When someone tells us they need “just a car,” our answer is usually either the Honda Civic or the Toyota Corolla. Odds are you’ve owned one, driven one, or at least ridden in one, and their ubiquity isn’t random. Both are dependable, value-packed, affordable, and safe, and the 2020 models are smarter than they’ve ever been.
On one end of the spectrum, they’re quick; the Honda Civic Type R packs over 300 horsepower. On the other, they’re efficient; the Corolla Hybrid returns 53 mpg in the city. Here’s how these two hot-selling models compare on paper.
The entry-level Civic LX corresponds to what we can accurately call rental-car spec. It features a 5.0-inch LCD screen, Bluetooth connectivity, a four-speaker sound system, and not much else in the connectivity department. Its suite of electronic driving aids is comprehensive, but we’ll get to those later. Buyers who want more need to upgrade to the Sport model, which adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration (neither is available on the base model), the HondaLink infotainment system, and an eight-speaker stereo. Navigation and a 10-speaker sound system with a subwoofer are both available higher up in the trim level hierarchy.
Toyota’s cheapest Corolla is a little less basic. The base L trim packs a 7.0-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker sound system, and Bluetooth. As its price tag rises, it gains features like an 8.0-inch screen and a Wi-Fi hotspot, though you’ll need to subscribe to a data plan before you can stay connected on-the-go. Apple CarPlay compatibility is finally available, but Toyota hasn’t added Android Auto yet, though we’re guessing it’s coming sooner rather than later.
Performance and fuel economy
The 2020 Civic comes in several flavors ranging from mild to extra-hot. Buckle up; it’s going to be a long ride.
The LX and Sport trims come with a naturally aspirated (meaning it’s not turbocharged) 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine tuned to 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. It spins the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, though a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is offered at an extra cost.
EX, EX-L, and Touring models receive a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 174hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque. In the sedan, it’s exclusively available with the CVT; you’re out of luck if you want a stick. However, note the Civic Hatchback is only offered with the 1.5-liter and some trims get the six-speed manual.
Stepping up to the hotter Civic Si adds an evolution of the turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 205hp and 192 lb.-ft. of torque plus a six-speed manual transmission. Finally, the range-topping Civic Type R rules the roost with 306hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s only offered with front-wheel drive, though Honda relies on trick technology to keep torque steer in check, and a six-speed stick.
Moving over to Toyota, the Corolla’s base engine is a naturally aspirated, 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 139hp and 126 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s less powerful than a comparable Civic. Up next is a 2.0-liter four rated at 169hp and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. The 1.8 is CVT-only, while the 2.0 can be ordered with a six-speed manual. Note that, oddly, buyers who select the Corolla Hatchback can’t order the more affordable 1.8-liter engine.
There’s no performance option available, though Toyota strongly hinted one is around the corner, but there’s a hybrid on the docket. The powertrain consists of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a small electric motor linked to a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. They join forces to send 121hp to the front wheels via a CVT.
As you’d expect, fuel economy is all over the map. The Civic’s ranges from 22mpg in the city, 28mpg on the highway, and 25mpg combined for the Type R to 32, 42, and 36 for the sedan with the 1.5-liter. At Toyota, the least efficient model is the Hatchback with the six-speed manual, which returns 28, 37, and 31, respectively, while the hybrid takes the efficiency crown with 53, 52, and 52. The most efficient non-hybrid gets a stellar 35mpg combined.
Exterior and interior design
We won’t spend too much time on design because we know opinions vary. You’ll love the Civic or you’ll hate it; the same goes for the Corolla. What’s certain is that both are much more exciting to look at than they were in 2010.
There are a few points to keep in mind: Honda and Toyota offer their perennially popular compact models as sedans and as hatchbacks, but only the former is available as a coupe. If you want a new wagon, you’ll need to either travel back in time or move to Europe, where the long-roof variant of the Corolla is alive and relatively well.
Honda’s Civic sedan stretches 182.7 inches long, 55.7 inches tall, and 70.9 inches wide, so it’s grown considerably over the past few generations. The Corolla checks in at 182.3, 56.5, and 70.1. Both seat five regardless of body style, though the person who short-straws the middle of the rear bench is in for a cramped trip.
You can carry 15.1 cubic feet of your stuff in the Civic sedan, 13.1 cubes in the Corolla. Select the hatchback, and the Civic offers 25.7 cubes with both rows of seats left up and 46.2 with the rear bench folded flat. The Corolla Hatchback has 17.8 cubic feet of trunk space behind the second-row seats, and Toyota doesn’t list a figure for when the seat is folded flat. Finally, the Civic coupe has an 11.9-cube trunk, which is respectable for a small car with two doors.
Whether you’re in the market for a Civic or a Corolla, looking at the specifications sheet reveals how far compact cars have come in the past decade. Both models offer a comprehensive list of safety features, including a few that were reserved for big, expensive sedans in the not-too-distant past. Honda’s entry offers forward collision warning, lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, plus front, side, and curtain airbags. In other words: It has your back.
The Corolla can say the same. Even the sub-$20,000 entry-level model packs a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, and lane tracing assist plus a total of eight airbags (including one for the driver’s knees).
Pricing, like much else, is all over the map. In its cheapest configuration, the Civic sedan costs $20,650 before Honda adds a mandatory $955 destination charge, which is like shipping and handling for cars. Plan on spending $27,700 for a range-topping Touring model. These figures go up to $21,050 and $27,250, respectively, for a coupe.
The hatchback starts at $21,750, while the Si costs $25,200 regardless of whether it has two or four doors. Finally, the Type R will set you back by $36,995. That’s a lot of money for a Civic, but it’s a lot of Civic for the money.
Toyota charges $19,600 for the cheapest Corolla and $25,550 for the range-topping XSE trim level. Pricing for the Hatchback and Hybrid models starts at $23,100 and $20,290, respectively, and the destination fee costs $955.