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Specs compared: Honda Civic, Kia Cerato, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla sedans

This weekend's on-paper comparison features four of the best-selling small sedans. SUVs may be in vogue, but some people still like a three-box silhouette and a hinged boot.

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Mike Costello
Comparisons Editor

Sedan sales have diminished, but there are still those who prefer their sleek shape and boot. From the small-car segment, there are four options that stand out.

In this on-paper comparison, we’re looking at a quartet of highly-specified sedans priced in the mid- to high-$30,000 range. There are more affordable variants available.

They are the spacious Honda Civic RS; performance-focused Kia Cerato GT; the premium-feel Mazda 3 G25 GT; and the Toyota Corolla ZR – both well-specified and super affordable to run.

There’s also a boldly-styled new contender just around the corner in the form of the first-ever Hyundai i30 sedan, which launches late this year. But that can wait.

Each of these also come with hatchback options.

Prices

List prices (before on-road costs)

  • Honda Civic RS: $33,340
  • Kia Cerato GT: $33,490
  • Mazda 3 G25 GT: $35,090
  • Toyota Corolla ZR: $34,195

Drive-away prices (as advertised or configured on each brand’s website):

  • Honda Civic RS: $37,391
  • Kia Cerato GT: $34,490
  • Mazda 3 G25 GT: $38,884
  • Toyota Corolla ZR: $38,484

Sales race

The table below tracks the sales of each model across hatch and sedan body styles. Hatchback sales generally own a sightly higher proportion of each total.

2020 YTD20192018
Honda Civic484710,53113,470
Kia Cerato11,40321,75718,620
Mazda 3944324,93931,065
Toyota Corolla 17,18730,46835,320

Features

Expected features at these spec grades include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a proximity key fob with button start, rain-sensing wipers (except for the Kia), heated (front) seats trimmed in leather and/or artificial leather, climate control, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

The Mazda and Toyota both offer head-up displays that project speed data and navigation directions onto the windscreen. The Kia’s seats are also ventilated.

Features table

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
Wheels 18-inch18-inch18-inch18-inch
Headlights LEDLEDLEDLED
Proximity keyYes Yes Yes Yes
Rain-sensing
wipers
Yes No Yes Yes
Seat trim Part-leather Part-leather Part-leather Part-leather
Seat functionsHeatedHeated and cooledHeatedHeated
A/C type 2 x climate control2 x climate control2 x climate control1x climate control
Head-up displayNoNoYesYes
Auto dimming mirrorAccessoryYes Yes Yes

Infotainment

All cars here have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth, USB, and uprated audio systems that are superior to those fitted in base grades. The Kia and Toyota systems are branded JBL, the Mazda is branded Bose, and the Honda isn’t branded.

The Civic lags behind, with no standard satellite navigation at RS level, no wireless charging pad, and a smaller-than-average 7.0-inch screen.

The Mazda’s screen is the widest across, and controlled by a rotary dial and adjacent buttons, rather than a touch interface. We reviewed the Mazda Connect system here.

Features table

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
Screen 7.0-inch8.0-inch8.8-inch8.0-inch
ControlsTouchTouchRotary dialTouch
Sat-navNoYes Yes Yes
Apple CarPlayYesYesYesYes
Android AutoYesYesYesYes
BluetoothYes YesYesYes
DAB+YesYesYes Yes
Wireless chargerNoYes NoYes
Audio system10 speakersEight speakers12 speakers9 speakers

Safety

Every car here has the ANCAP five-star crash rating you expect, all with date stamps from at least 2017. The links in the table below take you to each car’s individual, detailed crash report.

All cars here have dual-front, dual-front side, and dual-curtain airbags, with the Mazda and Toyota also adding driver’s knee-bags. All have rear ISOFIX and top-tether anchor points.

Active safety features include autonomous emergency braking (AEB), with the Mazda’s and Toyota’s systems also rated to spot and brake for pedestrians and cycles as well as other cars.

All cars here have lane-departure/lane-keeping aids fitted, reversing camera (a 360-degree unit can be optioned in the Mazda as part of a $1500 package), active cruise control that matches the speed of the car ahead, and blind-spot monitoring (the Honda’s only works on one side, via a LaneWatch camera). All bar the Civic have rear cross-traffic alert.

Features table:

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
ANCAP rating5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars
Date stamp 2017201920192018
Airbags6677
AEBYesYes Yes Yes
Lane assistYes Yes Yes Yes
Blind-spot monitorOne-sideTwo-sideTwo-sideTwo-side
Rear traffic alertNoYes YesYes
Parking camera ReverseReverseReverse
(360° option)
Reverse
Cruise controlActiveActiveActiveActive

Boot space

As well as having the biggest boot, the Civic has back seats more expected of a mid-sized sedan like a Toyota Camry. The Cerato, Corolla, and Mazda all happily house adults 180cm or below in the rear, but aren’t quite as roomy.

Spec table:

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
Boot litres517502L444L470L
Spare tyreSpace saverSpace saverSpace saverSpace saver
Back seatsFolding FoldingFoldingFolding

Drivetrains

There is a bit of diversity here, though all use petrol, drive the front wheels, and have automatic transmissions (only the Mazda at this spec grade has a manual option).

The sporty Kia Cerato’s 1.6-litre turbo makes the most power and torque here, giving it the best power-to-weight. I’ve done 0-100km/h dashes in this car in 7.5 seconds. It’s mated to a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto that has the snappiest nature once you’re up and running, but is less smooth at urban speeds – though it’s far from the worst of its kind.

The Mazda 3 uses a larger-than-average displacement 139kW and 252Nm 2.5-litre engine that’s naturally aspirated (NA), meaning its peak torque (pulling power) arrives later in the rev band. A high compression ratio helps keep fuel use respectable. Its six-speed automatic uses a torque converter and has a sports mode to rev on downshifts.

The Honda’s 1.5-litre engine uses turbocharging/forced induction to bolster its outputs to 127kW and 220Nm, and it has the second-best fuel consumption here. Much of that is due to its efficiency-focused CVT. The addition of paddle shifters adds a modicum of sportiness to the mix.

The Corolla’s 2.0-litre engine is naturally aspirated and mated to a CVT with 10 stepped ratios along the belt drive, and a system to make the take-off crisper. It has the lowest power and torque here, and the worst power-to-weight ratio, but is the fuel economy leader.

None of these spec levels come with other engine choices, though within the wider ranges the base Honda Civics get a 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre naturally aspirated petrol, the Kia at base grades gets a 2.0-litre NA with 112kW/192Nm, the Mazda 3 offers a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre NA unit, and the Toyota can be had with a super-efficient petrol-electric hybrid.

Spec table

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
Displacement1.5-litre1.6-litre2.5-litre2.0-litre
Induction TurboTurboNANA
Power127kW 150kW139kW125kW
Torque 220Nm265Nm252Nm200Nm
Fuel economy
(L/100km)
6.36.86.56.0
Fuel type 91 RON91 RON91 RON91 RON
Transmission CVT7-DCT6ATCVT
Power-to-weight
(kW per tonne)
95.7109.510190.3

Chassis and suspension

There’s very little in it, but the Honda Civic is just the longest car here, though not when measured by wheelbase. It’s also the lowest and the lightest.

All four cars here have MacPherson-strut front suspension. The Honda and Kia sport multi-link independent rear suspension, the Toyota uses a double-wishbones, while the Mazda uses a torsion beam.

I have driven all four of these, and if I were to sum their dynamics up, I’d say:

Honda: Very quick and responsive steering, good quality Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, excellent bump absorption.

Kia: Australian-specific suspension, fixed dampers are quite stiff, various drive modes add or remove steering resistance, feels the firmest and sportiest here. Same tyres as Honda.

Mazda: Not everyone loves the low-speed ride, but it’s very compliant and the NVH is well-insulated. Keeps the familiar zippy dynamics despite the twist beam, adds refinement.

Toyota: The best-handling Corolla, which actually likes being driven hard. The ride quality on the larger wheels with slimmer-sidewall tyres is a little firm.

Spec table

Honda CivicKia CeratoMazda 3Toyota Corolla
Front suspensionStrutStrutStrutStrut
Rear suspensionMulti-linkMulti-linkTorsion beam Trailing wishbone
Tyres235/40 R18225/40 R18215/45 R18225/40 R18
Weight 1326kg1370kg1376kg1385kg
Length 4662mm4640mm4660mm4630mm
Height1416mm1440mm1440mm1435mm
Width 1799mm1800mm1795mm1780mm
Wheelbase2698mm2700mm2725mm2700mm
Clearance 133mm135mm150mm135mm
Turning circle 11.2m10.6m10.6m10.8m

Running costs and warranty

Warranty

  • Honda: Five-year, unlimited-kilometre
  • Kia: Seven-year, unlimited-kilometre
  • Mazda: Five-year, unlimited-kilometre
  • Toyota: Five-year, unlimited-kilometre

Servicing intervals

  • Honda: 12 months or 10,000km
  • Kia: 12 months or 10,000km
  • Mazda: 12 months or 10,000km
  • Toyota: 12 months or 15,000km

Advertised 4 x service prices

  • Honda: $297, $297, $297, $297 (plus $45 for a new air filter every 30,000km, $58 every three years for new brake fluid, and $172 every three years for new CVT fluid)
  • Kia: $282, $476, $346, $630
  • Mazda: $320, $366, $320, $366 (plus $100 for a new air filter every 40,000km, and $71 every two years for new brake fluid)
  • Toyota: $180, $180, $180, $180

Thoughts

Want something firm-ish and sporty to drive? Get the Kia.

The Honda looks sleek yet has the most practical cabin.

Tactile? The Mazda feels the most ‘premium’ here.

The Corolla is well-specced and a good steer, and clearly the cheapest to run.


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Specs compared: Honda Civic, Kia Cerato, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla sedans | CarExpert