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.
The Civic comes in three body styles, a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, or four-door hatchback, and also adds two performance versions.
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.
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.
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.
|EX-L||N/A||$24,700||$26,250 (+ navigation)|
Known for its sporty character, the VW Golf delivers fun and functionality again in 2019.
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.
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.
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.
S – $22,740
SE – $25,040
Between the available all-wheel drive, quality drive, and the near-luxury level design and interior, the Mazda3 has a lot going for it.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?