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Honda Civic vs Hyundai Elantra vs Toyota Corolla

Though trucks are the perennial sales leaders in Canada and SUVs are everywhere these days the compact car is still a major contender. The Honda Civic family popularity in 2018 was only surpassed by the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150. In fact, 2018 marked the Civic’s 21st consecutive year as Canada’s best-selling passenger car.

Certainly some of that success can be attributed to Honda’s reputation for being able hold a number of key qualities in balance: efficiency, safety, reliability, and fun. Honda’s return to the podium again and again is a testament more to its all-around strengths than a big win in one or two categories. Think of the Civic as a compact car decathlete rather than the more narrowly focused sprinter or power lifter.

The Civic has been the go-to car for generations of Canadian families now (including my own) but there’s no denying that the Civic has never faced more fierce competition than it does today, whether it be from rising stars like Hyundai Elantra or steadfast contenders like the Toyota Corolla, both which regularly crack the top ten in the annual sales race.

The current generation of Civic, which debuted in 2016, moved the needle again significantly and was showered with awards as a result but how does it compare in 2019 to the Elantra and Corolla? Let’s have a look. We’ll focus mostly on the Civic LX Sedan and the similarly priced Elantra Preferred and Corolla LE. (Most people will purchase the Civic, Elantra, or Corolla with a non-turbo charged engine and automatic.)

2019 Honda Civic and 2019 Toyota Corolla and 2019 Hyundai Elantra

Let’s start under the hood. The Civic and the Elantra are both powered by two litre fours, and the Corolla by a 1.8 litre. The Civic and Corolla put their power to the wheels with a continuously variable automatics, while the Elantra uses a more conventional six-speed automatic. With 158 hp, the Civic has 11 and 26 more hp than the Elantra and Corolla, respectively, and weighs a little bit less than both. As such, its 0 to 100 km/h times are about second faster than either. You might think this superior performance would exact a penalty in fuel economy – not so. The Civic’s combined L/100 of 7.1 edges out the Elantra and the Corolla which are both a bit thirstier at 7.4 and 7.5.

So, we know that the Civic can get up to speed with more confidence and uses less fuel while on the way there. How does the Civic fare against its rivals when it comes to handling and braking? Well, it is equipped with impressive mechanicals. While the Elantra and Corolla employ a relatively simple torsion beam rear suspension, the Civic is equipped with a sophisticated multi-link set up. The multi-link suspension allows for greater independent movement between the left and the right wheels. The Civic also has wider tires than the others two: 215 mm vs 205. Additionally, the Civic uses disc brakes all around while the Elantra and Corolla make do with rear drum brakes. Disc brakes are much more effective at dissipating heat and thus less susceptible to fade.

Numbers and mechanical specs are all well and good but they can’t always capture the real life experience. Ultimately, your own test drive experience is the most important thing but input from experts and enthusiasts can help narrow down your choices. According to Car and Driver, the Elantra has a comfortable ride and strong braking. However, the engine doesn’t have a lot of oomph, at least lower in the rev range. C&D describes the Corolla as sluggish and uninvolving, and found its brake pedal soft with excessive travel. The Civic heralded as the jack-of-all-trades, striking a near perfect balance between comfort and driver engagement, with one of the best CVT’s in the market.

Looking inside, we find the dimensions to be quite similar, with a couple of exceptions. The Corolla has the edge in rear legroom and the Civic beats out both rivals in trunk space. While the Elantra is marginally the snuggest, all three of these sedans provide good room for four adults (five in a pinch) and their luggage, which should tell you something about how the typical “compact” sedan has grown.

2019 Honda Civic and 2019 Toyota Corolla and 2019 Hyundai Elantra

Space aside, what sort of driving environment do each of these vehicles provide? According to Edmunds, the Elantra gets a lot of the basics right. Its controls are easy to use, the driver’s seat has a wide range of adjustability, and all around visibility is good. However, despite the use of nice materials on key touch points, there is a fair amount of hard plastic in the cabin. Edmunds finds the Corolla seats comfortable but adjustability minimal. Visibility is laudable and cabin controls are straightforward. However, hard plastics abound, detracting from an elegant interior design. The Civic’s seats offer a good balance of compliance and support, with ample adjustment. Construction is tight and solid. The primary controls are well placed. Already good visibility is enhanced with large side mirrors and Honda’s LaneWatch camera.

When I leased my first Civic my needs were few. My only must haves were a CD player and A/C. My expectations have risen considerably since then and I think that is true for most buyers today, especially when it comes to infotainment and safety. All three feature heated front seats on most trim levels. The Civic LX and Elantra Preferred both offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The Corolla only works with Apple CarPlay. The Civic LX CVT and Corolla LE both have comprehensive driver assist safety suites as standard. The Elantra Preferred has impressive technology such as cross traffic and blind spot collision warning as standard but most of the other driver assist tech is only available as options or on higher trim levels.

It’s fair to say that the Corolla, Elantra, and Civic are each competent, comfortable, safe, and efficient sedans. The Corolla has well-deserved reputation for stellar reliability. However, those who desire an engaging driving experience may want to look elsewhere. (Having said that, early impressions of the 2020 Corolla are positive. We’ll have to wait to see what the consensus is.) The Elantra is an impressive compact. It does most things pretty well and its safety scores are commendable, when properly equipped. Where the Civic shines is…just about everywhere. It may not take the top spot in every category but it usually comes close, often with little compromise. It manages to be peppy and fuel efficient, comfortable and agile. Ultimately, the Civic moves beyond being the sedan that you need to being the one that you want.

Check out our new 2019 Honda Civic inventory HERE.

2019 Honda Civic