For years and years, the Honda Civic was the gold standard of compact cars. And while it showed some weakness over the last 5 years, Honda rushed back in last year and redesigned the 2016 Civic, making it one of the most compelling compact cars on the market.
The latest Civic does pretty much everything well. Really well.
Which leaves precious little breathing room for another contender that’s clawed its way to be one of the most popular compacts in recent years, the Hyundai Elantra. In particular, the recently redesigned 2017 Hyundai Elantra attempts to improve on the gains Hyundai has made on its more established competitors – so much so that a fully loaded Elantra Limited is basically the same price as a fully loaded Civic Touring.
Did the Hyundai Elantra Hit the Bullseye?
In revising the Elantra, Hyundai brought in a more conservative shape with more straight edges than the model it replaces. The result is something reminiscent of recent Audi models, which is sure to play well to aspirational buyers. But it doesn’t stand out.
It’s the same story inside, with pleasant, albeit conservative, design and good fit and finish with materials that are adequate for the class. Leather upholstery feels man made and the plastics have a decidedly downmarket grain to them in some locations.
As always, fans of the latest bells and whistles will like the Elantra Limited. In addition to a user-friendly touch screen that comes with navigation if you add the Technology Package, the Ultimate Package adds two-position memory settings for the driver’s seat, which is a rarity in this class. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision prevention are also included in that package. Apple CarPlay comes on the Elantra, too.
While you can get a turbocharged engine in the efficiency-minded Elantra Eco, most models have a 2.0-liter four with 147 horsepower and a six-speed automatic. Around town, performance is fine and smooth. But highway speeds bring out economy car-like noises that seem dated and out of place, at least for a fully equipped Elantra Limited that costs more than $27,000.
For pretty much the same price, you can get a 2016 Honda Civic Touring. For its roughly $27,000 price, you get a striking sedan and a more finished product.
The Civic’s route is less conventional, a gamble that’s apparently paying off when looking at the storming sales figures Honda has racked up for the redesigned sedan and coupe. But it’s polarizing, so prepare to stand out a bit. LED headlights are a nice touch, however.
That swooping roofline means headroom is better in the Elantra, but the Civic has more legroom and a sportier feeling inside, with a lower seating position that recalls a sporty car as opposed to the upright Elantra. Nearly everything you touch is nice plastics or leather, although the Civic’s touch screen isn’t as easy to use. The Touring model comes standard with adaptive cruise control that keeps going even in stop-and-go traffic, as well as lane keeping assist and forward collision warning – and these features are available on every Civic trim.
While some Civics get a 2.0-liter, 158-horsepower engine, more expensive ones get a 1.5-liter turbo four with 174 horsepower and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that makes for quick and smooth acceleration and low noise. In corners, the Civic is kind of fun to drive, although the inability to manually select gears restrains things a bit. Still, as a highway runner, the Civic is relaxed and extremely efficient. Count on 40 mpg, easily.
Final Impressions: Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra
If it weren’t for the dull and sometimes-breathless base engine, the Elantra would be right on the Civic’s tail in this matchup. For both, powertrain changes are coming in the form of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines for the Hyundai – to up either efficiency on the Eco model and performance on the Sport model – and a six-speed manual for the Civic turbo models.
If the Elantra were noticeably cheaper than the Civic, it could be a win for Hyundai. The Elantra does pretty much everything well. It’s a sensible car you could certainly live with for the duration of its 10-year powertrain warranty. Less expensive versions may even make more sense than an expensive Limited model, and Hyundai dealers have been willing to deal lately to move more Elantras.
But as it stands, the new Elantra is a good car that has to contend with the very good Civic, which is the winner in this matchup.