2017 Honda Civic Sport vs. Mazda3 Touring: JDM Hatchback Comparison

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Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

Return of the hatch: the Honda Civic Sport hatch, to be specific.

For pretty much of the whole span of the 9th generation (2012-2015) Honda Civic, the Mazda3 has been on the top of the compact segment, even besting the Volkswagen Golf. Two years ago when the 10th generation Civic platform made its debut, it shook the entire segment. It seemed that Honda wanted to be back on top with a vengeance. If you remember back in 2011 when the 9th generation Civic debuted, it wasn’t well received by critics. Consumer Reports even put the Civic on their “Not Recommended” list, a first for Honda’s treasured compact.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

Double the hatchbacks, double the fun.

Recently, the stars aligned and the Gods shined down brightly upon us. We were given both the 2017 Honda Civic Sport and the 2017 Mazda3 Touring – both 5-door hatchbacks – for a week of testing. If you caught our video review of the Civic Sport, then you already know how much we loved it. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after the first couple of dates, we slowly started to fall in love and Cupid doesn’t lie.

Like our editor Manuel Carrillo III, I too fell for the Civic Sports sports car secret identity. If you’re just going to putz around in the city, you’re not going to be impressed. It’ll just be another Civic you’re behind the wheel of. It’s not until you grip the steering wheel firmly, drop a gear or two, and start driving it like you stole it. That’s when the Sport will show it’s true identity. It may not be an Si or Type R, but it’s definitely no slouch.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

A Honda 4-banger with torque. Wait, what?

Like the Civic EX-T, and higher trim levels in the coupe and sedan, the Civic Sport hatch comes with the same 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting down 180 horsepower at 6000 RPM and 177 pound-feet or torque at 1900 RPM to the front wheels. Sad to say, but no limited slip differential is available – it’s standard in the Si and the almighty Type R. Both CVT and 6-speed manual gearboxes are available for the Sport trim. We highly recommend going with the DIY option for the added fun factor.

The horsepower and torque figures may not scream POWER, but it’s plenty enough to move the Civic around with its sub-2,900 pound curb weight. The single-scroll turbo doesn’t show its muscles until around 3,000 RPM and power keeps going to around 5,500 and tapers off progressively until the 6,500 RPM redline. The mid-range is where all the usable power is and it makes highway passing a walk in the park. The shifter is classic Honda – easy to operate, and engaging for a front-wheel drive economy car. That said, it is not as silky smooth as older Hondas. Light as a feather, my colleagues and I all wish there was a bit more weight to the clutch pedal.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

Mazda says no turbochargers are needed here…yet.

In the other corner, the Mazda3 Touring sports a SKYACTIV-G 2.5L 4-cylinder engine putting down 185 horsepower at 5700 RPM and 185 pound-feet of torque at 3250 RPM. Like the Civic Sport, it has an open differential for that classic front-wheel drive one-tire fire action. Both cars may have similar numbers when it comes down to horsepower and torque figures, but man do they drive differently. The Civics strength is all located down low to the mid-range in power band whereas the Mazda3 makes best use of it’s 2.5L NA engine from the mid-range all the way to redline. Without the torque you get from having a turbocharger, the Mazda3 just doesn’t have the same punch as the Civic once you give it the beans.

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but I prefer the shifter in the Mazda3 over the Civic Sport. It’s almost ND Miata-like, but with just a tad bit longer throws, which is negligible if I’m being honest. Each shifter was smooth as butter and not a single peep can be heard from gear to gear – delicious silence.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

You can feel the Civic Type R resonating in the bones of the Civic Sport.

If you thought the Civic Sports engine was its trump card, you’d be wrong, it’s the chassis. In this particular trim level, the Sport weighs in a featherlight 2,871 pounds. Let’s face it, the 10th generation Civic is as big as the 6th generation Accord (if not bigger). How Honda managed to keep the weight down we’ll never know, we’re just glad they did it. Reason being is the simple concept that a light car makes for a fast car. Dynamically, every element of this cars performance is accentuated by its lighter figure.

Driving regularly around town and on the highway, the suspension handles all of Southern Californias toughest roads with ease. If you really want to know why there’s a Sport badge on the rear of this Civic, you must take it to your local mountain road to stretch out its legs. It’s there, when you pretend you’re Keiichi Tsuchiya driving on the Gunsai Touge, where all the magic happens. I found myself smiling ridiculously and laughing in amazement.

“If I’m having this much fun in the Sport, what’s the Si and Type R going to be like?”

One of the key points for the Civic Sports fantastic handling is the fact that it’s running 235/40R18 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires. Our sharper-eyed readers will note that’s wider rubber than what came on the 9th gen Si which had 225s. Swap the Contis out for some stickier summer tires, I can only imagine how much more poised the Sport would be in the corners. The car is so composed that it is begging for more tire grip to match, not unlike the 10th gen Civic Si it shares its platform with.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazd3 hatchback comparison review

The Mazda3 is no slouch, either, in fact, it’s a corner-eating monster in disguise.

In comparison to the Civic Sport, the Mazda3 Touring is a bit heavier weighing in at 3,046 pounds, 175 more than its competitor. I know 175 pounds doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but when it comes to performance, every little bit of weight shed counts.

[Editor’s Note: Let the record show that Mazda is the brand who designed the new Miata on the “gram strategy,” which meant removing every gram possible from the car to make it as light as possible. Why we have to lecture Mazda on making it’s cars lighter is truly a mystery. Perhaps the Miata team could trade tasks for a few weeks. Where is our “gram-strategized” Mazda3?]

Despite being heavier than the Civic, the Mazda3s superb handling capabilities make you forget about its weight. Turn-in is precise, giving the driver confidence to go deep into corners. Like the Civic, the Mazda3s chassis feels tight allowing it to take any beating that comes across its way. In normal day-to-day committing the Mazda Touring is just a pleasure to drive. The suspension is just a wee bit softer than the Civic’s making street and highway cruising comfortable, but still capable of a Sunday morning drive in the canyons.

I truly believe the Civic and Mazda are very close in cornering abilities – tires being the deal breaker. First, the Mazda3 Touring comes with 215/45R18 Dunlop SP Sport 5000, which have an extremely low limit when pushed to the edge. Not even pushing terribly hard, the tires will squeal, warning you that they’re about to give up. When they do  fall off after that, the result is some good ‘ol front-wheel drive understeer. The chassis is extremely under-tired at this point. Lastly, the Civic has the Mazda3 beat again with its wider 235s vs 215s on the Mazda. A wider wheel and tire package would likely bring the Mazda3 up to par with the Civic. However, that’s speculation until Mazda proves or disproves our theory.

[Editor’s Note: Though perhaps a Mazdaspeed variant, if the name were ever to return, would ameliorate the issue. It would also fix the whole “no boost” issue.]

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazd3 hatchback comparison review

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but beholder doesn’t necessarily spell “buyer.”

When it comes to the exterior styling of the 2017 Civic Sport Hatch, I’ll be completely honest with you: it’s derisive. I get asked this question quite a bit and I’ll say it for the record: It’s not a gorgeous automobile by any means and that’s coming from a hardcore Honda enthusiast that owns an EH2 Civic Hatch and a FG3 Civic Coupe (Can you tell that I like Civics?). However, I do appreciate the aggressiveness of the design. Sure, it looks quite busy from pretty much any angle you look at, but it just works – at least for me. The sharp looking front end looks mean and ready to eat some corners for breakfast. I must say that the 10th gen Civic in hatch form looks the best out of the bunch over the coupe and sedan variants. And if you thought the look of the Sport was aggressive, have you seen the Type R?

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazd3 hatchback comparison review

Moving, flowing artwork on wheels: feeling Mazdas soul of motion.

If this was a beauty contest, the Mazda3 wins fair and square. Ever since Mazda first implemented the Kodo design language, their entire lineup went from ugly smiley face to drop dead gorgeous. Looking at it from pretty much any angle, the Mazda3 is the stunner of the segment. I can’t help but stare at it every time I see one on the road. The body lines and angles of the Mazda3 are smooth flowing from one area to another like one constant motion.

Also, Mazda have what appears to be the most beautiful shade of red (Soul Red Metallic) in the auto industry. Unfortunately my tester wasn’t in Soul Red, but it was worth mentioning. The Machine Gray Metallic is nice and subtle and won’t turn heads as much the Soul Red. I found it nice that I could drive enthusiastically on a winding road flying under the radar.

Everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Inside the Civic Sport, straight away the interior design is light years of an improvement over the previous 9th generation. Less cheap feeling plastics, in their stead are higher quality composite materials as well as soft touch injection molding bits. The climate/radio controls are classic Honda – simple and straight to the point. The cabin and rear seats are both quite spacious handling 3 adults without any problems. At nearly 26 cubic-feet of cargo space, the Civic Sport bests the Mazda3.

Other than this particular Sport trim being equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the best feature of the interior was this little thing called a coolant temperature gauge that was displayed on the digital gauge cluster. Many modern cars have forsaken the traditional coolant temperature gauge. Instead, OEMs go the cheap and lazy route giving you a blue “C” light and red “H” light. In any given situation, the driver will only know when the engine temps are either cold or hot. Cold obviously when you first start up the engine and hot when your car is overheating, which is quite stupid if you ask me because by that time you’re pretty much screwed.

Mazda3 rhymes with “very nice place to be,” perhaps it’s a sign?

Hopping into the more luxurious Mazda3 Touring, you can’t help but feel just a bit more special. As expected from Mazda, interior design in the cabin is still class-leading, almost German-like quality. The buttons and knobs on the climate/radio controls just feel so nice to fiddle with. I’ll even go as detailed as the resistance of the volume knob. It’s not too loose or tight, just perfect – absolutely delicious. It’s the little things that matter. As far as rear seat and cargo capacity goes, the Mazda3 doesn’t quite match the Civic Sports, but the differences are negligible.

The leather seats are a nice touch. Extremely comfortable to live with on long road journeys but ultimately lacking in bolstering, the Mazda’s thrones just don’t hold you in place quite as well as the Civics during high lateral G situations. The best part is that unlike in the Civic Sport, you can get this Touring 2.5L trim level with it’s leather seats and the 6-speed manual. If you want a Civic Hatch with leather and all the bells and whistles with a 6-speed, you simply can’t. You’re stuck with the LX or the Sport trim levels.

So there you have it folks. But wait, which one reigned supreme? If I absolutely had to choose one over the other, it would have to be the Civic Sport. Set aside the differences in price, trim level, and features – the Civic Sport Hatch marks the return of the fun-to-drive Civic that was missing in the 9th generation. Not only that, but it is a teaser to the more powerful and athletic Type R. Rest assured, the Mazda3 is an excellent 5-door hatch that does pretty much everything really well. However, the Civic Sport provides something a little more than its competitor. A smile that hurts my face every time I’m behind the wheel.

Honda-tech.com 2017 Honda Civic Sport Mazda3 hatchback comparison review

Matt Eugenio contributes to Honda-Tech, 6SpeedOnline, and Rennlist, among other Internet Brands Auto sites.

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