It’s no secret — we dig the 2014 Mazda 3. It’s an All-Star for 2014. It was a finalist to win our 2014 Automobile of the Year award. The sedan version won our compact sedan comparison. I invited it to my 24th birthday party. We recommend it to our friends.

We thought we’d finally found a chink in its armor when staffers began to gripe that the Mazda 3 wasn’t paying off at the pump. Particularly during the colder months, the hatchback seemed to delivery poorer fuel efficiency than its 27/37/31 city/highway/combined ratings suggest. Even our most restrained highway cruises yielded only 33 mpg. Once the weather turned less hellish and the 2014 Mazda 3 returned from its well-deserved Cajun vacation to New Orleans, it was time to put the Mazda to the test against a worthy competitor — the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L.

No Need to Hypermile

On our 220-mile loop from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, Michigan and back, we drove a balanced mix of city streets, back roads and highways. Much to our delight, the 2014 Mazda 3 finished the outing with an average of 37.3 mpg, just north of its highway rating. Mind you, the air conditioning was on, and we weren’t actively trying to hypermile the car. Clearly the cold weather had a noticeable effect on the Mazda’s efficiency earlier in the year. But how did the Civic compare?

Although the Honda Civic weighs less than the Mazda, has a smaller 143-hp 1.8-liter engine compared to the Mazda’s 184-hp 2.5-liter, and uses an efficient continuously variable transmission rather than the Mazda’s conventional automatic, it drank almost the exact same amount of fuel. The Civic was slightly more economical at 37.7 mpg, but we’d consider this difference practically negligible.

No-Brainer

Even if it does turn out that the 2014 Mazda 3 and the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L are comparably efficient, the Civic is a bore compared to our peppy hatchback. While there isn’t any glaring fault with the Civic’s pleasant, comfortable driving dynamics, the Mazda 3 feels more urgent, eager, and responsive at every turn. The Civic’s CVT makes the sedan slow to respond, so the car feels clumsy, which is a disappointment compared to Honda Civics of old.

“The Mazda 3 is in its own league as far as driving dynamics,” associate web editor Joey Capparella says. “There’s less body roll, it has a quick-shifting transmission, and the brake pedal feels firmer and more direct. Best of all, it gives up little refinement compared with the Civic.” We noticed that the Mazda had a slightly harsher ride and more road noise than the Honda, but these are minor tradeoffs we’d happily make in exchange for the superior driving experience.

It Never Ends

Our primary beef with the 2014 Mazda 3 has consistently been its infotainment system. When the system is working, it’s intuitive to use, but it seems like more often than not it is flaking out on us. After already dealing with issues that included a software update from the dealer, the screen again would intermittently turn blue and the audio would cut out.

Another trip to the dealer revealed our software was again out date. At no cost under warranty, we got an update and picked up the Mazda that same afternoon.

We’re looking forward to a few more months with 2014 Mazda 3, which is every bit as solid now as the day we took delivery. “The last Mazda 3 suffered from squeaks and rattles,” reflects associate editor David Zenlea. “I’ve heard not a one in this car, despite the relentless torture from our broken Michigan roads.”

Back to Four Seasons

BODY STYLE5-door hatchback

ACCOMMODATION5-passenger

CONSTRUCTIONSteel unibody

BASE PRICE (WITH DEST.)$25,890

AS TESTED$26,185

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