With this generation of three, Mazda has taught the top gasoline engine diesel tricks, while Honda has put an extraordinary hybrid composition in the Civic e:HEV. We test what distinguishes the two compacts.
Turbo four-cylinder with around 200 hp sounds like a good idea for compact cars like the Mazda 3 and Honda Civic, doesn't it? Find the manufacturers also - but only for the US market. Driven by strict fleet consumption targets, the Japanese swing their heaviest technology clubs for Europe.
The Mazda 3 has an e-Skyactiv-X engine with SPCCI (Spark-controlled Compression Ignition): The petrol engine uses a diesel-like compression ignition, for which a compressor ensures the necessary air supply - the mildly hybridized 186 hp engine basically behaves Gasoline but like a naturally aspirated engine.
Extraordinary hybrid in Honda
And Honda? They install their even more complex hybrid drive, which consists of two electric motors (generator, drive), a 1.05 kWh battery and a two-liter naturally aspirated petrol engine including a single-speed gearbox.
That sounds expensive, but the sales prices are in the usual range for the class. The test cars are a Civic e:HEV Sport (34,200 euros) and a manual Mazda 3 Selection for 30,190 euros, with the price advantage of the Mazda shrinking with the same equipment. Either way, both models are lavishly equipped, with Honda not offering adaptive high beam, steering wheel heating and the Bose music system for sports. These features are only available in the Full Hutte version Advance, which offers umpteen extras for an extra charge of 3,400 euros, for example a panoramic sunroof that cannot be deselected.
On the other hand, the Civic basically lacks a head-up display, while in the three-series even the basic version projects information onto the windshield. For example, it shows when the sensors report vehicles in the blind spot. Or the speed limit, although the evaluating software on our traffic sign recognition test route performs even worse than the Civic's already moderate. The Mazda leads quite a view of the speed indicator, because the threesome reaches 216 instead of just 180 km/h. However, the speed increase is similar: from 80 to 160 km/h it takes a good 15 seconds.
Dreier rolls down the track more quietly
Although the 143 hp petrol engine in the Honda can transmit power to the drive shafts via a clutch, it acts as a power plant at full throttle and leaves the propulsion to the 184 hp electric motor. To ensure that the combustion engine does not constantly produce a monotonous engine hum, the Linear Shift Control simulates gear changes by briefly dropping the speed at the usual intervals when accelerating. It is true that the speed development and shift simulation do not always go together, but the noise variance serves its purpose.
At medium load, the drive only sounds extremely reserved in the interior, which in combination with the quick start-up behavior represents a plus in comfort. In the area of the recommended speed, the road noise is quite loud and superficial, which is why the Mazda seems a bit quieter overall, which is certainly due to more effective insulation and the narrower Michelins (215 to 235, both Pilot Sport 4).
Brilliant seating position in the Mazda
And although the Honda already offers good seating comfort, the Mazda driver benefits from more contoured seats with longer leg rests and well-arranged armrests for a relaxed posture with supported arms. In addition, the driver's seat adjustment in the three-seater test car is done electrically and much more precisely than in the Honda, whose backrests are adjusted using a coarse-locking lever mechanism. The front passenger has to do without adjustable lumbar support, in the Civic even without height adjustment.
The blue one in the rear compartment provides noticeable advantages, which is supplied with fresh air via vents on the center console and appears significantly less cramped overall, also because the headroom is not quite as tight. Its larger windows also mean better all-round visibility, because you see very little in the Mazda, especially to the rear right - and the good quality of the outside cameras doesn't help there either. However, the rear passengers can switch on separate reading spots, while the rear central lamp in the Honda may disturb the driver.
Curves can both
The Honda, which is only 22 kg heavier despite its hybrid drive, scores a small plus on its chassis, which also springs rather tightly, but keeps the body calmer overall. Neither of the two allow themselves any major rolling movements, instead it's precise and quite sporty over winding stages. If the front wheels do slip slightly off track, you're already on the move quite quickly - even faster in the Civic, whose wider tires claw the road more firmly.
On the test site, the decent braking values are close together, and both even complete the double lane change at the same speed. Although none of the ESP systems interfere on winding roads, the Honda regulates the 18-meter slalom more sensitively, and the Civic also feels significantly more dynamic, which it objectively confirms with a speed increase of 2.1 km/h.
The steering works cleanly, communicates the power build-up on the wheels in curves and has the right gear ratio. One of the shortcomings of the Honda steering isn't really noticeable over land, but it is noticeable on the freeways: there it occasionally gets slightly stuck around the middle position, so you have to loosen it with the steering movement first, which above all feels inharmonious without restricting driving safety.
Hybrid drive hesitates
Overland, the different engine concepts are particularly obvious, because the Mazda basically needs a high level of engine speed to get from the spot reasonably quickly. That doesn't really matter, because the cleanly run manual transmission is fun, but with a maximum of 240 Nm at 3,000 rpm there is no torque punch. The hybrid drive of the Civic is in principle more powerful, but although the electric motor pushes at full throttle, you have to give full throttle before the apex to get out of the corner with maximum acceleration due to a delayed power delivery. In addition, the 315 Nm never feels as powerful as with a turbo engine with the same torque.
The hybrid drive actually saves fuel: This is particularly true in the city, but even in the test average, the Honda achieves 6.1 liters per 100 kilometers, which is 0.8 liters less than the SPCCI unit. In combination with its 51-liter tank, the range is still higher, because the Civic fuel tank only holds 40 liters: makes 739 to 655 kilometers.
So it's nice that the Mazda requires fewer fuel stops. It gets less nice in stop-and-go traffic: In first gear it drowns uphill at idle – and as soon as you accelerate a little, the speed suddenly increases: This makes the annoying traffic situation even more stressful.
Press or touch?
On the other hand, the exemplary Mazda operation, which is based on a rotary switch including direct selection buttons, brings relaxation in all driving situations and is therefore not distracting for an unnecessarily long time. From time to time one does wish for a touchscreen, because some things are faster with it - but that would not be expedient in a threesome anyway, since the driver cannot or only hardly reach the display even with an outstretched arm.
In the Civic, the infotainment is primarily controlled by touch, with the home and back buttons and the close positioning of the monitor being a significant relief: A quite good system overall, although the sun protection filter robs the display of some of its brilliance. The navigation map, on the other hand, is displayed better than on the Mazda widescreen monitor, which has only a small height.
But in the threesome you can zoom in with a rotary pushbutton, and the screen is enthroned on a high-quality clad dashboard, which also applies to the center console, seats and even the rear door panels. In terms of quality, the Civic, which is very decent and finer than before, doesn't quite keep up, but the honeycomb grille of the ventilation and especially the great-clicking rotary climate switch make a lot - by the way, it has two for the temperatures and one for the blower levels for which you can Three key presses.
That's right, in view of the umpteen touch-controlled air conditioning systems, that's almost a positive criticism today.However, it is not the decisive factor for the Civic's victory, although the two score extremely evenly anyway. The greatest difference within a chapter, however, is in the environmental rating, for which Honda's technology club achieves the greater effect with even lower consumption.