Comparing the best-selling sedans in the segment
Although midsize sedans have historically been sales leaders, compact sedans have become just as important. In fact, compacts can lure young buyers into showrooms in hopes of making them lifetime brand customers. The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic have been the two best-selling compact sedans for years and are worth a closer look. With many more models in the segment, we suggest a look at our comprehensive 2016/2017 Big Test comparison of seven compact sedans.
This car comparison is based on our extensive knowledge and understanding of the automotive market but not necessarily recent driving experience.
Safety Advantage: Tie
In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s tests, the 2017 Honda Civic sedan got a five-star overall safety rating (out of a possible five stars). Although the 2017 Toyota Corolla sedan also got a five-star overall safety rating, it only scored four stars in the frontal crash and rollover tests (a 2014 Corolla being tested by the IIHS is shown above).
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the 2017 Toyota Corolla was given a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ rating, the highest overall rating available, and the 2017 Honda Civic sedan earned only a 2017 Top Safety Pick rating because of a Poor rating for its standard halogen headlights and available LED headlights. The Corolla earned an Acceptable rating for its LED headlights. Both cars earned a Good rating in all of the IIHS crash tests and a Superior rating for their available front crash prevention systems.
Acceleration Advantage: Honda Civic
The Honda Civic sedan is available with two engines—both of which are significantly quicker than the Corolla’s sole engine offering. With the base 158-hp, 138 lb-ft of torque 2.0-liter I-4, the Civic sedan accelerated to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds in Motor Trend testing. The Civic’s available 174-hp, 162 lb-ft turbocharged 1.5-liter turbo-four did the deed in just 7.2 seconds. In comparison, the Corolla’s 132-hp, 128 lb-ft 1.8-liter I-4 could only muster a 9.8-second acceleration run to 60 mph. Although all three engines are offered with a manual transmission, all our testing was done with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) option.
Efficiency Advantage: Honda Civic
The refreshed 2017 Toyota Corolla’s EPA ratings actually fall below those of the 2017 Honda Civic sedan, whether comparing base engines or the available engine in EPA ratings and in our RealMPG testing. The regular Corolla is EPA-rated 27-28/35-36 mpg (8.7-8.4/6.7-6.5 L/100km) city/highway, and the Toyota Corolla LE Eco is EPA-rated 29-30/38-40 mpg (8.1-7.8/6.2-5.9 L/100km). In comparison, the Honda Civic is EPA-rated 28-31/40 mpg (8.4-7.6/5.9 L/100km) with the 2.0-liter and 31-32/42 mpg (5.97.3/5.6 L/100km) with the turbo 1.5-liter.
The results are similar in real world driving. The 2016 Toyota Corolla with the CVT returned 27.8/40.2 mpg (8.5/5.8 L/100km). The 2016 Honda Civic with the 2.0-liter and CVT returned 29.6/42.8 mpg (7.9/5.5 L/100km), while the turbo 1.5-liter returned 30.1/40.0 mpg (7.8/5.9 L/100km) in Normal mode and 27.1/45.3 mpg (8.7/5.2 L/100km) in Eco mode. A 2017 Honda Civic with the turbo 1.5-liter and six-speed manual returned 32.3/41.5 mpg (7.3/5.7 L/100km).
Standard Features Advantage: Toyota Corolla
All 2017 Toyota Corolla models come with LED headlights, which are only available on the top-spec Touring models on the 2017 Honda Civic. The Corolla also comes standard with the full suite of active safety tech that includes auto-high beams, collision mitigation braking, lane departure monitoring and assist, and adaptive cruise control on every model. In comparison, Honda’s similar suite of active safety and driver assist tech is optional on most trims and standard on the higher-end Touring model.
The Civic, however, does hold an advantage when it comes to stopping power. The Civic features rear disc brakes on every model, while the Corolla has rear brake drums on most trims (L, LE, LE Eco, XLE) with rear discs only offered on top trims (SE, XSE).
Driving Fun Advantage: Honda Civic
Despite being the best-selling compact last year (including Corolla iM hatchbacks), the 2016 Toyota Corolla placed sixth out of seven cars in our compact sedan Big Test comparison (the Corolla was refreshed for the 2017 model year): “The 2016 Toyota Corolla S Special Edition was called out for … having the oldest platform in the group, dating back to the year Barack Obama was first inaugurated,” we said. “The whole car felt unduly coarse and unsophisticated…”
On the other hand, we named the 2016 Honda Civic with the 2.0-liter engine the winner of the same Big Test. “Ride quality in the Civic, from low speeds to freeway speeds, is very good,” Angus MacKenzie said. “But crucially, it’s combined with decent body control, which means the Civic doesn’t fall apart dynamically when driven briskly through the twisties.”
Cargo Space Advantage: Honda Civic
Cargo space is at a premium in compact sedans, and the Honda Civic offers it in spades compared to the Corolla. The Civic offers 14.7-15.1 cubic feet of trunk space compared to just 13.0 cubic feet for the Corolla. Both the Civic and Corolla have four-door hatchback variants.
Rear Seats Advantage: Toyota Corolla
Thanks to generous passenger and cargo volume measurements, both cars are categorized by the EPA as midsize sedans. Even so, the Corolla edges out the Civic in rear-seat legroom (41.4 inches vs. 37.4 inches). The Civic does, however, have a noticeable rear hip room advantage (47.3 inches vs. 43.9 inches), which might help the kids quit fighting over personal space.
Aesthetics Advantage: Honda Civic
Although styling is subjective, we give the nod to the Honda Civic sedan with its fastback styling. Some have criticized the Honda chrome beak, but we find it less garish than the Corolla’s large blacked-out lower front fascia.
Interior Layout Advantage: Honda Civic
For its 10th generation, Honda replaced the previous car’s dual cockpit with a straightforward yet attractive dashboard that places the tachometer and digital speedometer front and center. The audio and climate controls are well integrated and don’t look like an afterthought compared to the Corolla’s aging interior design. Honda makes up for the lack of volume knob with a sliding volume control on the steering wheel.
Which One Would You Choose?
With the Toyota Corolla nearly a decade old under its refreshed exterior, we would choose the quicker and more dynamically pleasing Honda Civic. Although the Civic has less rear legroom, the car still has enough space for a six-foot-tall rear passenger to sit behind the same size driver.
For those who put handling feel above rear-seat legroom, we suggest driving the Honda Civic back to back with a Mazda3 sedan or hatchback with the 2.5-liter I-4 engine.
Read more on the Civic and Corolla: