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Small Sports Saloons: Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and MG GT

By Ghaith Madadha - Mar 28,2022 - Last updated at Mar 28,2022

Photos from top to bottom respectively courtesy of Honda, Mazda and MG

 

A common feature of most European and Japanese manufacturers’ model lines until not too long ago, the small sports saloon was a mildly more powerful but practical, relatively affordable and keen drivers’ car version of garden-variety offerings. 

In recent years, this segment has largely given way to hot hatches, almost oxymoronic sports crossovers and larger, heavier, pricier and far more powerful prestigious executive sports and super saloons.

Notable examples like the Subaru WRX STI, Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 — and slightly toned down WRX, S3 and A35 variants — steadfastly still deliver big thrills in a small saloon package. However, they are more complex, costly and specialised than the small sports saloons of past that walked a fine line between the common and quick, without being over-complicated. Ever rarer, slightly larger and more modern, similar such small sensible sports saloons, however, still carry on at Honda, Mazda and MG.

Honda Civic Si

Introduced last year for 2022 in the US and elsewhere, the Honda Civic Si is the sportiest and most powerful of the Japanese manufacturer’s eleventh generation compact saloon line yet. Whether it will be usurped as such by a full-blooded high performance Civic Type-R remains unknown, but the Civic Si nevertheless brilliantly captures the small sports saloon niche, with its athletic yet not overstated styling, potent but not overwhelming output and expected keen handling characteristics.

Powered by an up-rated version of Honda’s turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine, the Civic Si develops 200BHP at a moderately peaky 6,000rpm and a muscularly meaty 

192lb/ft torque throughout a broad 1,800-5,000rpm band. Brisk through 0-100km/h in around 7-seconds, the Civic Si meanwhile rides on sophisticated multilink rear suspension and features wrist-flick quick 2.17-turn lock-to-lock steering. Standout for enthusiasts driver are the Si’s limited-slip differential for agile cornering, and its engaging manual gearbox as standard.

Shark-nosed and snouty with an elegantly descending roofline, rear spoiler and seemingly descending waistline that bucks current design trends, the Civic Si is offered with a sportier HPT appearance package. Not launched in Middle East markets yet, it is expected that a slightly toned-down Civic RS version might instead be eventually offered in Jordan, as with the previous generation. Available in Indonesia, the Civic RS is instead tuned to 180BHP, driven through continuously variable transmission.

Specifications: Honda Civic Si

  • Engine: 1.5-litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinders
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual
  • Drive-line: Front-wheel-drive, limited-slip differential
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 200 (203) [149] @6,000rpm
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 192 (260) @1,800-5,000rpm
  • 0-100km/h: approximately 7-seconds
  • Top speed: 240km/h (estimate)
  • Length: 4,674mm
  • Width: 1,801mm
  • Height: 1,410mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,735mm
  • Weight: 1,318kg
  • Suspension: MacPherson struts / multi-link
  • Tyres: 235/40R18

 

 

Mazda 3 2.5L

 

An elegantly athletic take on the mainstream small sports saloon, the Mazda 3 edges towards a more premium positioning with its “Kodo” design philosophy. Stylishly upmarket with flowing lines, delicately contoured surfaces, urgent posture, huge jutting, hungry mesh grille and slim squinting headlights, the Mazda 3 is meanwhile refined and tastefully “human-centric” inside. Under the bonnet, its sophisticated and innovative Skyactiv engine options keep the internal combustion engine relevant, even as other manufacturers wind down further development. 

A smooth and refined ride, the Mazda 3 is nevertheless ager and sporty handling through twists and turns. With quick, accurate and intuitive steering and nimble maneuverability, the Mazda 3 keeps the driver at the centre of the action. A range-topping 250BHP turbocharged version available in the US and ultra sophisticated Skyactiv-X engines in Europe, but it is perhaps the US market’s 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G engine that best stands out in this segment for its progressive delivery. 

A high compression engine requiring just 91RON petrol, the 2.5L engine produces 186BHP at 6,000rpm and 186lb/ft torque at 4,000rpm. Capable of 0-100km/h in 7.9-seconds, its specs point to eager, slightly peaky, precise and responsive characteristics. An interesting grey market import proposition in 2.5L guise, the Mazda 3 is, however, available in the Middle East in naturally-aspirated 2-litre 153BHP spec, or in Jordan with a 1.5-litre 110BHP engine employing an un-intrusive, smoothly integrated mild hybrid system.

 

Specifications: Mazda 3 2.5L

  • Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cylinders
  • Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
  • Drive-line: Front-wheel-drive
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 186 (189) [139] @6,000rpm
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 186 (252) @4,000rpm
  • 0-100km/h: 7.9-seconds (estimate)
  • Top speed: 230km/h (estimate)
  • Length: 4,660mm
  • Width: 1,796mm
  • Height: 1,445mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,725mm
  • Weight: 1,406kg
  • Suspension: MacPherson struts / torsion beam
  • Tyres: 215/45R18

 

 

MG GT 1.5T

A shark-nosed fast-backed addition to the increasingly popular “British born” Chinese car maker’s regional roster, the MG GT is a welcome addition to the dwindling small sports saloon segment’s ranks. Launched locally in short order after it debuting regionally late last year, the MG GT has however still not been available to test drive in Jordan, leaving the question hanging whether it lives up to sporting expectations stirred by manufacturer-led comparisons with classic MG sports cars.

Whether the GT delivers an unexpected but delightfully rewarding driving experience like the larger MG 6 or is instead a competent but not especially compelling economy saloon like the MG 5 remains debatable. However, the MG GT borrows from both, including the MG 6’s potent General Motor-derived turbo-charged 1.5-litre engine and 7-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox. The GT meanwhile shares a basic platform, torsion beam rear suspension, entry-level 116BHP naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre engine and CVT transmission with the MG 5.

With styling cues loosely harking back to the iconic 1970s MGB GT V8 and stylish driver-oriented cabin, the MG GT wears its sporting aspirations on its sleeve and is backed up by an XDS torque vectoring system for keener cornering. Safe to assume the top spec 171BHP turbo version will be the fun little firecracker it’s billed as, the question however remains whether the MG GT brings enough dynamic driving savvy to earn its sporting spurs in entry-level specification.

 

Specifications: MG GT 1.5T

  • Engine: 1.5-litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinders
  • Gearbox: 6-speed dual clutch automated
  • Drive-line: Front-wheel-drive, XDS electronic differential lock
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 171 (173) [127.5] @5,600rpm (estimate)
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 184 (250) @1,700-4,400rpm (estimate)
  • 0-100km/h: 8.5-seconds
  • Top speed: 215km/h
  • Length: 4,675mm
  • Width: 1,842mm
  • Height: 1,480mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,680mm
  • Weight: 1,318kg
  • Suspension: MacPherson struts / torsion beam
  • Tyres: 215/50R17

 

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