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Since safety is important, make sure you get a model with the side impact airbags, side curtains and ABS. Some equipment levels have it standard, some can have it as an option for $395 (the best-spent money in my view). The 3 did pretty bad in a side impact tests without the side airbags. As I can recall, the Civic did very well in crash tests.

That said, I would again pick the 3 if I was buying. The dash in the Civic is a seriously ugly. Plus the Mazda will most likely be more fun to drive - I haven't driven the Civic so i can't say for sure. Great choice of transmission - the manual in the Mazda is great.
 
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