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2020 Honda Civic Hatchback vs. 2020 Mazda3: Which One Should You Buy?

© Motor Trend Staff

From Motor Trend


How to choose between two compelling options

© Motor Trend Staff

So you've bucked the SUV trend and opted to get a compact hatchback instead. But now you have to choose which one is right for you. The 2020 Honda Civic and 2020 Mazda3 are two popular options, and each has a different proposition that will attract consumers with different tastes. What do you care about most in your compact hatchback? Do you want one that's plush? Fun to drive? Spacious? All of the above? Here are the key strengths of each so you can choose the right one to fit your needs.


Practicality

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Advantage: Honda Civic

Interior packaging is one of Honda's biggest strengths, and you can see that in the 2020 Civic hatchback. There's abundant room for passengers; even tall people will be comfortable in the back. Despite the rear window's steep angle, the Civic hatchback has plenty of usable space. Credit the surprising flexibility to clever packaging, 60/40 seat backs that fold completely flat, a low liftover height, and a wide hatch opening.

That giant C-pillar in the Mazda3 hatchback creates huge blind spots and also cuts into cargo space, especially when you take into account the rear window's angle. In addition to a smaller hatch opening, the cargo area is unusually shallow and has a high liftover height. Even with the 60/40 seat backs folded, the amount of usable space in the Mazda3 pales in comparison to the Civic.


Driving Fun

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Advantage: Tie

A hallmark of the current-generation Honda Civic is its entertaining road manners, and the hatchback serves that up alongside the added practicality. The Sport and Sport Touring grades are equipped with wider tires, giving them more grip to complement the well-tuned chassis and excellent body control.

The Mazda3, despite its move to a torsion beam rear suspension, remains fun to drive, too. Immediate turn-ins, good body control, and crisp steering make the Mazda3 an engaging compact car. Despite having narrower tires than the Civic, it has ample grip and electronic tricks like G-Vectoring Control Plus that help it corner better when pushed hard.


Comfort

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Advantage: Honda Civic

The 2020 Honda Civic doesn't sacrifice ride comfort for great handling. The suspension absorbs road imperfections so well that occupants will avoid feeling all but the largest potholes and big bumps. Even with the 18-inch alloy wheels in the Sport and Sport Touring grades, the Civic hatchback never gets overly harsh.

On most pavements, the Mazda3 rides well. However, the torsion beam rear suspension causes the rear to skip around more on uneven pavement. It's also a smidge stiffer than the Honda, so you'll feel more road imperfections, especially big potholes and bumps.


Efficiency

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Advantage: Honda Civic

Compact cars are used mainly as commuter vehicles, so they must offer excellent fuel economy. With the exception of the Civic Type R, the 2020 Honda Civic hatchback is one of the most fuel-efficient models in its segment. Opt for the LX, EX, or EX-L grade with a CVT to get an EPA-rated 31/40 mpg city/highway. Sport and Sport Touring grades are rated at 29/35 mpg with the CVT or 29/37 mpg with the manual.

The most efficient Mazda3 hatchback is EPA-rated at 26/35 mpg with the six-speed automatic and 25/35 mpg with the stick, giving the Civic the efficiency advantage. Add all-wheel drive, and the Mazda3's fuel economy goes down even further to 24/32 mpg.


Easy Shifter

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Advantage: Honda Civic

If you're new to driving vehicles with a manual transmission, the Honda Civic is one of the best to learn on. With its precise, easy-to-use shifter and a light clutch, the Civic is friendly and easy to drive even in traffic, making it a great choice as your first manual-equipped vehicle. The Mazda3's, though also easy, has a heftier, springier clutch that beginners may find a little intimidating. Its shifter is also a little less accurate and doesn't like to be rushed.


Interior Quality

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Advantage: Mazda3

In its move in a more premium direction, the 2020 Mazda3's interior is an upgrade over its predecessor. Additional sound deadening, abundant high-quality materials, and tactile controls give the Mazda3's cabin an upscale vibe compared to the Honda Civic. The range-topping Mazda3 hatchback also has an optional cool two-tone red and black interior that's available with every single exterior color.


Power

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Advantage: Tie

The Honda Civic's 1.5-liter turbo-four makes 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque when equipped with the six-speed manual (torque drops to 162 lb-ft with the CVT; non-Sport models are rated at 174 hp and 162 lb-ft). You get generous power for passing, merging, and climbing grades despite some initial turbo lag. The Civic hits 60 mph in 7.1 seconds before crossing the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 91.3 mph.

In comparison, the Mazda3's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter I-4 makes 186 hp and 186 lb-ft. Compared to the Civic, its power delivery is smoother throughout the rev range because you're not waiting for a turbocharger to spool. However, the Mazda3 is barely quicker than the Civic, hitting 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.0 seconds at 92.9 mph.

When you choose an automatic transmission, the Civic and Mazda3 swap spots despite the former being less powerful. Thanks to a well-calibrated CVT, our departed long-term Civic sedan sprinted to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds on the way to a quarter mile of 15.3 seconds at 93.0 mph. A Mazda3 sedan with the six-speed automatic hit 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds at 91.2 mph.


Braking

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Advantage: Honda Civic

Being slightly lighter and having wider tires help the Honda Civic perform better when it comes to braking. The Civic Hatchback Sport Touring stopped from 60 mph in 113 feet. The Mazda3 does the same deed in 115 feet, which is just a smidge longer than the Civic.


Four-Season Traction

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Advantage: Mazda3

The 2020 Mazda3 is one of two entries in the compact segment to offer all-wheel drive. To further distinguish itself, Mazda's all-wheel-drive system works together with the G-Vectoring Control Plus system for improved cornering and better stability. It can even split torque front to rear as needed to optimize traction during bad weather conditions.


Multimedia Tech

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Advantage: Honda Civic

Neither the Honda Civic nor the Mazda3 has the best infotainment system because the former is slow to respond and the latter has a significant learning curve. Despite its age and slowness, Honda's interface is easier to use with its 7.0-inch touchscreen. You can easily find your favorite radio station, and you don't need to dig through multiple submenus to get to other settings.

Range-topping variants of both cars also come with upgraded audio systems. The Honda Civic's unbranded 12-speaker unit sounds good but isn't as crisp as the Bose system in the Mazda3 with the same number of speakers. Additionally, the Mazda's has a superior surround sound experience, filling the cabin evenly with music.


Driver Assistance Tech

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Advantage: Tie

For 2020, both the Honda Civic and Mazda3 get a full driver assistance suite standard. That includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beams. On EX and higher trims, the Civic also gets Honda's LaneWatch system, which includes a camera on the right side mirror that monitors what's on your right side and displays it via the central infotainment screen. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert come standard on the Mazda3 sedan in the Select trim and higher and on all hatchback models.

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