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car review
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The 2023 Mazda3 hatchback and 2023 Honda Civic Hatchback faceoff.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mazda. I learned to drive on one. And besides, what gearhead wouldn’t appreciate the company that gave us the Miata and “Zoom-Zoom?” But still: Is the Mazda3, now in its fifth model year, competition for the newer Civic? The Civic far outsells the Mazda3, but in the past four years, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) voted the Mazda3 Best Small Car three times and overall Canadian Car of the Year twice. The Civic won once on each count. I booked one of each and set to find out.

Both are represented here by their hatchback versions, though sedans are available at lower starting prices. A two-litre, four-cylinder is the base engine for each, but our test samples featured more powerful engines – a 180-horsepower, 1.5-litre turbo from Honda, and a 191-horsepower, 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine from Mazda. Both offer a six-speed manual on some trims, but while the Mazda’s optional automatic is a traditional six-speed, Honda goes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Unlike the Honda, the Mazda also offers an all-wheel-drive option, or a 250-horsepower all-wheel-drive turbo.

When it comes to pricing, our first thought is: “What was Honda thinking?” While the Mazda hatchback starts at $22,900, the Civic hatchback pricing opens at $30,130. Our test Mazda3 was a mid-trim GT with the 2.5-litre engine for $31,700. The Honda test unit tops out at $37,130 with either transmission – but still front-wheel drive, and with 70 fewer horsepower than a $37,400 all-wheel-drive Mazda with turbo.

Tech specs

2023 Honda Civic Hatchback

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Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price/as tested: $30,130/$37,130 plus $1,963.50 for freight, predelivery inspection and mandatory government fees, plus all taxes.
  • Engines: 2.0-litre, 158-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder; 1.5-litre, 180-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual or CVT automatic/front-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 2.0-litre, six-speed manual: 9.1 city/6.6 highway; 2.0-litre CVT: 8 city/6.2 highway; 1.5 turbo, six-speed manual: 8.5 city/6.3 highway; 1.5 turbo CVT: 7.7 city/6.3 highway

2023 Mazda3 Hatchback

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Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price/as tested: $22,900/$31,700 plus $1,928.50 for freight, predelivery inspection and mandatory government fees, plus all taxes.
  • Engines: Two-litre, 155-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder; 2.5-litre, 191-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder; 2.5-litre, 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic/front- or all-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 2.0-litre, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive: 9.1 city/6.6 highway; 2.0-litre six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive: 8.0 city/6.2 highway; 2.5-litre, six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive: 7.7 city/6.3 highway; 2.5-litre turbo automatic, all-wheel drive: 10.1 city/7.5 highway
  • Alternatives: Kia Forte5, Mini Clubman, Subaru Impreza Sport, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Volkswagen Golf GTI


We like the new Civic sedan’s restrained elegance, but although the hatchback has shed its former boy-racer styling cues, its docked tail looks like an afterthought. The Mazda hatchback shares virtually no sheet-metal with its sedan, and its subtly sleek surfacing makes a bold statement.


Rear-seat passengers will prefer the Civic. The Mazda has less leg and shoulder room and its rising rear beltline and broad rear pillars make it feel claustrophobic compared with the Honda.

The driver also enjoys much better all-round sightlines in the Civic and a better range of seat adjustment if you like to sit high. However, only the Mazda has lumbar adjustment, and, not for the first time, I found the Civic’s under-thigh padding unusually nagging (in most vehicles, my body type wants more thigh support, not less).

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The Civic’s dashboard is highly functional, although its free-standing screen and door-to-door mesh grille may not suit all tastes.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

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The Mazda’s cockpit combines a premium ambience and low-slung driving position, but secondary controls are not as user-friendly as the Civic’s.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Both cockpits are nicely furnished, but the Honda seems more modern with its free-standing, user-friendly touch screen, digital gauge cluster and straightforward, accessible climate controls. The Mazda’s traditional gauges are well presented and the screen is less in-your-face, but some of the traditional knobs are less accessible. As well, its screen interface – a twist/toggle/tap controller on the centre-console – is clunky and slower to use than the Honda’s touch screen.

Kudos to Mazda, though, for side-by-side cupholders that avoid disputes when driver and passenger each have a beverage.


This is where I take issue with fellow auto writers who gush over the Mazda3′s handling. Yes, the Mazda corners securely, without lurch or lean or excessive understeer. Its light, linear steering makes it easy for aunt Gertrude to drive smoothly. But where’s the old zoom-zoom? Gone are the eager steering response and feedback from the road that enthusiasts value.

Admittedly, the Mazda test car was on winter tires, but so was the Civic – Michelins in both cases. Tellingly, though, the Civic’s tires are a more aggressive specification. With a chassis tuned to match, the Honda rewards gearheads with sharp on-centre steering responses and a solid, connected feel. And if the Honda’s ride is a little harder – well, it’s what a good sporting ride should be.

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Who needs a digital cluster when the Mazda3's analogue dials are this clear and attractive?Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

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A digital gauge cluster is standard on the Civic, but mimics a traditional analogue set-up,Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Acceleration? Independent data are scarce for the Mazda, but we’d expect the manual to be a little quicker at the track than a manual Honda’s zero-to-60 miles an hour in about 7.3 seconds, per Car and Driver magazine.

Our subjective impressions on the day were skewed by mismatched transmissions – manual on the Mazda test unit, CVT on the Honda. But we’re familiar with both versions of their transmissions, and expect most drivers will prefer the Mazda’s light and smooth if somewhat remote manual shift action, versus the Honda’s more direct but rather stiff and notchy one.

Between the automatics, the Honda’s CVT enables better real-world performance while disguising its jerkiness fairly well, but we still prefer the feel of a traditional autobox like the Mazda’s optional six-speed.


Both offer similarly advanced suites of driver-assist systems, in the Mazda’s case starting with the GX trim ($25,100). Unusually, there is adaptive cruise control with the manual transmission, too, though without the low-speed follow function (Honda) or stop-and-go (Mazda) included on their respective automatics. Traffic Jam Assist is standard on all Civic trims (automatics only), and the Mazda adds it at the GT trim level, along with rear cross-traffic monitoring and braking; the Honda offers rear cross-traffic monitoring only on the top trim, and without braking. Navigation and a Bose 12-speaker audio join the Mazda3 at the GT level ($31,700) but require the top Sport Touring trim ($37,130) on the Honda.

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The Mazda has actual climate controls but they’re not as visible or accessible as the Honda’s.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

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Only the Civic offers a factory-installed wireless charging pad (it’s a dealer accessory with Mazda); it’s in the space where the Mazda has side-by-side cupholders.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail


Mazda’s 569-litre seats-up cargo space is regular in shape, while the Honda’s volume expands into all available interior nooks and crannies to achieve 693 litres. The Civic has a larger hatch opening, too, plus a retractable fabric cargo cover that pulls out from the side, so no worries where to stash a rigid cover when you need it out of the way.

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Honda cites a seats-up cargo volume of 693 litres in the Civic.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The verdict

Over the broadest spectrum of driver needs and wants, the Civic is the better car. That said, your tastes may favour the Mazda’s refinement and premium feel – not to mention available all-wheel drive – over the Civic’s blend of sportiness and practicality. Or you could conclude you can’t go wrong with either, and buy the one that will cost you less – the Mazda by far.

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