Car Comparison

2018 Honda Civic vs. 2018 Mazda3: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt August 2018
  • The 2018 Honda Civic and the 2018 Mazda3 are two of the most fun-to-drive cars in their class.

  • Both are available as a sedan or a hatchback, but only the Civic has a coupe variant.

  • Slight differences in pricing, performance and fuel economy can help you decide which car is right for you.

The Honda Civic has been one of the standard-bearers in compact cars for decades, but the Mazda3 has become a very strong competitor over the years. Both cars in their current forms are stylish compacts that are fun to drive and offer some generous technology features.

You have a lot of options when shopping for a compact car and the Civic and the Mazda3 are two of your best options. They both mix style, value and an exciting drive, but there are a few differences that you should know about if they're both on your shopping list. Let's take a look at where these cars shine, where they fall behind and which one is right for you.

Note: We're leaving the high-performance Civic Si and Civic Type-R out of this comparison since those cars are technically their own models and aren't comparable to the Mazda3.

Exterior

There are a lot of attractive compact cars on the market today, but the Civic and the Mazda3 are arguably at the top of the class. The current-generation Honda Civic might be the best-looking incarnation in the car's long history and comes with three distinct body styles. There's a sedan, a sporty coupe and a roomy hatchback. The hatchback might look a bit too much like a Transformer for some drivers, but it certainly stands out and serves up plenty of functionality with a spacious cargo area. All three cars look very modern, with each body style having its own distinct look while all still clearly being Honda Civics.

The Mazda3 is available as a sedan or a hatchback. If you want a compact coupe, you'll have to go with the Civic. The Mazda3 is another great-looking car that wears Mazda's corporate face very well. Its curvy lines and sporty stance give this Mazda a premium look that could be considered a little more grown up compared to the youthful Civic.

Interior

The modern look continues in the interior of both of these cars. The Civic has clear, easy-to-read instrumentation and a good infotainment system. Our only complaint about the infotainment in the Civic is that it has an awkward volume control system. In lieu of a traditional volume knob or buttons, there's a touch-sensitive panel you use to turn the volume of the stereo up and down. The steering wheel audio controls are a little easier to use.

The back seat is pretty roomy in the sedan and the hatchback but a little cramped in the coupe. If you're planning on using the back seat with any regularity, you might want to rule out the coupe. The front seat in all three variants has plenty of room for two adults. There's also plenty of room for stuff, with some clever interior storage like a big cubby between the front seats that's good for phones, tablets or whatever other devices you're bringing along for the drive.

The interior of the Mazda3 is a similar size to that of the Civic. One big difference that might not seem like a big deal is the instrumentation. Both cars have one big central gauge with more information on each side of it. Similarly, the central gauge in both cars is a tachometer with a digital speedometer inside of it. The one in the Civic looks a little cleaner and more modern while the one in the Mazda3 is more analog.

The infotainment screen in the Mazda3 is the same as all other Mazdas, which looks like a tablet attached to the dashboard rather than an integrated screen. One setup isn't necessarily better than the other, so it comes down to driver preference.

The best way to find out which interior is a better fit for you is to spend some time in the driver's seat of both cars.

Mechanicals

The Mazda3 and the Honda Civic are both available with two different inline-four engines. The Mazda's base engine in the Sport trim is the Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter that makes 155 horsepower, 150 lb-ft of torque and returns 31 miles per gallon in combined driving with both the manual and automatic transmission. If you upgrade to the Touring or Grand Touring trims, you also upgrade to the Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine, which makes 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, returning 29 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 30 mpg with the automatic.

The base engine in the Civic is a 2.0-liter iVTEC engine that makes a little more horsepower than the Mazda at 150 hp but falls behind in torque at 138 lb-ft. The optional 1.5-liter turbocharged engine in the Civic makes less power and torque than the 2.5-liter engine in the Mazda3 despite being turbocharged at 175 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque.

When equipped with a CVT transmission, the 2.0-liter engine returns 34 mpg combined while a CVT-equipped turbo engine gets 36 mpg combined. Both engines get at least 40 mpg on the highway, which the Mazda can't match with either of its engines. So, if it's more power and torque you're after, then the Mazda might be for you. But if you want to spend less money at the pump, you should consider the Civic. The fuel economy numbers we've listed here both apply to the sedan variants of both cars and fuel economy takes a small hit in the hatchbacks and the Civic coupe.

Honda traditionally has a reputation for keeping the manual transmission alive in many of its models, but Mazda has a similar reputation. It's worth noting that a manual transmission is available in all three trims of the Mazda3, but only available in the LX, Sport and EX-T trims of the Civic and can't be had on the higher-end models. If you want the most luxurious trim available and you want to shift your own gears, you'll have to go with a Mazda3 Grand Touring.

As for the fun-to-drive factor, the Mazda is heavier than the Honda by a significant 252 pounds, but both cars feel light on their feet and have excellent handling. Some of the most fun you can have with less than 200 hp is with both of these cars, with the Mazda delivering more raw power and torque and the Civic being more flickable thanks to its lighter weight.

Features and Technology

The Mazda3 is an easy car to shop for because of its three simple trims. Both the sedan and the hatchback have the base Sport trim, the midrange Touring and top-end Grand Touring. The trims in the 2018 Honda Civic are a little more complicated and variegated. From the bottom to the top it goes LX, EX, EX-T, EX-L and Touring, and that's just for the sedan. The coupe's lineup has similar trims but has the LX-P trim in the EX's place. Finally, the Civic hatchback comes in LX, Sport, EX, EX-L Navi and Sport Touring. Those somewhat complicated trims in the Civic mean more customizability and more options.

Every 2018 Mazda3 comes standard with the Mazda Connect infotainment system and every 2018 Civic except the base LX trim comes with a Honda Display Audio infotainment system. Both systems are pretty easy to use but one big advantage that the Civic has over the Mazda3 is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Honda Display Audio system comes with both and you can't get either in any Mazda3. This is a big deal if one of those is your go-to for in-car connectivity. Although it doesn't come with those two popular options, the Mazda Connect system does have integrated apps for Pandora and Stitcher internet radio.

Another plus for the Civic is the Honda Sensing suite of safety tech, which includes collision-mitigation braking, road-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. This tech is standard on the Touring and Sport Touring trims of the Civic, but it's an available package on every trim for 2018. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert come with the Touring and Grand Touring trims of the Mazda3, but it can't match the Civic in available safety tech.

Pricing

The Civic and the Mazda3 have very similar starting prices for both the sedan and hatchback variants, but the Honda has a much higher price ceiling for all of its models. This is largely because of what you get with the Honda Sensing technology that comes standard in the top trims of the Civic that you can't get in the Mazda3.

Pricing for the Mazda3 sedan starts at $18,095, which is a decent amount less than the Civic sedan, which starts at $18,940. For the hatchbacks, however, the Civic has the more affordable cost of entry at $20,150 while the five-door Mazda starts at $20,395. The Civic coupe is priced between the sedan and the hatchback starting at $19,350.

The midrange trims are priced pretty similarly and the top trim of the Mazda3 can be had for less than $25,000 for both the sedan and the hatchback. The Civic, however, can go higher in price, with the top trims of the sedan and coupe around the $26,000 mark and the Sport Touring trim of the Civic hatchback starting way up at $28,750.

When similarly equipped, these two compacts are similarly priced, but it's easy for the Honda to get a little pricier when you get into the higher trims with more technology.

Conclusion

In case we haven't already made it obvious, we're big fans of both of these compacts and you really can't go wrong with either of these class leaders. If you're looking for a handsome compact that gives you a premium look without a premium price tag that's also fun to drive, then you should take a closer look at the Mazda3. If you want to get 40 mpg or more on the highway without sacrificing fun, style or modern tech, then the Civic is the car for you.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Honda Civic vs. 2018 Mazda3: Which Is Better? - Autotrader