2011 Car Comparison: Honda Civic vs Toyota Corolla vs Mazda 3

Last Updated: Dec 12, 2011

The Competitors
In this compact-car comparison we compare the 2011 Honda Civic, 2011 Toyota Corolla, and 2011 Mazda 3. These are popularly priced and fuel-efficient small cars, each with its own approach to basic transportation. This 2011 Honda Civic vs. 2011 Toyota Corolla vs. 2011 Mazda3 comparison picks a winner based on price, features, and performance.

On base price, the 2011 Civic, 2011 Corolla and 2011 Mazda are separated by just $245. Corolla starts at $16,350, the Civic at $16,555, and the Mazda3 at $16,595. These are pleasantly affordable cars but, depending on the trim level and options you choose, the Civic and Mazda 3 can nudge $25,000. (Base prices in this comparison review include the manufacturer’s delivery fee; note that Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are delivered by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees).

The 2011 Honda Civic is unchanged as Honda prepares to launch an all-new 2012 Civic. This places the 2011 Civic as a lame duck paddling the compact-car waters with a design that dates to model-year 2006. The Toyota Corolla was last redesigned for model year 2009 and the 2011 Corolla received modest restyling to the front and tail along with subtle revisions to the interior. The 2011 Corolla loses the “premium” LXE model and the “sporty” XRS version, the latter taking with it Corolla’s most powerful engine. The Mazda 3 was redesigned for the 2010 model year and for 2011 electronic stability control is standard on all models.

The Similarities

  • The 2011 Honda Civic, 2011 Toyota Corolla, and 2011 Mazda 3 are front-wheel drive. That means the engine and transmission are packaged over the wheels that also propel the car. This configuration tends to provide better wet- and snowy-road traction than rear-wheel drive. It also affords more cabin and cargo room by minimizing powertrain intrusion into the passenger compartment. All similarly priced cars in the compact class are front-drive based, but all-wheel-drive, for superior traction in snow, is standard on the 2011 Subaru Impreza.
  • All three cars in this comparison have four-cylinder engines of around 1.8-liters, and each is available with a five-speed manual transmission or extra-cost automatic transmission. Power output is similar for base engines but see “The Differences” section below for additional engine offerings. Civic’s 1.8-liter four cylinder produces 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, Corolla’s 1.8-liter has 130 horsepower and 128 pound-feet, and the Mazda 3’s slightly larger 2.0-liter generates 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet. (Think of torque as the main ingredient in acceleration and horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.) Though the horsepower and torque figures are modest, these are lightweight cars – the Mazda tips the scales at around 2,850 pounds, the Corolla at 2,767, and the Civic at just 2,630 – so none feels glaringly slow. Each accelerates 0-60 mph in around 9 seconds, just short of the time at which a car feels taxed when merging onto a freeway or passing a slower vehicle.
  • Fuel economy is a major compact-car selling point and these three are rated in the mid-20-mpg range in city driving and the mid-30s on the highway. For gas mileage, the 2011 Corolla tops the Civic and Mazda 3. Its EPA ratings are 27/38 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission and 25/34 with automatic. The 2011 Civic comes in second in this comparison, rating 26/34 with manual transmission and 25/36 with automatic. The 2011 Mazda 3 rates 25/33 mpg with manual transmission, 24/33 with automatic.
  • In size and proportion, the Civic, Corolla and Mazda 3 are roughly the same. All have seatbelts for five passengers, but that doesn’t mean five “adult” passengers. Each more appropriately accommodates four grownups, though the long-of-leg will be most comfortable in Civic’s rear seat and least comfortable in the Corolla’s. All three have folding rear seatbacks to increase the trunk cargo-carrying space. Corolla leads this trio with 12.3 cubic feet of trunk space. The Civic follows with 12 cubic feet, and the Mazda 3 has the least with 11.8 cubic feet. However, the Mazda 3 is the only car in this trio to offer a four-door hatchback body style. Its cargo capacity behind the rear seat is 17.8 cubic feet, and that expands to 94.1 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.
  • The 2011 Honda Civic, 2011 Toyota Corolla, and 2011 Mazda3 may be small in size but they offer the full roster of active and passive safety features. Active safety equipment -- that which helps prevent crashes -- includes four-wheel antilock brake technology to improve control in emergency stops, Antiskid electronic stability control that activates individual brakes and modulates engine power to combat impending sideways slides and rollovers are standard on all Corolla and Mazda 3 models, but standard only on the most expensive Civic models – the EX, Si, and Hybrid. Brakes on the Mazda 3 are discs front and rear, the Civic has rear drum brakes in lower trim levels, and the Corolla equips all trims with rear drum brakes. Passive safety features – those which help protect occupants in an accident – include dual front airbags, torso-protecting driver- and front-passenger side airbags, and head-protecting curtain side airbags for all outboard seating positions. Each car offers LATCH child-seat anchors for the outboard rear-seat positions. Booster seats fit well on the cushions of each car, but fitting rear facing infant and child seats in the Civic requires moving the front seat forward, reducing legroom for the front seat passenger. Front seats in the Corolla and Mazda 3 do not require moving for rear-facing seats.
  • The Corolla and the Mazda 3 have a slight edge in warranty coverage. Like all new cars sold in America, Civic, Corolla and Mazda 3 come with new-car warranties, which defray the cost of maintenance and repair during the initial ownership period. Basic and powertrain warranties are identical at 3 years/36,000 miles. The basic warranties cover everything except items subject to wear, such as wiper blades and oil filters. Powertrain warranties also are identical, at 6 years/60,000 miles. This covers most of what makes the car move: engine and most of its internal parts, transmission, drive axles or driveshaft. In addition, each car comes with a corrosion warranty that covers sheetmetal rust-through problems for 5 years/unlimited miles. Unlike the Civic, the Corolla and Mazda 3 warranties also include peace-of-mind Roadside Assistance, which covers certain costs associated with towing and repairs if you have a breakdown. The Mazda’s Roadside Assistance coverage is 3 years/36,000 miles, the Toyota’s is 2/25,000.

The Differences

  • The 2011 Honda Civic and 2011 Mazda 3 offer two body styles, the 2011 Toyota Corolla offers only one. Civic is available as a four-door sedan and two-door coupe. The Mazda 3 comes as a sedan or a sportier four-door hatchback. The 2011 Toyota Corolla is a sedan only, though a wagon version is sold as the Toyota Matrix. The 2011 Mazda 3’s styling is the most brazen — and controversial — of the three. Its body is licked by swoops, creases, and waves and depending on your interpretation, its front end is an aggressive in-your-face look or a large toothless smile. The 2011 Toyota Corolla and 2011 Honda Civic outsell the Mazda 3. Corolla’s look is the most low-key here: far from stirring and wholly conventional. The 2011 Honda Civic still looks contemporary despite its six-year-old basic design. Its windshield sweeps up from the hood with a radical rake, a bold stroke that is accompanied by abbreviated front and rear overhangs.
  • The Honda Civic is the only member of this trio to offer a gasoline-electric hybrid model. The 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid comes only as a sedan and teams a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor/generator and self-charging battery pack to produce a combined 110 horsepower. The Civic Hybrid has an EPA rating of 40/43 mpg city/highway. Civic also offers the GX model, a natural-gas-powered sedan that produces near-zero emissions. However, the GX is available only via select dealers in California, Utah, Oklahoma, and New York. The GX has an estimated 24/36 mpg – but of course requires access to a natural-gas refueling station.
  • All three cars come standard with a five-speed manual transmission (six-speed on some models) but their optional automatic transmissions are different. With transmissions, more gear ratios are almost always better, allowing more efficient extraction of engine power and better fuel economy. The 2011 Corolla’s automatic is the least advanced here, with just four speeds. The 2011 Civic continues with a five-speed automatic as does the Mazda3. The Corolla and Mazda3 automatics allow the driver to mimic manual-gear control. The performance edition Civic Si and Mazdaspeed3 are equipped exclusively with six-speed manual transmission.
  • The Civic and the Mazda 3 offer higher-performance alternatives to their base models; Corolla does not. The 2011 Civic Si, available in coupe and sedan body styles, features a 2.0-liter four cylinder that produces 197 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission is a six-speed manual enabling a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds. The Mazda 3 s models, available in sedan or hatchback, step up the base version’s performance with a 2.5-liter four that puts out 167 horsepower and 168 pound feet. Connected to a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic, 0-60 is in the 8-second range. The 2011 Mazdaspeed 3 is the hot rod of this crowd. Available only as a hatchback, it has a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder with 263 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission and the combination is good for 0-60 in under 6 seconds.
  • Each of these automakers takes a different approach to the comfort and convenience features it offers and how it makes them available. All three cars compared here have a standard tilt/telescope steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and a folding rear seat. But standard equipment varies on their least expensive base models. For example, the entry-level Corolla includes air conditioning; the comparable Civic and Mazda 3 do not. The lowest priced Civic and Mazda 3 have power windows standard, the Corolla doesn’t. An AM/FM/CD audio system comes with the base Mazda 3 and Corolla but not the base Civic. And the base Mazda 3 includes power door locks that are not available on the price-leader Corolla or Civic. As with all Hondas, the 2011 Civic doesn’t offer stand-alone options, instead grouping features to create individual trim levels. For example, to get such core items such as air conditioning and a stereo, Civic buyers have had to ascend from the base DX sedan to the costlier DX-VP model. 2011 Corolla buyers who want niceties such as power windows and door lock, remote keyless entry, and cruise control will have to step up to the Corolla LE. The Mazda 3 loosely follows Corolla’s approach, but if you want features like keyless entry or cruise control it requires leapfrogging the second trim level iSport to the iTouring. If a navigation system, leather upholstery, or heated seats are on your want list, they are not available on the Corolla.
  • The 2011 Honda Civic, 2011 Toyota Corolla, and 2011 Mazda 3 are engineered to deliver a smooth ride that appeals more to commuters than enthusiasts. The 2011 Corolla’s suspension settings provide the softest ride in the compact class making it a dependable sidekick for daily commutes. The downside is lazy steering response, queasy bobbing over bumps, and tire-howling drift in speedy turns. All 2011 Civics have a suspension that balances ride and handling at a level difficult to beat in this price range, though the DX models, with their modestly sized 15-inch tires and the Hybrid, with its special low-rolling resistance 15s, are prone to some noseplow in fast turns. The brilliantly tuned Si suspension and steering provide road manners that can reward the most demanding drivers. The Mazda “Zoom Zoom” DNA is present in the Mazda 3 regardless of model, engine or transmission choice. It is a competent commuter that delivers a compliant ride with a measure of sass thrown in. Overall driving dynamics are class leading and the 3’s refined engines accompanied by a sophisticated suspension produce a near sports car driving experience. The Mazdaspeed3 with its turborcharged engine is the classic “pocket rocket.”

The Winner

The 2011 Mazda 3: Every version of the Mazda 3 has a sporty driving experience built in, while models with the 2.5-liter add stirring performance and the Mazdaspeed3 is nothing short of rowdy. All are competitively priced and the hatchback body style offers versatility the competitors can’t match. The 2011 Honda Civic takes second place in this comparison offering a quiet interior along with ride and handling that’s still at the top of the class. The Civic could have a price advantage with ripening discounts as dealers clear inventories before the all-new 2012 Civic drops. The 2011 Toyota Corolla is a competent and reliable small car that looks and feels dated, with an out-of-fashion four-speed automatic and an interior design that needs updating.