Toyota, Honda and Mazda. Three of the biggest names in the Japanese automobile industry, churning out millions of cars year. All three with huge product ranges, thousands of employees and a worldwide demand for their vehicles. So when all comparing between each company’s compact sedan models, the Toyota Altis, Mazda 3 Mild Hybrid and the Honda Civic, you would expect them to be extremely similar. On the face of it, this seems true. However, as we delve deeper into each of these cars, the subtle differences emerge. Welcome to the battle of the 1.6L Japanese sedans.
At first glance, the 3 sedans look pretty much similar. All three cars have similar dimensions, coming in at around 4660mm in length, 1790mm in width and 1430mm in height. The Civic is slightly wider than both the Altis and Mazda 3, but is the lowest car of the three, while the Toyota is the smallest in terms of length and width. The Mazda sits in the middle of the length and width dimensions, but is the highest of the 3 cars. All three cars have similar wheelbases as well of around 2700mm, with the Mazda having a slightly longer wheelbase, which improves handling and vehicle stability at high speed. Layout-wise, there is no difference between the 3 sedans, all of them being front-engined, front-wheel drive cars.
The biggest difference between the 3 sedans is definitely the exterior design. All 3 companies have had various design concepts applied to their sedans to very different effects. Toyota have opted to go with a new louder and more aggressive styling concept, a move away from their traditionally conservative designs, with the Altis receiving a large lower grille, as well as a sleeker upper grille and headlights, allowing it to look more youthful and have more presence. Honda’s Civic now looks tamer in comparison at first glance, but still retains its more sporty image with a lower stance, a fancier sportback design and a more aggressive rear diffuser. However, the Mazda 3 is the car with easily the most presence, marrying gracefulness and aggressiveness via Mazda’s KODO design concept. From the front, its massive grille allows it to stand out immediately, while the flowing curves down the body of the car gives it a gracefulness the other 2 do not possess.
On the inside, the differences are plainly obvious as well. All three cars have a carrying capacity of up to 5 passengers, but the Altis easily has enough cabin space as well as ample headroom and legroom for all passengers, with 1108mm of legroom. The Civic has slightly less of both headroom and legroom, especially in the rear with only 1083mm, making comfort more of an issue. The Mazda with the smallest cabin space, has noticeably less legroom and headroom than the Toyota.
Turning our attention to the rear, all 3 sedans definitely provide adequate boot space for the average family’s transportation needs. The sedan with the most boot space is the Civic at 519 litres, with the Altis providing 470 litres, while the Mazda clocks in at a paltry 444 litres.
Interior design and quality is again where these similar sedans differ the most. All three cars have stellar build quality on the interior, where everything is extremely well put together. Design-wise, the Altis goes for a simple and ergonomic feel, with a sense of refinement. The Civic makes use of more soft-touch materials, as well as a darker trim, giving it a more comfortable and cosy feel. Meanwhile, the Mazda makes use of a two-tone colour scheme for the interior, which instantly makes it stand out from the others. Coupled with higher quality materials and an impeccable build quality, the Mazda provides a premium ambience that is unmatched by its competitors.
The Altis and Civic come equipped with 1.6L, 4-cylinder engines producing 128bhp and 123bhp respectively, while the Mazda’s slightly smaller 1.5L, 4-cylinder engine produces a slightly lower 118bhp. However, the Mazda, being a hybrid, comes with an electric motor.
Transmission-wise, both the Altis and Civic use continuously variable transmissions (CVT) that are of the traditional version. The Mazda on the other hand, uses a traditional 6-speed automatic, allowing it to bypass the rubber-band effect that traditional CVTs are known for and giving it better initial acceleration. Only having 6-speeds, however, does mean a noisy cruising speed, with the engine having to sit at 2000rpm at highway cruising speeds.
Out of the 3 cars, the Mazda is the heaviest at almost 1.4 tons, with the Altis a just few kilograms shy of the Mazda. The Civic is by far the lightest out of the 3 sedans, weighing in it at just over 1.2 tons.
Performance-wise, all the above translates into relatively similar performance figures. Being designed for economy, all 3 cars lack something in this department. The Altis is the quickest to 100km/h at 11.1s thanks to its clever 7 Speed CVT-i gearbox and dual VVT-i engine combination, with the Civic and the Mazda lagging far behind at 11.7s and 11.9s respectively due to the rubber band effect of the CVT in the Civic and the weight of the Mazda. However, for top speeds, the order is reversed, with the Mazda3 and Civic topping out at 200kph, while the Altis checks in at 190kph.
In terms of fuel economy, all three cars hit respectable figures. The most fuel-efficient is the Mazda, at 5.5l/100km, thanks to a smaller engine. The Altis comes in second at 6.4l/100km, while the Honda only manages 6.7l/km.
Handling is where these cars traditionally differ. The Altis has historically lacked in this department compared to the other 2 cars. However, with a lowered ride height and the new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, the Altis feels a lot more rigid and sharp, which has significantly improved handling feel. For instance, it allows for less body roll when cornering, which makes the handling sharper and more precise. This has allowed it to close the gap to the Civic and the Mazda.
The Civic’s multi-link suspension, lowered ride height and lightness make it more nimble and agile, and definitely fun to drive. Mazda, on the other hand, have decided to replace their multi-link with a more primitive torsion beam. Somehow, this does not compromise its already superb handling as the stiffened chassis makes up for it. However, it does compromise the Mazda’s ride quality, making it slightly less comfortable than its competitors. Last but not least, the Altis has upgraded its suspension to the double wishbone set-up, allowing for more comfort for the driver and passengers.
Safety-wise, there is not much to choose between the 3 sedans. All 3 brands place a lot of emphasis on safety, with all 3 cars receiving a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. However, the Altis still edges ahead in terms of safety equipment available. For basic features, all 3 cars come equipped with pretensioner and loadlimiter seat belts, ABS and stability control systems. With Toyota’s new safety system, Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) 2.0, the Altis (Elegance) comes equipped with a whole range of safety features as standard, including automatic braking, pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam headlights, and a blind-spot monitoring system. The Altis also comes with 7 airbags, including one for the driver’s knee. The Civic has much less comprehensive systems as standard, with only lane-keep assist, pedestrian detection and cruise control, as well as less airbags (only 2). The Mazda only has standard safety features such as airbags for on the standard car, with the other safety technology similar to those of the TSS found on the more expensive Elegant version.
Braking-wise, the Altis has the shorter braking distance at 9.15m as compared to the Civic’s 10.05m from 60km/h. There is no official figure for the Mazda’s braking performance.
The standard Altis also comes with fabric seats with that are well-bolstered for better lumbar support, as well as halogen headlights, LED tail lights, 16-inch wheels, keyless entry, push-start button, and rear aircon vent. The elegant version, naturally, comes with more equipment than the standard, including larger 17-inch wheels (up from 16), leather seats, TSS 2.0, auto climate air-conditioning, and a larger 4.2-touchscreen. The Altis also comes with a 5 year service warranty.
The Civic has pretty much the same equipment as the Altis as standard, with the exception of an electronic parking brake and an auto-lock system that is not found in the Altis. Furthermore, the base model already comes with keyless entry, auto-aircon, rear aircon vents and a push-button start as standard. Like the Altis, the Civic also comes with a 5 year service warranty.
The standard Mazda also has similar features to the Altis, with the main exception being a much larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, LED headlamps, leather seats and an electronic parking brake as standard. Keyless entry, electric seats, auto aircon as well as the safety technology can only be found as standard on the more expensive elegant version.
Price-wise, the Civic has the cheapest base price at S$91,999. While the Altis has not officially launched yet, sources indicate the price to be around S$93,000 for the base model. The Mazda, however, costs significantly more at S$94,888, a slight price increase its competitors. (Prices accurate as of December 2019)
After putting the 3 sedans head-to-head, it is clear that each car has their own strengths and unique selling points, despite their face-level similarities. Deciding on which sedan to purchase ultimately then boils down to your priorities and what you want most in a car. If you prioritise cabin space and safety as well as handling, the Altis will be the choice for you. If you are more of a driver who cares a lot about driving dynamics, the Civic will be the most appropriate, especially given its low price point. Finally, if you are a more aesthetic person, but still care about the car’s driving dynamics, the Mazda with its KODO design concept, premium interior and decent handling would be your optimum choice.
|What we like|
| - New sporty outlook |
- TNGA platform does significantly improve the handling and drivability
- Better ride comfort and suspension
|What we do not like|
| - Still uses the conventional handbrake |
- Protrusion of dashboard
|Overall, it is a great car. It provides a very good balance between comfort and performance. Feels like a continental car with new features and improved chassis rigidity, along with Japanese reliability. It will definitely give you a run for your money. You won't regret buying it.|