless there is a sport model with the Civic turbo, I’d go for a Mazda3. I wondered when it was ordered and the Civic hatchbacks were about to come out if I’d screwed up. Then I saw the Civic and knew otherwise. It is too annoyingly ugly for me to consider. The Fit is bad, but not as bad as the Civic. Nice story.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yeah, I considered a Fit EX. I’m amazed you found one with a manual to begin with – I had to drive 20 miles to a Honda dealer across town just to try one out. And I loved the dorky styling, the space utilization, and the fun of tossing that little thing around. It’s one of those “fun to drive slow” cars.

      But I couldn’t handle the highway road noise.

      It’s a great car, though, as long as you’re not doing lots of freeway work.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I love the form factor of the Fit. A local dealer had a manual, and I test drove it recently. I liked a lot about it, but sheesh, they ^%8$&@ up the gearing on that car big time for US roads.

      Traffic around here runs 75-80 pretty consistently on the highway. I took the manual Fit up to 80 on my test drive, and it was akin to running my old PCX150 scooter flat out. I’m sure the engine can handle it all day long, but it was pretty annoying buzzing along.

      Honda really, really should have spread the ratios out a bit when they went to the 6 speed in the Fit, from the former 5 speed. The car desperately needs about a 500-600 rpm drop at highway speed. This would probably help MPG quite a bit, too. My wife’s Civic EX-T sedan CVT is getting nearly 10% better MPG than your Fit…not that 38 is anything to sneeze at.

      I agree with you that the Fit is easier on the eyes than the new Civic hatch. By far. Also, as you mentioned, the Fit is a total Tardis and can haul a ridiculous amount of stuff. I don’t know how they did it, but the Fit is 50% bigger inside than it is outside. Some kind of space-time shift going on.

      • 0 avatar
        cargogh

        Typically, I drive 48 miles (96 total plus whatever in town) to work each day on curvy country roads. Fit’s fun for that. Once when I had a migraine I drove 55-60 and it yielded 46 mpg on that trip. Normally 39-41. On 2 trips to Louisville and one to FL, I’ve gotten 34 to 37 on interstate. Stupid, stupid gearing, but what it loses in mileage, it makes up for in drone. Not a car for freeway driving in manual guise. I’m always reaching down to shift into 7th.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Does the Honda at least have volume controls on the steering wheel? I usually use those while driving (though mine’s an ’09).

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      There is a volume controller there, but it’s a dreadful slider that doesn’t always produce the desired results.

      https://i.ytimg.com/vi/Nu968EjiB_Y/maxresdefault.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Were you able to use the voice-recognition system, Tim?

        I did pretty extensive test driving in a Fit EX, and a Civic EX and LX, and I couldn’t get the voice activated phone system to work in any of them.

        I ended up preferring the LX, just to get real buttons and knobs on the radio.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      Yes. We have ’14 and ’16 Civics, and are apparently in the minority of folks who really aren’t bothered all that much by the lack of a physical volume knob on the head unit. You end up using the steering wheel controls 90% of the time whether you have a knob or not.

      Volume is easily and conveniently adjusted using the very intuitive control on the left side of the steering wheel of the ’14. The ’16 adds a little slider bar, which takes a week or so to get used to, but works just fine once you acclimate to it. I can see how it would be annoying, as is anything new control-wise, until you get used to it. But you do get used to it pretty easily…at least we did.

      In my opinion, the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the lack of knob and slider bar are way overblown.

      Sure, I’d take a volume knob if they added it. But it really isn’t a major deal after you’ve had the car for more than a couple of weeks. Maybe if you were renting the car, sure.

  • avatar
    syncro87

    Captain Obvious post here. Thank you for comparing these two cars. I think using cars that both had auto or manual transmissions would have been considerably more useful.

    I would really like to see a head to head of a Mazda3 sedan with a manual vs. a Civic EX-T sedan with a manual.

    In this comparo, the Honda chosen is the worst looking variant of Civic with the least interesting transmission. The Mazda is arguably the most attractive version of the 3, with the most interesting transmission. The Honda is at a natural and significant disadvantage before the comparo even begins.

    Yeah, I sound like a whiny Honda fan, and that’s not really my intent. I just think the models chosen here don’t really do the comparison a whole lot of justice, i.e. the deck seems skewed a bit. No doubt the 3 is an excellent car.

    Anyway, I thoroughly enjoy TTAC and check in regularly. Keep up the solid work. The forum posters here also seem to be generally more rational and interesting than the average I see elsewhere, with more intelligent commentary.

    Oh, speaking of the Civic hatch’s looks. My Lord, the thing is bizarre. We like our ’16 sedan so much that I was looking forward to trading our ’14 Civic in on a new manual turbo hatch. I generally don’t give much concern to vehicle aesthetics, but man, this thing is rough. On paper, close to my ideal car and a no brainer purchase. But having seen the thing in the flesh, my purchase motivation has gone way down. It’s just plain ugly, and way overdone. The funky hex inserts in the bumpers look like something from NORAD early warning. I don’t know if I can pull the trigger.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Yes, in a perfect world having two cars with similar trim and the same transmission type would be preferable.

    But this comparison was sufficient to make a potential shopper to go out and try a Civic MT, then compare it to a Mazda3 MT if desired.

    The transmission will not change the fact that the Civic is a more practical car with appallingly large and appallingly fake air intakes and air outlets.

  • avatar
    shaker

    “…appallingly large and appallingly fake air intakes and air outlets.”

    They would look better if you knocked them out and replaced them with chicken wire.

    But, if you absolutely MUST have one, I’d bet that white (or lighter colors) will start piling up on dealer lots – the guys will turn up their noses at the “stormtrooper helmet” look, and the girls will say: “Me want HR-V” :-)

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      For a man of your erudition and professional standing you’re paying entirely too much attention to goofy little crampy cars.

      I only point this out because I care.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I had a dream last night that I was driving a Chrysler 300 instead of my Volt – maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me to give up on my efficiency crusade and simply luxuriate in my last few years on Earth.

        Which brings the argument that the Baby Boomers have just begun their drain on society.

        Upbeat: Our 401k plans, SS and Medicare should provide sufficient funding for the upcoming wars – but I submit that Trump voters should pony up first.

        • 0 avatar
          OldManPants

          “maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me…”

          Or maybe you saw a scary thug and your subconscious is just performing its role as the World’s Most Awesome Props Master as it rehashes your day’s events.

          Upbeat: Never lose faith in that final rush of endorphins. It’ll make everything OK and requires nothing supernatural to explain or predict it.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            “Never lose faith in that final rush of endorphins”

            Ha Ha – Now THAT’S upbeat!

            I’m still playing the ‘follow the bouncing liver’ song – I drink until it hurts.


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