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A FAST íNí FURIOUS FACE-OFF

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

V HONDA CIVIC RS MAZDA 3 SP25 GT

PRICE & EQUIPMENT 20 POINTS

The $32K Civic RS sits a rung below the flagship VTi-LX and gets smart key entry/keyless start, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a DAB radio tuner, rainsensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlights, a tyre pressure monitor, speed-limiter cruise, LED headlights, daytime running lights, foglights and a powered sunroof. 15/20 The Mazda 3 SP25 GT shares much with the Honda, including its price, however you get a six- rather than eight-way drivers seat and normal cruise control. You get sat-nav here, which the Civic misses, but not front parking sensors. A blind-spot monitor, driver attention alert, rear cross-traffic alert and smart city brake support are all pluses. 17/20

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY 20 POINTS

The Civic shares its 2700mm wheelbase with the Mazda and at 1799mm is just 4mm wider than its rival. The dash is busy rather than elegant Ė at least itís not boring Ė and the materials quality and finish satisfy. Heated leather front seats are comfy and the back is spacious. The 330-litre boot is well shaped and usefully bigger than the Mazdaís. 16/20 The Mazdaís dash is plainer and might please conventionalists more than the Hondaís. Sculpted wheel feels good and leather-trimmed front seats offer a bit more side support than the Civicís. Itís easy to get comfy up front and in the back, but thereís not quite as much room for lugging stuff in the 308-litre cargo bay. 15/20

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY 20 POINTS

The ĎRSí badge oversells the Hondaís straight-line performance but the brandís first mass-produced snailassisted mill in three decades is a smooth, likeable engine.

The 127kW/220Nm unit is economical, claiming 6.1L/100km, but the rubbery CVT auto is a weak link that detracts from the overall appeal of the drivetrain. 14/20 The 3ís 138kW, 250Nm atmo four and six speed conventional auto make a good team. The Mazda deftly avoids the small displacement turbo path yet delivers economy to match its rival thanks to measures including a high 13:1 compression ratio and direct injection. Yet, like the Honda, itís happy on 91RON. 17/20

RIDE & REFINEMENT 20 POINTS

The Hondaís highway demeanour is matched perfectly with the torquey turbo engine Ė a decent conventional auto would seal the deal. The Civic, despite the sports badge and poised handling responses, is supple and absorbent over bad roads over a range of speeds. Itís hushed too, especially alongside the Mazda. 17/20 Mazda has a history with road/tyre noise and the third-gen 3, in part because itís getting on a bit, is not as refined as the Honda. With no help from the 215/45R18 tyres, the SP25 GT is not especially smooth over the small amplitude bumps that are everywhere in cities, though its handling of larger undulations tells of a well-judged primary ride. 15/20

STEERING & HANDLING 20 POINTS

Quick steering and a responsive chassis give the Civic RS a sporty flavour and if you push the strut front/multi-link rear chassis (a basic layout it shares with the Mazda), the rear end can be provoked to adjust the angle of attack. Itís a pity the steering ultimately lacks feel, and a far greater shame the CVT wonít let you take the Civic by the scruff. 16/20 Some of the millennial zoom-zoom has dissipated in even the sportiest of the current 3s which isnít all bad Ė some of the responses of the first-gens were over-eager. The Mazdaís steering is more measured than the Hondaís. Here, you have to go looking for the sportiness. But press on a bit and youíll find the inherent balance and playfulness. 15/20

POINTS SCORE

78/100 79/100

VERDICT

The scores reflect the closeness of this pair in an overall sense, yet taking these warm hatches category-by-category itís apparent theyíre not quite as close as they might seem. If youíre looking for generous standard active safety and other niceties, youíll find them in the Mazda. Cabin appeal might be a matter of taste but the fact the Honda rides well and is quiet, while the Mazda is busier and noisier is black and white. Weíd wager that Hondaís little turbo four would use a bit more juice than Mazdaís big atmo one in the real world, but officially they both use the same amount of fuel. But the Civicís CVT isnít anywhere near as good as the 3ís auto. The Honda better blends sportiness with comfort Ė itís got more of both. But the Civicís advantage is lost in the transmission.