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Compact Sedan Comparison: Civic vs. Golf vs. Mazda3

Chris Kaiser

These three compacts may mark a resurgence for the sedan. Stylish, sporty, and affordable, these cars could be just the thing to break our single-minded focus on the SUV.

We’ve seen ongoing skirmishes in the battle for SUV supremacy and major offensives in the Tailgate wars, but somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten the oldest of automotive conflicts has remained smoldering in the background for decades, the sedan schism. The stakes may have changed since the 20th century, but the competition is no less fierce in the 21st. In fact, rumors of the demise of the sedan have been greatly exaggerated. Honda’s Civic, Volkswagen’s Golf, the Mazda3 are all quality cars. But which will reign when the time comes to spend your money?

We evaluated each of these cars based on four primary criteria: Performance, Comfort, Features, and Value.

2019 Honda Civic – Three (and two-thirds) of a Kind

The Civic comes in three body styles, a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, or four-door hatchback, and also adds two performance versions.

2019 Honda Civic Sedan and Coupe
2019 Honda Civic Sedan and Coupe – netcarshow.com

Performance

The Civic is a fun car. Either of the two base engines (158hp 2.0L 4-cylinder or 174hp 1.5L turbo-4) provide good, if not crazy acceleration. In case these options weren’t enough, Honda also offers the 205 hp Si and the 306hp hatchback R-type for some extra excitement. Handling is nimble enough, though not quite as sporty as some compacts. The gas mileage ends up as a big plus with a city rating of 32 mpg and a highway of 42 mpg for the sedan, with the hatchback and coupe netting 34-35 mpg combined.

Comfort

2019 Honda Civic interior
2019 Honda Civic interior - netcarshow.com

Things just feel nice in a Civic. The cabin is quiet, the ride is smooth, and the materials are high-quality. As expected, the rear seats in the coupe aren’t designed with taller folks in mind, but that’s not surprising in a compact (and really in just about any coupe). The four-door versions are roomy enough, offering some of the best head and leg room in the segment.

Features

Key safety features including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency breaking now come standard. Adding Honda Sensing to the mix gets you automatic high-beams, lane keep assist, and blind-spot detection.

Trims and Value

Trim Level Sedan Coupe Hatchback
LX  $19,550 $20,750 $21,450
Sport $21,250 $21,550 $22,250
EX $23,300 $23,500 $23,750
EX-L N/A $24,700 $26,250 (+ navigation)
Touring $26,950 $27,400 N/A
Sport Touring N/A N/A $28,750

2019 Volkswagen Golf – A Teutonic Hatch that’s Anything but Austere

Known for its sporty character, the VW Golf delivers fun and functionality again in 2019.

2019 Volkswagen Golf
2019 Volkswagen Golf - @Muskegaon_VW on Twitter

Performance

The 147hp turbo 4-cylinder might not sound like much but it gives the Golf plenty of zip, only running up against its natural limitations when pushing hard in passing situations. The punchy engine allows for agile cornering, encouraging you to throttle you way out of turns. The suspension is a perfect balance of responsive and forgiving, handling like a wonder while maintaining its grace on long stretches of pavement. The narrow pillars make for great levels of visibility. The EPA estimates a mpg of 29 city/37 highway.

Comfort

The Golf doesn’t sacrifice much comfort in the name of fun. The adjustable height seats are as accommodating as they are cozy, and they cushion rough rides and hold up on long ones. It takes a particularly gnarly bit of pavement to upset passengers. While the Golf’s interior doesn’t have quite the level of sophistication that some competitors do, it looks the part of a German machine.

Features

Spacious cargo space on 2019 Volkswagen Golf
2019 Volkswagen Golf cargo space - vw.com

The real stand-out feature of the Golf (aside from the driving itself) is the massive cargo space. At 22.8 cu. ft. with the rear seats in use there’s plenty of room for groceries or luggage, plus a full 53.7 cu. ft. with the seats down. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility comes standard and smartphone integration is a breeze.

Trims and Value 

S – $22,740

SE – $25,040

2019 Mazda3 – A Giant Among Compacts

Between the available all-wheel drive, quality drive, and the near-luxury level design and interior, the Mazda3 has a lot going for it.

2019 Mazda3
2019 Mazda3 - netcarshow.com

Performance

Similar to the above competition, the Mazda3 offers superb handling and good acceleration (186hp from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder). While not quite the whip of past versions, the 2019 Mazda3 retains a plucky character with precise steering and the option of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Either are good choices on the Mazda3 but Sport mode noticeably improves transmission response in the automatic.

Comfort

Clean lines, high-end design cues, and premium materials has the Mazda3 punching above its weight and contending with the like of Audi and BMW when it comes to interior. The ride compliments this sense of competency, it’s smooth and unperturbable. Mazda has struck the balance particularly well, producing an engaging drive without compromising on the ride quality.

Features

2019 Mazda3 interior
2019 Mazda3 interior – netcarshow.com

Mazda kept things outside the box when it came to the 8.8-inch infotainment system. Rather than rely on a laggy touchscreen they opted for a responsive and easy to use rotary knob interface. A slew of safety and driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are available as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 12-speaker Bose sound system.

Trims and Value

The hatchback versions add an additional $1,000 (except in the base where it adds $1,600). AWD upgrade comes in at approximately $1,400.

Standard – $21,920

Select – $23,520

Preferred – $25, 120

Premium – $27,420

Conclusions – In the Race for Best Compact it’s Down to the Wire

All three of these cars are good. You wouldn’t really being going wrong with any of them. They each provide a fun driving experience along with high quality interiors, good gas mileage, and plenty of the latest tech.

However, each also has its particular strengths. The Volkswagen Golf is probably the most enjoyable driver’s car. The Mazda3 has boatloads of refinement. Neither is bad in the other’s wheelhouse either. But if you’ve got to have the best of both worlds, we’d go for the Civic. If you’ve got to have that additional pop, go for the Si or R-Type. Even the standard 4s are plenty good. Plus, you have your pick of coupe, sedan, or hatchback.

2019 Honda Civic Sport
2019 Honda Civic Sport on Carsforsale.com

And perhaps the biggest selling point of all for any of these cars are their price. Performance, style, and modern safety tech for often well under $30,000. Makes you wonder, if manufacturers persist in making such undeniably excellent sedans, how long can America’s SUV obsession really last?

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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