Rivals: Honda, Chevrolet and Mazda vie for affordable hatchback supremacy
Sick of seeing SUVs on every corner?
Us too, most crossovers are just hatchbacks standing up on their tiptoes.
Nearly all look alike.
And the majority aren't even all wheel drive.
So why not just buy a hatchback?
We've gathered three of our favorites here so that you can see why this cheaper, more efficient body style may actually be more fun to own.
We've lived without a Civic Hatchback for years, so we thought we'd wheel out the segment's best driver to see if it's up to the Honda's challenge.
Mazda's three isn't exactly new, but it's aging particularly gracefully and just to keep these two honest.
we've brought along Chevy's new cruise hatch.
It bundles great cabin tech and solid refinement in a grown up wrapper.
Because buyers overwhelmingly do too, we've passed on testing more entertaining manual transmission models Specifying automatics instead.
But because we're Road Show by CNET we've checked off every bit of interior and safety tech that you can order so that we can push all the buttons and tell you what's worth it and what's not.
Honda's always done a good job of doing more with less, and its new engine is no exception.
This 1.5 liter four-banger puts out 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
Lower trims get a six-speed manual, but this, this puppy is a continuously variable transmission.
And dare I say it, I actually like the CVT more than Than the manual.
The changing gear ratios on the fly allows you to access torque just a little bit faster than if you were [UNKNOWN].
If there's one thing Honda hasn't always necessarily been great at in the past, it's keeping the cabin quiet.
This time around, however, they've done an excellent job mitigating NVH.
It's not Lexus levels of quiet in here but it is so much better than the car That preceded it.
From a consumer standpoint, the 2017 Civic Hatchback is great.
It goes, stops, and it does it all pretty well.
From a more enthusiastic standpoint, its handling is on par with the Mazda, I'd say.
The steering is direct with just a little bit of weight in the corners.
Toss the CVT in S and you're guaranteed an old-fashioned good time.
With a two point five liter four cylinder, my Mazda three grand touring has the big block of a feel.
All that displacement is good to deliver a 184 horsepower and 185 pound feet of torque which out muscles both the Civic and the Cruise's puny turbo four cylinder engine.
Linear power delivery is a benefit of a naturally aspirated engine and it feels strong particularly when you put the car in sport mode, being a Mazda the brakes as usual are grabby and strong.
Switching into the sports setting also sharpens the 68 automatics performance which can be enjoyed with the response of manual function with the paddle.
Steering also tightens which goes great with a button-up chassis which is a lot of fun the toss around on twisty roads like these.
No it's not Mazda speed three fun, but it is fun for a practical daily driver.
The good thing about the 3 is that with this tight handling it's also comfortable when you're not slinging it around
My Chevy Cruze
IT's got the smallest engine here.
A 1.4 liter turbo, with 153 horse power, but it's 177 pound feet of torque is available from just 2,000 rpm, so it's right in the hunt.
Chevrolet's engineers have clearly put an emphasis on ride comfort, as well as keeping noise, vibration, and harshness to a minimum.
I wager, I've got the most serene vibe of the three cars we've got.
And that's what matters in this segment.
That's the good stuff.
What's not so hot is that, if your idea of fun to drive is about handling and dynamics and not about tech, this car, it's not for you.
GM was honest when it named this car.
It's not about hustling down a road.
It's about usable performance, good utility and smart tech.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But as a driving enthusiast first and a tech geek second I've had trouble bonding with this car.
Even with the premier's upgraded rear suspension and 18 inch tires the cruise can be a bit of a buzz kill.
The steering, it's just too light and feel free and the seats, They're too flat in corners.
This whole car just doesn't like being pushed.
There's no sport mode, no shift pedals, no urgency of response, no emotion.
In fact, even in city driving, this thing feels kind of ambivalent.
The Civic is no technological slouch, but it's kind of a weird mix between too much and not enough, if that makes sense.
Instead of blind spot monitoring, you get lane watch, which is a camera affixed to the right-side mirror that engages when you turn the turn signal to the right.
What about the left?
Well, that's on you to figure out.
The infotainment system is good but it's not great.
Sure you get navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, but the one thing you don't get is a volume knob.
Instead you're stuck with a touch slider which is terrible.
I suggest getting real comfortable with the steering wheel controls.
LED headlights, rain sensing wipers, and remote start round out the technological complement.
Whether it's creature comforts or safety, the Civic's pretty well got you covered in terms of tech.
On the infotainment front I've got a Bose audio system, navigation, and Bluetooth, which are all controlled through the [UNKNOWN] Connect system with a seven inch touch screen and a center commander dial.
It's a simple, intuitive system, especially since there's two methods of control.
Fans of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be disappointed because the Mazda Connect system is not compatible with either of those systems.
Mazda says they are coming.
They just haven't said when.
There's a lot of safety tech on the menu too, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, and a heads up display which the other two don't have.
No doubt about it, the cruise is the best,
Best car for you tech fiends out there.
It's got easily the best infotainment, plus it's got a full range of active safety features including the best lane keep assist in the class and a teen driver tool that lets you keep tabs on your little snowflake.
The Cruze also has the smartest infotainment system here.
It's got the biggest screen, the most intuitive interface, standard Apple car play, and Android auto.
And it's got a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that those jokers can't even order.
In a word, headlights.
You can't get any kind of HID system.
To me, that's a sin.
Lights are my number one safety feature And these halogens, they just don't cut it.
At 25.7 cubic feet, the trunk space in the Civic Hatch is the largest of the group by a country mile.
Drop the rear seats down however, and the 46.2 cubic feet, it somehow becomes the smallest of the group.
The Civic looks the largest of the group and it feels the largest of the group.
A shallow dashboard makes you feel like you're getting every available inch of interior space.
It's fuel economy is good, but not great.
At 30 MPG, city and 36 MPG, highway, it beats the other two in the city, but loses out to them on the highway by about one or two.
The Mazda 3 comes in last in cargo with the rear seats up with 20.2 cubic feet.
But actually with the rear seats down it's second biggest with 47.1 cubic feet.
As for passenger space, upfront it's roomy with comfortable and supportive seats.
While the back seat has good ingress and egress, enough room for two adults and three for a short trip.
What the three does give up to the other two is fuel economy with a 26 mile per gallon, city and 35 per gallon highway rating.
Of these three cabins, the cruises is the friendliest.
It's got the easiest to read gauges, the easiest to use controls.
There's not much of a learning curve here.
It all just works.
I only wish there was less hard plastic and more seatbelt string Room in the backseat is respectable although the beanstalk in our posse says it's the tightest on leg and headroom.
Cargo space checks in at nearly 25 cubes with the back seats up and over 47 with them folded.
All three of these cars are so closely matched on fuel economy that out here in the real world, it's splitting hairs.
The Cruze's figures are listed at 29 city, 38 highway, all though my wide air tired premiere drops slighty to 28 and 37.
These are urban warriors.
So why are we taking them to a cone course?
Because exercises like this aren't just entertaining.
They're a microcosm of the cut and thrust energy and maneuverability that rules everyday traffic.
Translation, if they work out here, they'll be competent and fun on the street.
We don't have the room for a proper quarter-mile drag race but these cars are all about stoplight-to-stoplight supremacy anyhow.
So let's do the world's shortest drag race.
Well, I won.
Well, gentlemen, we started today and I wasn't sure who was going to take the crown.
We've ended the day and I'm still not sure who's going to take the crown.
Well, in terms of performance here, out at the skid pad, around our autocross.
My Mazda 3 did really well.
Good steering, a powerful engine, tires were a bit lacking.
The Civic was a very close second, however.
I think it really kinda came down to tires.
Between the two of these they were definitely performers.
A little bit more than the Cruise I'd say.
Yes, I'd say that the cruise is not happy out here.
It was a distant third.
Steering feel wasn't right and it just never felt connected.
I think this one is quieter on the street than the other two and is a great real world car.
Would I want to toss one down a winding road?
Not on your life.
That's when this one comes in hand.
And thankfully,, when you drive it, you don't really have to look at it all that much which is probably the best thing about it.
I think it looks goofy now.
This car is a little milquetoast.
I think that car, which is the oldest one here, is still the best looking, and it will be the best looking in ten years.
Like a fine wine, it's aging gracefully.
In truth, you really can't go wrong with any of these
They offer comparable sport and utility to today's compact SUVs, but they're more efficient and cost less.
In the end, one car struck the best balance of performance, space, and style while holding its own when it comes to tech.
And there you have it, the oldest car here, the Mazda 3, is the unanimous winner.