The new Mazda3 is here with a new trick up its sleeve: AWD, but is that enough to make it the best in the class? We brought out the 2019 Honda Civic to see if the new Mazda can topple the best compact on the market. The Civic has been recognized as one of the best all-around compact cars thanks to its abundance of space, excellent fuel mileage, and fun driving dynamics. How will Mazda’s new hatchback fare against the best in the biz?
2019 Honda Civic vs Mazda3
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Honda Civic Still Impresses
Although we’ve had a few years to warm up to the Civic’s new styling, it’s still somewhat controversial — many editors at the AutoGuide.com office still think it’s ugly, especially the hatchback model.
This hatchback is powered by the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. It’s a very lively engine with a limited amount of turbo lag, which is minimized further by a smart continuously variable transmission. It can quickly spike the revs into the powerband for extra thrust, and then just as quickly calms things down for improved fuel economy. The powertrain is good for 34 mpg combined, which is a good chunk more than the Mazda3. Then again, the Civic doesn’t have all-wheel-drive.
On the road, the Civic is surprisingly fun to drive, even next to the always stellar Mazda3. While the Mazda features slightly heavier steering, the Civic is a bit lighter in total, letting the Honda feel agile and fun. If anything, it lacks feedback and can feel a bit digital, but the compact hatch certainly feels fun to drive on some windy roads.
Admittedly, the Civic is louder than the Mazda3 and can feel less refined as well. Road noise, wind noise, and engine noise are more prevalent in the Civic than the 3. But there are plenty of modern conveniences and technologies in the Honda. There is adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, and forward collision warning. Less useful is the lane-watch system, which displays an image of what’s happening in the car’s right blind spot on the main display. We think traditional blindspot monitoring is much more useful.
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Inside, Honda has thrown everything into the Civic, and the result is less than elegant. The interior is a mess of design compared to the Mazda. There are a bunch of buttons splayed all over the place intermingled with layers of panels and trim pieces. Honda should watch some documentaries on minimalism because the dashboard needs some paring down and simplification. At least the Civic features an easy-to-use touchscreen. It’s not as sleek as the unit in the Accord, but it gets the job done. It also has support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Then again, if Honda is about throwing everything into a car, the Civic has the space to accommodate it. There’s so much more room for passengers and cargo in the Civic, much more than the Mazda3. There are five more cubic feet of storage and the rear seats are more comfortable for adults with an inch more head and legroom compared to the 3.
We’re up to speed with the Civic now, but the price is the last part of the puzzle. As equipped, we see Honda asking just over $27,000 for the Civic, which makes it seem like a bargain compared to the Mazda.
How the Mazda3 Fares
With its sleek interior and exterior design, the new 2019 Mazda3 leaves a very good first impression that seems worth the $30,000 asking price. The body lacks aggressive design lines and looks a little odd at first since it has no shoulder or hip definition at the rear, but it certainly looks more cohesive than the Civic and its wild angles.
Then when you step inside the Mazda3, you’re greeted with an elegant interior. It’s beautiful, comparable not to Honda and Toyota, but to the standard of luxury brands like Acura and Lexus. There’s a new steering wheel design as well, with tactile buttons and rocker switches. The infotainment screen is a thin rectangular, non-touch affair. Instead, it’s controlled by a large rotary knob by the gear selector. While this system also has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, it seems rudimentary, using up a fraction of the screen rather than the whole thing.
Fortunately, the interior is full of ways to impress. There’s a real head-up display on offer, not one of those units with a flimsy plastic screen, and Mazda also features a flashy digital central screen in the cluster as well. The vehicle looks more mature, refined and premium when compared to the Civic, but are those the important factors when buying a compact hatchback?
Interior space and comfort is likely more important to many drivers, and the Mazda falls short here. The rear seats are cramped, not just in legroom but headroom as well. It doesn’t seem like an appropriate space for an adult, as our heads were touching the roof and our knees were against the front seatbacks.
Perhaps the addition of an all-wheel drivetrain has led to a compromise in space. All four wheels are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired to a six-speed automatic and is rated to earn 27 mpg combined. It’s a good chunk less efficient compared to the Honda, but it has twice the drive wheels, and some extra weight to deal with thanks to that AWD system.
That all-wheel-drive system isn’t some reactive slip-and-grip system, either, it’s always on, and always varying the power delivery between the front and rear wheels. Combined with the brand’s G-Vectoring Control Plus system, the Mazda has excellent grip and feels confident and sure-footed on the road.
Where the Civic can feel a bit too light at times, the Mazda feels planted and hefty. In the past, Mazda would feature the most engaging and fun to drive experience, but here, the difference between the 3 and the Civic is not so clear cut. The Mazda3 has a more solid feel, and the lack of a turbo or CVT means that it’s more natural feeling, but that’s about it. The Civic feels more lively and playful, while the Mazda3 feels more robust and buttoned down.
ALSO SEE: Top 5 Best AWD Hatchbacks: 2019
The Verdict: 2019 Honda Civic vs Mazda3
Choosing between the two driving styles depends on the buyer, but when it comes to the price, fuel economy and space, the advantages sway more to the Honda Civic. The Mazda3 is a good choice, especially if AWD is a must and you’re looking for a more premium interior, but the Civic has just about everything else in its favor — it’s more practical, affordable, and the driving dynamics are just as good. It’s just the better overall package.