2016 Mazda3 vs Honda Civic

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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.

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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