2022 Honda Civic vs. 2022 Mazda3: Battle at the Top

Published on May 25, 2022 in Test Drives by Guillaume Rivard

There’s a familiar face back at the top of the compact car segment. The fully redesigned 2022 Honda Civic has dethroned the Mazda3, which earned our Best Buy award for the past two years.

After testing each car in recent weeks, we can confirm once again that Mazda’s shining star has faded a bit and is relegated to second place behind Canada’s best-selling car for 24 years in a row.

Design

Both the Honda Civic and Mazda3 are available in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. The former has a more mature albeit more conservative appearance than the previous generation—like a smaller Accord (not that small, really) that won’t win any beauty contest, but will gracefully age over time. While the front end lacks pizzazz, wheel selection is impressive. We prefer the Civic Hatchback, not only for the looks but also for its versatility.

Winner of the 2020 World Car Design of the Year award, the current-generation Mazda3 is still more likely to turn heads, although some people have grown a bit tired and are looking ahead to the next design evolution. Everyone has their own tastes. As far as we’re concerned, it looks sexy and distinguished—certainly more so than the Civic. However, the available wheels are fairly boring, so picking an alternative set from the Mazda catalogue (or an aftermarket company) is best.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Interior

The transformation inside the 2022 Civic is a successful one. Material quality, refinement and noise insulation compare to the Mazda3’s, although the latter maintains a slight lead. We like the 7- or 10.2-inch digital instruments (depending on the model), ergonomic controls, pleasant driving position supported by nicely sculpted seats, and unique touches like the honeycomb-style mesh grille insert that stretches horizontally across the dashboard and conceals the air vents.

Inside the Mazda3, you feel like you’re sitting in a more expensive car, especially in GT trim. The steering wheel is a joy to grab, the centre display is angled toward the driver, and the sliding centre armrest is beautifully padded like most other touch points. The seats, which are a bit too tight in the upper back area, are not designed for larger drivers and long trips, though. Also, the Mazda3 is outmatched by the Civic in terms of space, particularly in the rear seats and trunk (sedan: 374 litres vs. 419 litres, hatchback: 569 litres vs. 693 litres).

Photo: Antony Lajoie-Beaudoin

Technology

The Civic’s touchscreen is either 7 inches or 9 inches in size depending on the trim level. It’s also close enough to the driver and powered by a fairly user-friendly infotainment system, although some of the settings require considerably more intervention. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is available, just like a Wi-Fi hot spot, up to four USB ports and a 12-speaker Bose sound system (which the Mazda3 offers, too). Speed-sensitive automatic volume adjustment is more annoying than anything in the Civic, while the resolution of the back-up camera could be much better.

The Mazda3 features an 8.8-inch centre display, but it’s not a touchscreen. Rather, you have to use the rotary controller and nearby buttons on the console. Mazda claims this interface helps reduce distractions behind the wheel, but that’s not exactly the case. The biggest problem comes from the infotainment system, which requires too many steps to find what you want, like changing radio stations or fiddling with the navigation system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both need a cable and there are only two USB ports for all occupants.

Photo: Antony Lajoie-Beaudoin

Powertrain

Under the hood, three engines are available whether you go with Honda or Mazda (not counting the wild Civic Type R). The first two are fairly even in terms of output (Civic: 158 or 180 horsepower, Mazda3: 155 or 186 horsepower). The Civic Si (sedan only) boasts a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine rated at 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque, though it feels like it has more than that. The limited-slip differential makes a positive difference, as well. That being said, our favourite option is the Mazda3’s turbocharged 2.5-litre mill (sedan and hatchback), which delivers up to 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. It’s a spirited, responsive performer that elevates the car to luxury-like status.

What about transmissions? The Civic’s six-speed manual is more widely available across the lineup, but most importantly a bit more precise and more fun to manipulate than Mazda’s unit. However, the alternative is a lackluster CVT that, in spite of some upgrades for 2022 and the fuel savings it delivers, proves far less smooth and enjoyable than the conventional six-speed automatic in the Mazda3. The latter could use a couple extra gears to improve efficiency, mind you.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Driving

On the road, both cars display sound driving characteristics and come with a host of advanced safety and driver assistance features. The Civic offers better visibility and a smoother ride thanks to its independent, multi-link rear suspension. Steering is pleasantly firm during sporty driving.

The Mazda3 is plagued by large blind spots and a torsion-beam rear suspension that results in a stiffer ride on rough pavement. More bite from the brakes would be appreciated, for sure. On the plus side, steering is sharp and enables a tighter turning circle than the Civic (10.6 metres vs. 11.6 metres). And let’s not forget the available all-wheel drive system and G-Vectoring Control Plus technology that provides more stability and agility in corners.

Photo: Honda

Verdict

The 2022 Honda Civic has made a ton of progress and is more sophisticated than ever. More expensive, too, with a base MSRP that currently stands at $25,370 for the sedan and $28,650 for the hatchback. Meanwhile, the 2022 Mazda3 continues to impress with sexy looks, high levels of refinement and sharp handling. Its two body styles start $21,700 and $22,850, respectively, which is much cheaper.

In our opinion, the Civic now has more attributes and amenities that consumers look for in the compact car segment. It’s also a better purchase for the long term when reliability and residual value are factored into the equation. Before you pick either one, we strongly recommend that you test drive the two cars back to back for a proper comparison and a more enlightened decision.

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