2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3 [Video]

Can Honda reclaim the crown as king of the front-wheel drive sport compact segment?

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3 [Video]

Unlike the Honda Civic Si’s dominance of the sport compact scene during the ‘80s and ‘90s, these days the more powerful and aggressively styled MazdaSpeed3 rules the front-drive roost (and the VW Golf GTI isn’t far behind). But with the introduction of the all-new 2012 Civic Si, Honda has a golden opportunity to strike back and reclaim the title as king of the FWD pocket rockets. To find out if Soichiro Honda would be grinning from ear to ear or frowning in disapproval, we brought the 9th generation Civic Si and the MazdaSpeed3 to Toronto Motorsports Park for a knockdown, drag ‘em out, head-to-head shootout where the only things that matter are acceleration, braking, and grip.



2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe 1. 201-hp and 170 lb-ft out of its new 2.4L engine2. 22% more torque 800 rpm sooner 3. MSRP starting at $22,205

2012 MazdaSpeed3

1. 263-hp and 280 lb-ft out of its turbocharged 2.3L engine

2. MazdaSpeed suspension tuned at Laguna Seca and the Nurburgring

3. MSRP starting at $23,700

With a whopping $5 between the two on price (our Civic Si coupe came equipped with the optional Navigation package and thus lists at $23,705 versus the Mazdaspeed3 at $23,700), your credit limit isn’t going to be the deciding factor here. Where these two front-drive performance cars differ the most is under the hood – the MazdaSpeed3 uses a 2.3-liter direct injection turbocharged engine to produce 263-hp at 5500 rpm and a stump-pulling 280 lb-ft at 3000 rpm, while the Civic Si generates 201-hp at 7000 rpm and 170 lb-ft at 4300 rpm thanks to its naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine.

Although it may seem like Honda brought a knife to a gunfight given the horsepower and torque gap between it and the Mazda, in a world controlled by the laws of physics mass is also an important variable. With the Civic tipping the scales at a relatively svelte 2,877 lbs and the surprisingly hefty MS3 weighing in at 3,272 lbs, the playing field should be at least somewhat leveled, especially when you consider that weight not only affects acceleration but also braking and handling.

In terms of slowing all that mass down, getting it around corners, and putting power to the ground, there’s less to differentiate these two machines. Both use 6-speed manual transmissions, gear-type limited slip differentials, and MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension layouts. Both also come equipped with upgraded braking systems and the usual stability and traction control systems (which we turned off during track testing since these always result in slower and less consistent lap times in dry conditions).

Get the Flash Player to see this player.


2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and as I launch the new Civic Si coupe down the 1,500-ft long front straightaway at Toronto Motorsports Park, the extra torque of the 2.4-liter engine is immediately apparent, as is the 7,200-rpm fuel cutoff. An Si-badged Civic that doesn’t rev to 8000-rpm and scream like a banshee while doing it? Hmm. This will take some getting used to.

After a 4-3 downshift and a brief but determined stamp on the brake pedal, I pitch the car into the long right-hand Turn 1 at close to 90 mph. The Si’s initial response is a startling amount of body roll followed by a healthy dose of understeer. But hey, just about every production vehicle has some turn-in understeer designed into it as a safety precaution, and once the Si’s stiff chassis takes a set the front tires begin to find some grip. I’m back to full throttle as the inside tire clips the red-and-white curbing and that’s when the superb helical limited slip differential helps pull the Si out of what initially felt like a failed experiment in weight transfer and suspension tuning.

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

The MazdaSpeed3, by contrast, feels far more eager to turn into a corner and carve a parabolic arc that simultaneous induces a grin and preserves momentum. Body roll feels absent compared to the Honda, and the MS3 even exhibits a willingness to forego understeer in favor of a touch of trail braking-induced oversteer, especially through the tight and twisty esses of Turns 4 and 5.

And the power, oh the glorious turbocharged power! Although it runs out of steam rather suddenly around 6000 rpm, the 3000 rpm leading up to it deliver an “in your face, VTEC!” kick in the pants. The Torsen limited slip differential does a surprisingly good job of directing the gobs of torque to the wheel with the best chance of not converting all that energy into tire smoke, and although torque steer is an annoyance when punching the gas at cruising speeds, out on the racetrack it’s virtually undetectable.


Having equipped both cars with a Vbox data acquisition system (which uses both GPS and accelerometer data to record lap times as well as other useful bits of information like longitudinal and lateral g-forces, yaw rate and vehicle speed), lets forget the seat-of-the-pants stuff for a minute and take a good hard look at the numbers.

2012 Honda Civic Si 2012 MazdaSpeed3
Best Lap Time 1:28.5 1:26.4
Top Speed (front straight) 94.45 mph 100.03 mph
Max cornering g-force 1.02g 1.08g
Max braking g-force -0.89g -0.96g

Numerically that’s a pretty solid smackdown in favor of the Mazda, but lets take a closer look at the data to see where that 2.1-second lap time differential really comes from. Breaking the circuit down into 3 equal length segments – from the start/finish line halfway down the front straight to Turn 3 as Segment 1, Turn 3 to just before the Turn 7 chicane as Segment 2, and then Turn 7 through to the start/finish line as segment 3 – will help us sort things out in finer detail.

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

The first segment is all about power and threshold braking since Turn 1 and Turn 2 are preceded by long straights, though Turn 1 does test a car’s turn-in response, mid-corner balance, and power-on corner exit ability very nicely too. As you can see from the close-up of the speed (black line for the MS3, blue line for the Si) and lateral or cornering g-force (green line for the MS3, red line for the Si) data traces for this segment, the MazdaSpeed3 does pull away at the end of each straightaway, but the Civic Si does a very good job of accelerating out of Turn 1 despite carrying a little less speed through it. As a result the MS3 is only 2 mph faster down the back straight going into Turn 2, where once again the Mazda manages to carry a bit more speed and slightly higher cornering g’s through the turn. Still, the Mazda is only 0.3-seconds quicker than the Honda through this segment.

In the second segment, from Turn 3 to Turn 7a and b (a virtually irrelevant chicane near the end of the middle straightaway that you can straight-line through just before braking hard for the tight left-hand Turn 8), the acceleration advantage of the MazdaSpeed3 is more apparent. With an extra 110 lb-ft of torque, the MS3 really jumps out of slower sections like the esses (turns 4 and 5) and Turn 6 (onto the middle straight). The Honda hangs tough in the corners, where speeds and lateral g-forces are very close to the Mazda’s, but thanks to all those torques the MS3 pulls a 0.8-second gap over the Civic Si here.

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

In the final segment, from Turn 7 to the start/finish line, we again see the MazdaSpeed3 demonstrating its power advantage, especially coming out of the last corner onto the front straight. Surprisingly (given its soft suspension), it’s the Civic Si that carries the higher cornering speeds though Turns 8, 10 and 11. Had our Si test mule been equipped with the optional Michelin summer tires, the Mazda’s cornering advantage elsewhere on the track might have been completely negated as well, but as it stands the Mazda was able to get on the power much sooner coming out of the final corner onto the long front straight, translating to a 1-second advantage in this segment of the track.


To put the Mazda’s speed advantage into context, when it crosses the finish line the Honda is 227-feet behind. That’s a lot of feet, but what the data doesn’t tell you is how these cars feel when pushed to the limit. And lets face it, for most buyers it’s that sporty car feel that matters most, since very few will ever venture out onto a racetrack.

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

It’s in the feel department where the Honda is a bit of an enigma. Although the data shows that it gets through the corners almost as quickly as the Mazda, because of excessive body roll and a softly tuned suspension, the Civic Si feels like the heavier machine despite being almost 400 lbs lighter.

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3

And then there’s the Si’s engine. Sure, it’s efficient and impressively powerful for a naturally aspirated 4-banger, but it’s no screamer either. Honda used to brag about meeting or exceeding the 100-hp/L mark with its performance-oriented models (the ’99-’00 Civic SiR making 160-hp out of 1.6-liters, for example), so 201-hp out of 2.4-liters simply doesn’t live up to the company’s standards, nor will it cut it against more powerful machines like the MazdaSpeed3.

Now, if Honda had the vision to give the Civic Si 240-hp – hitting that magical 100-hp/L mark – all of a sudden the Mazdspeed3’s power-to-weight advantage (12.44 lbs per horsepower compared to the Si’s 14.31 lbs per horsepower) would be flipped in favor of the Honda. And as an added bonus, this 240-hp mark would no doubt be reached in part by allowing the engine to rev more, giving the Si some of its boy-racer character back. Tighten up the suspension tuning and there’d be a lot less talk about the Si’s cheap interior plastics or cluttered instrument panel.

Meanwhile, Mazda has lived up to its “Zoom Zoom” credo by tuning the MazdaSpeed3 in a way that makes it feel athletic and rowdy. It’s the kind of fun a sport compact car should be – boldly styled yet very practical in its 5-door hatchback configuration, suspension tuning that encourages you to terrorize on-ramps and twisty country roads, and an engine that delivers power in a way that makes it feel faster than it really is (and it’s plenty fast).

The only flaw in the Mazdaspeed3’s otherwise compelling mix of performance and practicality is the lack of feedback from the brake pedal. When stomping hard on the binders out on the race track, the slow pedal has a decidedly wooden feel to it, though Mazda claims they’ve improved braking feel compared to the 2010 model (in which case it’s brake pedal must have felt like petrified wood).

2012 Honda Civic Si vs. 2012 MazdaSpeed3 Track


So the MazdaSpeed3 wins around the racetrack and in the fun-to-drive category too. I’ll take mine in the same pearl white color as the test mule, at least until Honda reconnects with it’s go-fast heritage and turns their last remaining performance model into the 100-hp/L screamer it should be.

Related Reading 2012 Honda Civic Si Review [Video] 2011 MazdaSpeed3 Review 2012 Volkswagen GTI: First Drive

2012 Honda Civic Si

2012 MazdaSpeed3

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked