And the winner is …

David Yochum

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Battling a late surge by the Honda Civic, the Mazda 3 held on to win best overall vehicle of The $16,000 Challenge.

Outscoring the competition in “exterior,” “comfort,” “acceleration,” “braking” and “handling,” Mazda “rethought what’s possible” in a compact sedan, building a value for $15,990.

While Civic scored a perfect 4.0 for “interior,” students graded 3 with a 4.0 for “exterior,” canceling out any Honda advantage. Without cosmetic factors in play, the two-car competition essentially came down to performance – a Mazda specialty.

The 3 raced even with the Civic in “acceleration,” placing above the Honda by a car-point average of only .08. Mazda further slowed the Civic down in head-to-head “braking” comparisons, as Civic even lagged behind the Mitsubishi Lancer in stopping power. Rounding the final turn, Civic couldn’t budge the Mazda, allowing 3 to take the checkered flag in “handling” and, subsequently, The $16,000 Challenge.