2016 Mazda3 vs Honda Civic

40

The Mazda3 has always been one of our top picks in the compact car segment for its style and focus on fun driving. In fact, in 2014, the Mazda won our Car of the Year Award for these and many other reasons.

But a new Honda Civic is here, and has been crowned as the new AutoGuide.com Car of the Year for 2016. Can the Mazda still hold its own against a newer car that is getting rave reviews? We brought back the former champ to take on the new king to see how it fares.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Which Car has the Better Style?

Side by side, the Mazda still looks great after all these years. The design has aged well, and although this Civic looks ways better than the one that came before it, its style continues to be divisive. But the Civic looks like a more mature car, which turned out to be a recurring theme during our evaluations. Still, style is a matter of opinion.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Review

Inside, both interiors are premium-feeling, comfortable, well-built and tidy. Nothing in either interior is confusing, offensive or feels cheap. The Mazda has some nice little details like red contrast stitching, swankier-looking leather and a better tactile experience with great switchgear, real buttons and a volume knob. The Civic has fewer buttons and no volume knob, but that also makes it a bit less user friendly.

2016 Mazda3-18

I like the Civic’s fully digital gauge cluster and prefer its user-friendly infotainment setup. The touchscreen is responsive and the menus are easy enough to navigate. Combined with the digital screen inside the gauge cluster, all the important information is always where you need it and you can customize the setup to show exactly what information you want.

The Mazda has a touchscreen and a rotary dial knob that works like a joystick, but it doesn’t lay out all the options on one screen, and instead has you scroll through the menus to find when you’re looking for. The Mazda’s system has too much scrolling and menus, which makes it more distracting and less user-friendly.

2016 Honda Civic-10

One Has Features than the Other

The Civic leads in the features arena as well with its well-priced and upscale features: Wireless Qi phone charging, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and that great LaneWatch camera that eliminates the passenger side blind spot are all features the Civic has that the Mazda doesn’t.

The Mazda does have blind spot monitoring and a head-up display, but the setup looks cheap and didn’t prove to be that useful.

The Civic also had more headroom and leg room for both the driver and the passenger, and has a trunk that is much larger, making it more practical.

2016 Honda Civic-1

Here’s How the Drive Went Down

We have always loved the Mazda3 and many other Mazda products for their driving dynamics. Mazda just gets drivers and, even in a budget compact car, is able to deliver an engaging drive. You can feel a little bit of Miata in every car Mazda makes, and the 3 is no exception. The steering is one of the highlights: responsive, tight and perfectly weighted, the Mazda3’s steering hits all the right notes, which is remarkable for a car in this segment. Mazda also offers paddle shifters with its six-speed transmission, something the Honda doesn’t.

Although the Mazda’s bigger 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 184 makes more power than the Civic’s 1.5-liter turbo four’s 174 hp, the turbo really makes the Civic feel like it has more low-end grunt and passing power. The Mazda still feels a bit gruff and the engine and transmission aren’t as smooth as the Civic’s. Yes, the Civic has a CVT, but it is one of the best CVTs I’ve tested. I forget that I’m even driving a CVT car in the Civic. It’s that good. It’s shockingly responsive and doesn’t exhibit any of that rubber band feeling you get in so many other CVTs.

Compare Specs

2016 Honda Civic
vs
2016 Mazda3
Vehicle 2016 Honda Civic Advantage 2016 Mazda3
Engine 1.5L turbo four-cylinder - 2.5L four-cylinder
Horsepower 174 HP Mazda 184 HP
Torque 162 lb-ft Mazda 185 lb-ft
Transmission CVT - Six-speed automatic
Curb Weight 2,923 lbs Civic 3,049 lbs
Cargo volume 14.7 cu-ft Civic 12.6 cu-ft
US Starting price $18,640 Mazda $17,845
US Price as-tested $26,500 Mazda $25,495
CAN Starting Price $15,990 Mazda $15,550
CAN Price as-tested $27,335 Mazda $25,350
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG)31 city, 42 highway Civic 29 city, 40 highway
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km) 7.6 city, 6.7 highway Civic 8.4 city, 6.1 highway

The Honda doesn’t feel as connected and engaging as the Mazda, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally numb, either. It is the most athletic (non Si) Civic we’ve seen in a while, and although it doesn’t feel as sporty, the way it drives is predictable and confidence inspiring. The Honda also feels a bit more responsive than the Mazda, with the 3 holding its gears for a bit too long and seeming to need a second to kick down when more power is needed.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Nissan Sentra Review

And although the Honda has a turbo, it can run on regular-grade gas, so its better fuel economy numbers go even further to save you money at the pumps. On an identical run that included mixed city and interstate driving, we averaged 28.7 mpg in the Mazda and 36.2 mpg in the Civic, which is a huge difference. The CVT and smaller engine are to thank, but also the Civic’s lighter weight.

2016 Mazda3-10

The Refinement

One of the first things you notice after driving both cars back to back is how much more refined the Civic feels. It drives smoother, it is a lot quieter inside, and it absorbs rough roads with much more grace. The Mazda, on the other hand, feels a bit rougher around the edges, and although it feels so much more connected to the road, comfort matters to a lot more people than performance.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Honda Civic Review

I chauffeured around a lot of people with the Civic, and one thing all my passengers said was “This is a Civic?” My passengers were all shocked by how luxurious and mature the Civic looked and felt. If I told them it was an Accord, they wouldn’t have known the difference. And this is one of the biggest reasons the Civic comes out on top. It feels like it’s a class above the Mazda3, which is saying a lot because the Mazda is still one of the best in its segment for this.

The Verdict:  2016 Mazda3 vs Honda Civic

2016 Mazda3 vs Honda Civic37

If driving pleasure is what matters to you the most, get the Mazda3. Its engaging drive and the way it performs and just can’t be beat in its segment. The Mazda3 is also not the obvious choice, so if you like going against the grain, a Mazda will stand out, because I guarantee that you will see Civics everywhere.

But for everything else, the Honda Civic is the better all-around car. The Civic is a bit more expensive than the Mazda, but you get more features, better fuel economy, it’s more practical, and just feels more mature and refined, which really justifies the price premium.

Discuss this story on our Honda Civic or Mazda3 Forum

2016 Honda Civic

2016 Mazda3

  • R Ames

    What’s happening at Honda? They just keep getting fuglier and fuglier.

  • Li Tempo

    The new Mazda 3 looks better and is slightly bigger than previous generations. Almost as big as the Mazda 6.

  • Shiratori1

    That’s your opinion.

  • Mark S

    The Civic is a great step forward, especially the engine. I am baffled by the low Mazda MPG, we have the 2.5l and never seen it below 30 MPG no matter how spirited the drive.

  • Nathaniel Ehinger

    Nice cars. I could have made a drinking game out of the word “really” in the video. There were times when the three levels of a word(ie high, higher, highest) were missed and the constant incorrect pronunciation of Mazda was disturbing.

  • Mark S

    Is it Mazda or Maaaaazda?

  • krusshall

    “The Mazda does have blind spot monitoring and a head-up display, but the setup looks cheap and didn’t prove to be that useful.”

    Here’s how the author can “disqualify” features on the Mazda – by saying “looks cheap and didn’t prove to be that useful”. How is blind spot monitoring not useful? How is not having to look at your gauges not useful? And how do you make a light that comes on in the side mirrors and digital numbers projected on the windshield look expensive?

  • Jodi Lai

    Hey there! We were referring to the HUD, it is so close to the gauges and not far enough in the distance to be useful. The blind spot monitoring is DEFINITELY very useful.

  • R Ames

    Oh.

  • car

    Wow how can you criticize better handling car like Mazda 3 S for being less comfortable and less refined with pathholes, yes of course because it takes turns, changes lanes, breakes, and steers better and …much more refined , instead of rolling around more, leaning and squatting more the way Civic or any Honda comparing to modern Mazda’s will do…. My hatchback 3s has over 20 qubic ft of trunk and Civic does not offer hatch yet.

    So yes for those looking for softer less direct car Civic may “drive” just that, more cushy, softer , hey for a so fee car it may be well balanced . To me Mazda’s ride is not harsh, steering and handling is just perfect for very confidence inspiring and relaxing and comfortable drive….something that sofer Civic will not do. Also Mazda’s BMW like but more intuitive joystick control knob allows few months of getting use to but once you will memorize it will be far less obstructive than HOndas touch screen that makes you take your eyes and hand away from road and steering wheels and lean to less that perfect driving position….again Mazda is more driver oriented.

    How can you praise Honda for “best” of the worst auto tannies… it’s like polishing a thurd. Why not getting excellent 8 speed they have in ILX 🙂 o well it would undercut political agenda of Honda and Acura in North American market…. In North America Honda keeps its best to Acura not Honda while Mazda does not have to as they do not have premium brand in NA.

    Mazda seems like a pure drivers choice and greatly balanced and rounded product, while Honda seems far more edgy, pseudo high tech picking CVT because it is cheaper not better, and more apliance like in its never ending chase of sales numbers from Toyota (less engaging product line in the market)…

    You pick for yourself.

  • Mark S

    I think they agree the Mazda 3 is the better drivers car, but the new Civic hits a few more check boxes than before. I think Ford, VW etc. may for once have a competitor in the new Honda Si when it turns up, Honda and Mazda make great manual shifters.

  • car

    New Civic maybe a better choice for the general crowd shopping for an Corrolla like appliance not better driving and performance oriented car… Hey better selling does not mean better.

  • Mark S

    We would all be driving Porsche, Lexus, Mercs etc. is that was case 🙂

    When C/D, MT etc do comparo’s they have to take into account all the levers, but to be fair they often errr towards the better drivers car and damn the appliance car (Mazda, VW, etc. have often beaten Toyota, Honda, KIA etc.). The reviews of the new Civic do not seem to indicate that it has the handling of the Mazda 3, but they have improved in so many other areas (engine and handling to a degree), they are reaching the Nirvana of an appliance that drives well. Hyundai is doing the same, they are trying to improve the handling of their cars – they have the interior, styling etc. long warranty etc.

    That said, if they go too far down the handling route, they could go down the wrong road, have a great handling car with low sales numbers (ATS time!). It is scary to see how BMW has sold more cars (3 series), with poorer handling than before and its competitors, especially the ATS. If the Sports sedan segment is like that, then the compact and midsize segment, has little chance. That said, car makers have created zippy models in each segment, roll on the next evolution of Mazdaspeed, gonna be awesome for car nerds.

  • car

    Not really, Porsche, BMW and Audi are not in Mazda’s price range at all.
    BMW 3 series has been handling benchmark for many years and for first time it got out handled , it will make BMW build better 3 series next time . Civic and Honda are cars for wider market so results are softer handling and less driving oriented ergonomics. … Mazda had to take away Mazdaspeed products that are even less profitable to survive in the car market…. it makes me respect them even more for sticking with their current very ambitious formula.

  • Mark S

    BMW went towards luxury as opposed to performance….problem for us that BMW sales are great, so they did the right thing for their business. Sad to see the ATS that gets great handling reviews is not selling well.
    Agree that Mazda sticking to its guns is great. I wished they have brought the 1.5l ND Miata to the US, but I understand their decision.I think a Mazdaspeed is now possible with the turbo’d 2.5l they have done for the CX-9, but they should do not anything to alter the great handling…..if that 2.5l causes crazy torque steer, I think they should leave alone or engineer a way out of it (which most likely means $ time e.g. AWD).

  • car

    Totally agreed, new CX9 may be best paired with their new low weight AWD system, as this torque may cause issues with steering on FWD platform.

  • Kirk Hilles

    I think both are excellent vehicles and I’ve considered both (am trying to hold out till our SUV is paid off). Right now, you have to be aware that Honda has a critical Piston Ring recall that is REALLY scary. I’d wait until 2017 before choosing the Civic if you can wait.
    That being said, I think its a matter of what you value more: a Fun Drive or more Practicality. The Civic will give you more room and more practicality, while the Mazda3 will be a lot more fun. Choose the Mazda3 in manual and you get a 6 speed transmission that comes from the Miata (I believe). Tough trade off, but I bet you could be happy in either one.

  • Shiratori1

    This isn’t biased at all…….

    /s

  • Craig

    Neither one has a CD player. Stupid. Last year in the U.S. alone 140,800,000 CD’s were bought. The CD is not dead. Not yet.

  • ChordieApp

    the mazda3 comes with a CD player as part of the infotainment system.

  • Craig

    Good to hear! Interestingly enough – there is no mention of it on the Mazda website. I had to google image search the dashboard to finally see it.

  • AND YOU ARE THE FUGLIEST BULLSHIT AROUND THE WORLD!

  • R Ames

    Lol. Such mean! So snap! Far tard!

  • Maria

    And every single one of those CDs are stored away in a closet after being ripped to MP3, FLAC, WMA, or ALAC. So, stop trolling about such trivial matters.

  • Craig

    Shut up!

  • Mark S

    Good point though, a lot of folks still want something in their hands, but once they have ripped them to their players, the CD’s go into their collection. Count me as one of them.
    I rarely buy much music though nowadays, but when I do, it seems like the CD’s are a little cheaper or the same price as the MP3, though often the MP3 has a few extra tracks. I maybe over generalizing since as I say, I rarely buy much. Spotify and other apps offer plenty of music and variety, plus there are plenty of podcasts for car nuts.

  • Craig

    Answer this question. Is that CD slot on the dashboard in your way? Does it stop you from making the most of all of the other features?

  • Mark S

    I think when something has become or is becoming obsolete it is time to part ways. It not just a space issue. For example it maybe about most bang for your buck – if that $X on the CD player can be used to for a better head unit, why not. My Fusion has a CD player which I never use, but has no Blue Tooth, so I use some gadget to play podcasts etc. from the iPhone. My FR-S has no CD, but has USB, Bluetooth etc. and not really an expensive car.
    Weirdly we still have cigarette lighters in our cars, even if we do not have the ashtrays (because we use the lighters as chargers), but now with even VW putting USB’s in the car, even the aged old cigarette light power unit could disappear and be replaced.

  • Craig

    It should be obvious to you by now that I WANT THE CD PLAYER. Are you really THAT self-serving? If you personally have no want or desire for something – it should no longer exist? Older people still like CD’s. And older people buy more cars than younger people. In fact – people 75 and older [read that again!] buy more new cars than people between the ages of 18 and 24. SIX TIMES MORE! They also buy more new cars than people between the ages of 25 and 34.

  • Mark S

    I am also an “older person” and I have not only got CD’s, I have cassettes, but I can say I am young enough not to have owned those 8 Track things (but I do remember them). Not “self serving”, what is more that can be reversed and said are you self serving for wanting to keep CD players. Agreed, sad to say, that car sales are skewed towards older people, but that does not mean we (older folks) cannot use new tech. What is more car companies are not in the business of annoying the majority of customers, if they thought CD players are a must, they would keep them. Plus if you really want a CD player, there is the after market (which also helps with cassette players).

  • Craig

    I disagree with everything you said. How is that even possible? Let’s just leave it at that.

  • Mark S

    How is possible that you disagreed with everything I said? Was only trying to shine a light on car makers decisions on CD players, but we can leave it. If you has said something about car makers trying to get rid of manuals, would have hit a chord.

  • jules

    Yeah something fishy with that low Mazda MPG compared to other tests

  • XYR03

    Craig, the mazda 3 has a CD player with a CD slot right below the climate control.

  • windel Vernon

    I like the Mazda’s styling but I agree that it feels like an unfinished sandwich with missing ingredients. The first time I drove a rental, I liked the way it drove but returned it because it was too noisy.

  • slm

    Totally agree – my ’14 Mazda 6 with the same 2.5L in regular mixed commuting gets around 40 – 42 mpg (imp) which I believe is in the range of 35 or 36 mpg (US). Admittedly, this is with a healthy chunk of nice steady-state cruising, but still, for the smaller Mazda 3 to get 30% worse mileage is not even close to logical.

  • AyanaLinval

    My grandma is 84 and prefers her apple tablet, and mp3s, Maybe you just refuse to get with the times?

  • Craig

    I didn’t realize that YOUR granny prefers her apple tablet and mp3s. I now take back everything said.

  • AyanaLinval

    Just sayin’, maybe just don’t pass it off as a “older people buy more cars, and older people like this better, so that’s the way it should be” kind of argument, because that is not going to be true of all older people. If that’s your personal preference, that’s fine, but maybe just be forward with that. It’s comes off as more honest. My grandma was the last of her friends to learn how to use a computer, all of her friends are now on facebook etc. Age is never a reason for stagnation, who we are, and our own personal preferences have far more to do with that than anything.

  • Craig

    Feel better now?!