2008 Economy Sedans Consumer Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2008 Mazda Mazda3 Sedan

(2.0L 4-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test

As so many Hollywood blockbusters have proven, if something works once, why not try it again? Last year, we decided to try something completely different by inviting six regular consumers to do a comparison test of three popular midsize sedans -- without the sponsorship of a specific manufacturer. They poked and prodded each car using the same criteria Edmunds editors use when evaluating a vehicle. The result was an enlightening experience for the consumers involved, the Edmunds.com editors and, judging by feedback, the readers at home.

For the sequel, we rounded up three economy sedans: the two best-selling models (Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic) and the one we consider to be the best (Mazda 3). We also invited a fourth dark-horse contender to the party, but the Mitsubishi Lancer that showed up featured a fancy stereo, a sunroof and a $3,000-higher price tag. It was disqualified before the test started for being too far out of the price range. As such, the remaining three contenders were priced within $479 of each other, giving our testers the chance to see how much equipment each brand provides for basically the same amount of dough. Each car was also right off the boat (or train), with miles in the low hundreds or less. In other words, nothing was given an undue advantage. Here's a rundown of the cars.

2008 Honda Civic LX
Base MSRP (including destination charge): $18,395
Options: None
MSRP (including destination charge): $18,395

2008 Mazda Mazda3 i Touring Value Edition
Base MSRP (including destination charge): $18,130
Options: None
MSRP (including destination charge): $18,130

2009 Toyota Corolla XLE
Base MSRP (including destination charge): $18,210
Options: Upgraded Stereo ($200 -- includes in-dash six-CD changer with MP3/WMA playback, six speakers and satellite pre-wiring); Carpet Floor Mats ($199)
MSRP (including destination charge): $18,609

As before, we selected our team of six consumer reviewers on the basis of a 250-word essay and the desire to represent a cross-section of the American buying public. The resulting group consisted of two women and four men, with ages that ranged from 27-68. They came from opposite sides of the country, from Washington to Massachusetts and from what looks to be the literal middle of America -- Atlanta, Kansas. Some were married, some had kids, one was retired; a few were self-described car enthusiasts.

We brought our melting pot to Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, where they combed over the three economy cars. They drove on a simulated city driving loop and an actual highway, did acceleration and panic braking tests, and then hit the Streets of Willow racetrack (which we dubbed the "Hill Course" to subliminally discourage outright hooliganism). They also noted interior comfort, design and build quality, along with whatever else they thought was important to their buying decision. Our editors and testing team were there to describe what the consumer reviewers should be looking and feeling for in each test, but we kept our opinions to ourselves.

The six consumers then headed home to accomplish the toughest part yet: Write an 800-word evaluation of the three cars and rank them. They could write it any way they wanted, and we would keep our editing to an absolute minimum. Now, here are their uncensored thoughts and observations.

Anne Adams
Age: 60
Resides in: Decatur, Texas
Occupation: IT project manager
Personal status: Married, no children
Currently drives: 2007 Toyota Camry

I'm not a car nut. In fact, I shouldn't have been chosen to test-drive these cars for Edmunds.com. I don't know the terms; I don't understand what variable valve timing is or whether 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm is better than 128 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. But I had a blast comparing these cars, and I learned so much. I was definitely impressed with the features that come standard on these economy cars. Every one had seats that raised and lowered, adjustable steering columns, power windows and door locks, powered side mirrors and lots of other very nice features. The editors and engineers at Edmunds.com explained how to be analytical in our comparisons and how to think critically about the cars before they turned us loose to drive them.

Of course, I didn't remain rational for long and jumped to some conclusions right off the bat after driving the Honda Civic. It was my favorite car for all kinds of reasons including the fuel mileage (25 city/36 highway), the hot red color and even the giant digital speedometer sitting up there in the split-level dash. The interior had a pleasing combination of materials as well as easy-to-use features like the auxiliary port for my iPod and mirror controls right on the door where they ought to be.

The Civic's handling felt crisp with responsive steering and a good feel for the road. It just felt trustworthy. It comes fully equipped with side curtain airbags and ABS brakes, which added to that sense of security. To be truthful, I'm probably somewhat biased because I've driven Hondas for several years, and I know how reliable they are. When I drove this car out on the highway, it had great acceleration and the promise of plenty more where that came from in case I needed to pass someone. This car took the bumps in the street with grace and stability, and takes 1st place in my ranking of the three cars we drove.

However...I really, really liked the Mazda3. I've never even set foot in a Mazda before, and I was really impressed. The interior was finished with attractive black cloth upholstery and a stylish black dash with red accents. The seats were comfortable in both the front and the back, with an armrest in the backseat (the only one provided as standard equipment among the three) and enough cupholders so that everyone can bring their water bottle AND their latte. There was ample legroom in the backseat, and with the armrest I could have ridden very comfortably for long distances.

This car definitely handled well, with a smooth ride and good acceleration. In fact the only downsides I found aren't really showstoppers at all: The trunk was snug and not as easy to use and the fuel economy was the worst of the three we drove, which still isn't too bad (23 city/31 highway). I would consider this a very close 2nd and definitely worth checking out, especially if a sporty look and feel is what you're shopping for.

When I drove the new 2009 model Corolla I really wanted to like it, but it just didn't have much to offer in sportiness or features. Basically this car handles like my Camry, with its cushy ride and unresponsive steering. Some of the features the Corolla does have don't seem very well thought out. The auxiliary port for my iPod wasn't really close to the power outlet, and there's no place to set the device once you do manage to get it all plugged in.

On the positive side, the Corolla has the best gas mileage of the three (27 city/35 highway), as well as easier access to the trunk and really lovely plastic wood trim, but it just felt less powerful, especially getting on the freeway. It didn't help that it was a seafoam green on the outside, and it really felt like a low-end rental car you wouldn't want to get stuck driving. Unfortunately, it was easy to place it 3rd in my ranking. Toyota can do better than this!

After this experience I feel so much more confident that I can make a good decision about the next vehicle I buy, and I believe if you follow the process we went through in comparing cars, then you'll have that same level of assurance. (Of course as an Edmunds.com reader you already know all this, right?) I have to confess that the last time we shopped for a new car, we bought the first one we tried. My recommendation now would be, "Don't do that!" Drive and compare; you may be surprised what's out there.

Final Ranking:

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Mazda Mazda3
  3. Toyota Corolla

Julie Headrick
Age: 37
Resides in: Atlanta, Kansas
Occupation: Marketing director for long-term care center
Personal status: Married with four children, ages 4, 6, 9 and 11
Currently drives: 2002 Dodge Intrepid, 2000 Dodge Ram 2500

It didn't take me long to see where I fit in demographically speaking -- the soccer mom -- although with a twist. I've been born, raised and am now raising our four kids in smack-dab Middle America: Kansas to be specific, and on a farm.

When I learned we were comparing three foreign economy sedans, I knew I could be completely impartial -- I don't recall ever driving anything but domestic vehicles! I also compared these vehicles for the use of the average family of 2.4 children (which would be two kiddos and three months pregnant -- been there, done that!)

3rd place: Toyota Corolla
The Corolla is what I'd describe as a soft ride -- soft suspension, soft pedals, more body roll than the Honda Civic and Mazda3 and on the acceleration test. I didn't feel like I had much contact with the road. It felt very unstable at higher speeds. It also had the cheapest feel -- it didn't even have cruise control. We made the mistake of flipping the visor up and were amused to hear a "tin can" sound that carried over to the doors. While floor mats were standard on the other models, mats for the Corolla add $199 to the bill.

However, there are some bright spots on this car. On a hard stop, the Corolla stopped well and had the quietest ride of the cars. Another plus: The Corolla got top honors with the car seat -- easy in/out and still room in the passenger seat.

Who would like this car? An older driver who likes a quiet, easy ride and guaranteed stops.

2nd place: Mazda Mazda3
The 3 was FUN! You instantly feel younger behind the wheel. The suspension is nice and tight, with great handling (the wider 17-inch tires helped here) and I couldn't keep from smiling while running the hill course -- I mean, how often does a mother of four get handed a helmet and told to go for it? The interior had a sporty feel and had the most steering wheel controls of the models we tested. Another feature I liked was the glove compartment -- the Mazda Web site says you can fit most laptops in it, and I believe it.

The 3 had the tightest turning radius and I never noticed the brakes getting hot during the hill course -- this was possibly due to the disc brakes. The 3's brakes made me feel like I would have good control in what would most likely be a bad situation.

The cons to the 3 would be more problematic for "soccer moms." First, don't plan on carrying a passenger in the front if you have a rear-facing car seat in the back passenger side -- I couldn't get my legs in the vehicle! And although there are seatbelts for five passengers, I'd hate to be the fifth person sitting in the middle of the backseat -- definitely needs to be a child under 10!

I also hated the instrument panel. The tach, speedometer and other gauges were all in separate housings, giving the instruments a tunnel-vision look. Also, the "manual" shifting option was a waste as it only seemed to work about one out of three times. I finally gave up on it and ignored it.

Who would like this car? A younger adult (notice I didn't say teenager -- it would only get them in trouble) or someone without kids still in car seats.

1st place: Honda Civic
The Civic was my Switzerland -- completely neutral. It's not too fuddy-duddy, and not sporty enough to cause my insurance rates to rise due to speeding tickets. It had the best overall interior with top-notch trim and fit, and nice contrasts of color, texture and style. The Civic also had the best-feeling steering wheel, the best ride, the best instrument panel, the best seats and the best legroom in the backseat. You could fit a family of four or five in this vehicle without much trouble and still have room in the trunk for luggage.

One disappointment I had with the Civic was the latching system for car seats. The latches were positioned where it was almost impossible to latch the seat in, and getting it out wasn't much easier. I'd buy another car seat over trying to transfer one to and from the Civic on a regular basis. Also, while the Civic has storage pockets in the door panels, there were only cupholders in the front -- cups don't stay upright when left in kids' hands!

On the mechanical side of things, the brakes were smelling hot after only seven rounds on the hill course, and the transmission seemed to have a bit of a lag that I noticed on the city driving and freeway driving.

Who would like this car? A family of five or less. Ample room and still sporty enough to know you're not driving a wagon or minivan.

Final Ranking:

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Mazda Mazda3
  3. Toyota Corolla

Damien Gaudet
Age: 27
Resides in: Worcester, Massachusetts
Occupation: Graphic/Web designer
Personal status: Single, no children
Currently drives: 2001 Ford Focus ZX3

Let's start with a quick definition: "ec·o·nom·i·cal -- Prudent and thrifty in management; not wasteful or extravagant. Intended to save money." I like that last part. Who doesn't like to save money, right? What we have here are three ways to give up that road tank you've been commuting in and save some cash.

3rd place (a very, very distant 3rd place) -- Bringing up the rear, we have the Toyota Corolla. This thing handles like it's in a bowl of Jell-o and has seats only a grandmother could love. Every time I got into this car I couldn't help but think I was riding in a rolling La-Z-Boy. But maybe that's your thing, maybe you want some super-soft seats and you're more concerned with where you're going than how you got there. If that's the case, then the Corolla may be for you. Just remember that it's severely lacking in the fun department.

All that body roll, mushy brake feel and sloppy steering could be forgiven if it managed to be the serene mini-Camry it wants to be. But alas, this thing's engine makes you hear every awful decibel in the cabin. And get this: no cruise control. That's right, the only car here not to come standard with it was the Corolla. And for a car destined to be clogging up left lanes everywhere as a daily commuter, that seems like a big misstep.

Some people call it "soul," the French call it that certain, " Je ne sais quoi." Any way you put it, this Toyota doesn't have it.

2nd place -- Now things get more difficult. First and 2nd place were close, very close. After putting the Mazda3 through the ringer on the track and doing some highway cruising, it's easy to see why the 3 has been such a great seller for Mazda. It's a fun car to drive. It won't pin you to the seat or do burnouts, but it will make that slog to work a heck of a lot more enjoyable. The Mazda sets itself apart from the other two, with 17-inch alloy wheels and disc brakes all around. The steering is tight and the ride lets you know what's going on without being overly harsh. To complete the sporty theme, it's also the only car here to offer a manumatic mode for the automatic transmission, but it's more of a novelty than anything of actual use. As far as the interior goes, some people might think it a bit dark and gloomy, but to me it looks upscale and feels almost European. The piano black trim on the dash is a nice touch, and the seats are very well bolstered and supportive. When you have some friends along for the ride, the backseat isn't a half-bad place to be. Unless of course, you stick three friends back there, where the bump in the back of the middle passenger would make anyone prefer to walk. The 3 is the only car in the test to offer a rear armrest, which also has two extra cupholders.

With all the things going for the 3, it's due for a refresh. Not that it's a bad-looking car, it's just a bit long in the tooth. For example, it's the one car here that still has an external antenna, and it's a big one.

Bottom line: Even in its econo-car, Mazda delivers some "zoom-zoom" fun for the commuting masses.

1st place -- For me, the Honda just managed to come out on top. This car makes you feel like you paid a lot more for it than you actually did. Quality plastics, different textures and colors, and a headliner that wasn't made of mouse fur all help confirm this isn't your father's econobox.

This car is modern, I repeat, maw-dern. Some might even say futuristic with its spaceship exterior and split digital dash. I like the big digital speedometer readout, as it requires only a slight glance down from the road to see what speed you're traveling. The Civic also is the only car here to offer a five-speed transmission.

In the twisties, the Civic inspires confidence. The perfectly sized steering wheel provides great feedback, and that enables you to really push to the car's limits (granted, not very fast limits) with ease. A supple ride without all the body roll found in the Corolla tops it off.

No car is perfect, especially at this price point, but the Civic's faults are few and far between. The rear seat isn't split and only folds down as one piece. Also, as nice as the seat material feels, its towellike texture left me wondering how well it would hold up over the years.

All in all, the Civic is better than any so-called "economy car" has a right to be. If you love to drive but haven't saved quite enough pennies for that Ferrari, you owe it to yourself to check out this car.

Final Ranking:

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Mazda Mazda3
  3. Toyota Corolla

Sean Bresnahan
Age: 40
Resides in: Spokane, Washington
Occupation: Commercial loan officer
Personal status: Married with two children, ages 4 and 7
Currently drives: 1997 Audi A6 Quattro, 2004 Honda Odyssey

Yes, you can get value and entertainment in one package. The sedans Edmunds.com assembled for comparison pack features and performance that would make their 10-year-old predecessors blush. After a day of poking, prodding and flogging the Civic, Corolla and Mazda3 at Willow Springs Raceway, here's what I walked away with.

Number 3: 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE First, who chose the seafoam green? Color aside, the new Corolla doesn't stray from its original formula that should appeal to those who like Buicks.

The exterior and interior styling is the most conservative of the bunch. The exterior looks better than the previous generation, as the front end, grille and light design are more aggressive. Still, no one will run for the hills when confronted by it. The overall design is pure Toyota, with the body taking on the silhouette of its bigger sibling, the Camry.

The first thing you notice inside is the plood, lots of plastic wood, that has an unnatural orange hue and high gloss that will cause PTSD. The quality of the materials is average, while the overall build quality is solid. The dash and controls are well laid out. Why is it missing cruise control? Seat comfort is lousy. They're soft, offer little lumbar or thigh support and are covered in furry fabric. The backseat, however, offered the most legroom and was comfortable, despite the lack of a rear center armrest. The trunk is the largest and by far the easiest to load.

Driving dynamics match the rest of the package. Off-the-line response is sluggish, as the engine doesn't hit its sweet spot until 3,000 rpm and things get almost farm implement-buzzy at about 5,000 rpm. Vague steering and substantial body lean don't inspire confidence, especially in an emergency situation. Although braking performance seemed decent, the pedal felt it would be pushed through the floor.

I would recommend this car to...wait, I'm still thinking.

Number 2: 2008 Honda Civic LX
The styling of the Honda is the most futuristic. Initially, I found both the interior and exterior styling garish, but grew to like the thoughtfulness of the design. My biggest gripe was with the expansive dash and the two-tiered instrument cluster; however, I did notice how easy it was to see the speed in my peripheral vision and leave my eyes where they should be: on the road.

The Civic had the best overall build quality. Body gaps were consistently tight and the interior's various textures broke up the monotony of its camel color. Expansive glass and the light interior color made the interior feel the most spacious of all. Although the multitude of buttons gives the dash a busy appearance, the controls are fairly intuitive.

For an average commuter, this car strikes the right balance between comfort and responsiveness. Push it beyond 75 percent of its capabilities, though, and it lets you know it's not happy. Steering feel is a bit light, but feedback is good. Body roll gets crazy when pushed, although much of that is the tires.

In my mind, Honda builds the best four-cylinder. The sound is sweet, right up to redline. The five-speed automatic didn't have a manual feature, but was the most responsive and held right to redline before upshifting, making this car feel fast. Combine that with the EPA-combined mileage estimate of 29 mpg and you have an urban traffic fighter that's easy on the wallet.

Great car, but didn't stir up my emotions. Maybe in the Si version.

Grand Prize: 2008 Mazda Mazda3 i Touring
Want the most bang for your buck and are willing to give up some mpg for it? This is the commuter for you. It's amazing; this car is in its fifth year competing against newer designs and it still beats them.

The exterior design is still fresh, with a tight, athletic appearance and minimal overhangs. Build quality is good with consistent gaps, but still not as tight as the Honda. The 17-inch wheels further set it apart from the others by exposing four-wheel disc brakes. The others have rear drums.

The interior is a bit stark, but is well laid out. The materials, other than the door panels, are high quality. You settle into firm, supportive seats and grasp a thick, small-diameter steering wheel. Wait, what's that? Cruise control and radio buttons on the spokes! A downside is the cramped backseat.

The engine is eager to rev, but sounds like an Osterizer blender crushing ice. The four-speed transmission has the only manual shift feature, but it's useless, as the computer steps in early and often.

The glory of this car is the suspension. Although it transmits more road noise and is punishing on rough roads, it wants to play like a Labrador puppy. Fittingly, it was the only one where the tail would wag midcorner with throttle lift off. That's playful. That's why my money is on the Mazda. The combination of style and performance for the price is a bargain.

Final Ranking:

  1. Mazda Mazda3
  2. Honda Civic
  3. Toyota Corolla

Chet Flynn
Age: 48
Resides in: Norwell, Massachusetts
Occupation: Sales, distribution and marketing professional
Personal status: Married with two children, ages 15 and 16
Currently drives: 2003 BMW 330i, 2001 Saab 9-3, 2005 Dodge Sprinter, 2001 Dodge Neon, 1998 Ford Ranger, 1968 Chevrolet Corvette

3rd Place: Toyota Corolla
Toyota is the largest auto manufacturer in the world because they build a product for every conceivable customer. This Corolla is aimed at its traditional customer: the (now-aging) baby boomer. As the customer got older, softer and larger, so did the Corolla.

This Corolla brings the "full-sized car" experience to an efficient smaller package. Unfortunately, that experience brings with it the craptacular road behavior of a mid-'90s big car as well. Clearly sporty road manners were never mentioned by Toyota's focus groups. I recommend the Corolla be driven at the legal limit at all times. It really feels loose and disconnected.

Overall, the interior is a pleasant place. The front seats are comfortable. The last time I sat in a seat this soft it had a lever to recline and pop up a footrest. The interior's high points were its elegant gauges and the quality of the faux wood trim. However, I am less enthusiastic about the other choices of materials.

My guess is the Corolla's target customers' next likely wheeled purchase will be either a personal mobility scooter or a snazzy golf cart to cruise the retirement community. Toyota must have a product plan that includes a Scion sport sedan to balance its product portfolio.

2nd Place: Mazda Mazda3
The 3 is the hooligan of this group. If you get caught driving it to its potential on public byways, don't bother getting your registration ready; just put both arms out the window to make it easier for the officer to put the cuffs on.

The suspension is predisposed to aggressive on-ramp(ages) rather than what you hope to do when you get there, i.e. smooth, and in the 3's case not-so-quiet cruising.

The product development gurus must have thought that attitude and styling would rule the day, then left early for the beach before they attended to the interior. After all, the dash seems inspired by a "beach blaster" with its flashing red LEDs and complex LCD graphics. The HVAC controls feel as if they are connected to the car parked next to you, with a linkage built from an erector set. However, the steering wheel and driving position are very good.

This car needs a five-speed to be at its best. The automatic transmission won no fans among aggressive testers as it lazily shifted short of redline and refused to downshift at critical times even in the man-u-matic mode.

Still, the 3 had the longest waiting line at the track section. What a hoot!

1st Place: Honda Civic
Honda is an "engine-centric company." They clearly love to design engines. So they are forced to build products to put them in so they get to design more engines. As expected, the engine in the Civic is wonderful. It feels as if it would effortlessly rev to infinity if the auto transmission didn't interrupt.

Given their passion for engines, I suspected they may have shortchanged the rest of the package; I was wrong.

The interior is graced with multiple complimentary shades, shapes and textures. Everything you touch is soft plastic and contrasting texture cloths. The quality of materials from the headliner to the floor mats is a cut above the rest, and could justify a higher price point. The gauge layout is eccentric (OK...it's bizarre) but all the controls are easy to find and are light and positive in action.

As for the exterior, it's speaking a design language I didn't learn in school. I would call it the "otherworldly" school of design. If you put a few gun turrets on it I could imagine it attacking a Cylon base ship in an episode of Battlestar Galactica.

The Civic's suspension settings slots between the Corolla and the 3. I consider the 3 and the Civic equally capable in on-road tomfoolery up to the "driving to endanger" level. If you want to go to jail, the 3 is for you. If you want a family car that is a sophisticated tourer with sporty overtones, the Civic is just the item.

At one point I spontaneously said, "I could drive this car forever." The Civic is just that brilliant. Wait...did somebody say there was an Si version available? Where do I get in line for that?

Final Ranking:

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Mazda Mazda3
  3. Toyota Corolla

Jim Smith
Age: 68
Resides in: Tucson, Arizona
Occupation: Retired
Personal status: Married, no children
Currently drives: 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe

I tested the Toyota Corolla XLE, Honda Civic LX and Mazda Mazda3 i Touring Value Edition. Other comparable autos would include the Chevrolet Cobalt, Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Saturn Astra and the Volkswagen Rabbit. Forget the derogatory "econobox" label of yesteryear for these three cars. Replace the word "cheap" with "value" or "quality." Our three test cars had as standard features antilock brakes, nice interiors, lots of airbag protection, tire pressure monitors, halogen headlights and tilt-telescoping steering wheels. The gas mileage is impressive, and their driving characteristics are much better than just a few years ago. Some things don't change, however. They are small, have only two interior color choices and -- to the shame of Honda, Mazda and Toyota -- none of the three test cars had electronic stability control (ESC).

The Civic has the most headroom of the three. The EPA highway mileage rating of 36 is the best of these three cars. The dashboard has a space-age look, which I quickly grew to like. The transmission is five-speed, making it smoother than the four-speeds of the others. There are three trim levels. The radio antenna is the only glass-mounted of the three. For some reason, Honda is still using sickle-style trunk lid hinges that consume space, while the others use hinges that do not take up trunk space. The door height is the lowest of the three. The intermittent windshield wiper stage is not adjustable.

The Mazda Mazda3 has the best tilt-telescoping steering wheel (largest adjustments), the widest front door and smallest turning circle. (This is great in parking lots.) It has 17-inch wheels as opposed to 16 inches on the other two cars. There are five trim levels, plus a hatchback body style. It has the poorest crash test ratings of the three from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The EPA highway mileage rating of 31 and city rating of 23 are the lowest in the group. It also has the least trunk space.

The Corolla has the best EPA city mileage rating of 27. I thought it had the best acceleration of the three. The excellent glovebox has two compartments with separate doors. The heater controls are easily the best to see, understand and use. There are five trim levels. It has the lowest headroom of the three, which was brought home when wearing a helmet. My head was on the roof and the side over the door. There was no cruise control on the test car. The interior door height was the lowest of the three.

In my opinion, the Honda Civic was the best-looking of the three cars. The windshield juts out front much more than usual. It has tight steering and a nice, firm ride. The ease of entry and exit was better than the others. It is fun to drive and I felt extremely comfortable driving this car. Normal braking was firm and stable. Panic stops, however, seemed to take more distance to stop than the other two autos.

Mazda definitely needs new model and trim nomenclature to avoid confusion. It had the best pedal-to-the-floor acceleration of the three, with tight steering control. The ride was the harshest of the three, but that is all right if you want a sporty drive. There was a lag before passing gear kicked in, plus it was the noisiest and had the least comfortable seats.

The Toyota had the best manners of the three. It drives like a mini Buick -- soft and cushy. There is less noise and less jostle than the other two autos. I felt less in control in this car than the others, as it has a loose steering feel. The ride is so soft, I felt like the car was not in total control on bumps and rises. Toyota saved 30 cents by mounting the outside mirror controls inconveniently low on the dashboard instead of on the door armrest, where they belong. Ease of entry and exit is poorest of these three cars.

As you can see, each car has pluses and minuses in my opinion. The lack of ESC is somewhat offset by a similar lack of useless spoilers. Which car is best will depend on the buyer. If you are looking for a small, inexpensive sporty car, the Mazda3 is your best choice. The Corolla would be your best choice if you are simply looking for a comfortable driving car. If you have small children, probably the Civic would be best. Although I am a little surprised at the final result, I find it quite easy to give a final, general, all-around ranking of these three cars.

Final Ranking:

  1. Honda Civic
  2. Toyota Corolla
  3. Mazda Mazda3
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