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Compact Car Shootout: 2016 Honda Civic vs. Toyota Corolla

Affordable, efficient, functional and in some cases fun, the compact car has long been the top choice of those looking for reliable transportation that won’t break the bank. The segment is loaded with excellent options and the competition is steep. Manufacturers continue to up their game in an effort to keep step with each other.

Standard features go far beyond the seat belts and AM/FM radios of the not-so-distant retired models. Fully loaded, many of today’s compact cars offer the creature comforts found in entry-level luxury cars from premium brands.

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Launched in 1966 as a subcompact, the Toyota Corolla’s reception was one for the record books, becoming the best-selling car worldwide in less than 10 years. By 1997, the Corolla would become the best-selling nameplate of all time, surpassing the wildly popular Volkswagen Beetle for the top spot. In 2013, Toyota would announce that the 40-millionth Corolla was sitting in a consumer’s driveway and that sales had hit a fever pitch, with 3,180 Corollas sold per day.

Honda’s subcompact Civic arrived on the scene in 1972, attempting to take on the lauded Corolla in the burgeoning subcompact segment for the 1973 model year. Thanks in great part to the 1973 oil crisis, the strong demand for fuel-efficient automobiles helped drive sales for Honda’s new econobox. The Civic would also win numerous awards overseas, as well as Road Test magazine’s “1974 Car of the Year” award in the United States.

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Both subcompacts would grow in sales and size; Corolla would move into the compact class in 1991 and Civic would follow in 2000. The two would also continue to evolve through each generation, breaking segment stereotypes along the way. However, each automaker’s basic concept for both best-sellers remains essentially the same: Build a high-quality vehicle with mass appeal at an affordable price.

Now entering its 50th model year, the 2016 Toyota Corolla continues to lead the compact segment in sales, with over one million vehicles sold every year worldwide. The newest Corolla represents the 11th generation of the model, initially offered for the 2014 model year. The current Corolla is offered exclusively as a four-door sedan powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. That engine creates anywhere from 132 to 140 horsepower and favors fuel efficiency over performance. The 2016 Corolla is available in four basic trim levels: L, LE, S and LE Eco. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the base model and a four-speed automatic is optional. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available on all other trim levels.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

The base 2016 Corolla L, with a six-speed manual transmission, starts at $17,300. The top-trim 2016 Corolla S Premium with a CVT begins at $23,125.

The Honda Civic is now entering its 10th generation with the recent unveiling of the all-new 2016 Civic sedan. While it’s not the record-holding world sales champ, the Civic is a best seller that continually battles the Corolla for the top spot in the compact segment. It is also of interest that Canadian buyers favor the Civic over any other car, as the Honda Civic has been the best-selling vehicle in Canada for almost two decades.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

The 2016 Civic is available in five trim levels with two new power plants. A 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers LX and EX models and Honda’s first-ever turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 174 horsepower resides under the hood of EX-T, EX-L and Touring models. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on LX models. A CVT is optional on the LX and standard on EX, EX-T, EX-L and Touring trims.

The base 2016 Honda Civic LX with a manual transmission starts at $18,640. The top Touring model starts at $26,500.

Exterior

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

I am a firm believer that style and pleasing aesthetics are a subjective matter of taste and preference. For me to pronounce a definitive winner in this category would be unfair not only to the vehicle design teams, but to you as a consumer as well. While my eye prefers the lines of the all-new 2016 Civic, it is important to remember that the Corolla’s design is now entering its third year. It is also helpful to focus on the use of form and function of the Corolla.

For instance the Civic’s wonderfully coupe-inspired C-pillar may grab more attention than the conservative design of the Corolla, but the Civic’s sharply pitched design affects the ease of rear-seat passenger ingress and egress. Taller folks will occasionally bump their head on the top window seal, something that is rarely an issue in the Corolla.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

Function aside, the Civic’s sleek new look is lovely. The long hood and low-slung body give the compact the stage presence of a midsize sedan. During my time with the Civic, the vehicle garnered quite a few unsolicited compliments at grocery stores and gas stations. Perhaps it was the newness of the model, but the continual thumbs up in traffic and slack-jawed response of those learning that it was indeed a Civic confirmed the public’s approval of Honda’s new sedan.

Interior

The interior is a little easier to judge, although the numbers reveal very close competition. The Corolla and Civic both offer 42.3-inches of front legroom. The Civic has an additional inch of front headroom and bests the Corolla in the other front-seat measurements. The back seat is a different story. While both offer identical rear headroom, the Corolla’s 41.4 inches of rear legroom rivals what many full-size sedans offer and bests what the Civic has by 4 inches.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

The Civic handily wins the cargo space category with up to 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, the Corolla offers 13 cubic feet of trunk space.

The fit and finish of both vehicles is excellent. There is good reason that the Civic and Corolla have great reputations as family-friendly vehicles. Both models excel in terms of interior space and design. The standard seats in either vehicle are comfortable and provide decent support. Higher trim levels add a nice level of luxury to the Civic’s upholstery, while the Corolla’s leatherette (Softex) left me wanting more. That material certainly feels like it will wear well, but I would be hard pressed to consider the top-level seating material worthy of use in Toyota’s premium Lexus brand. The Civic’s top-trim materials, on the other hand, felt like they could have been sourced from the Acura parts bin.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

Comparing the base trim’s technology reveals that the Corolla has a slight edge. The Civic’s 5-inch color display is smaller than the Corolla’s 6.1-inch display. The Corolla has a six-speaker audio system, while the base Civic comes with a four-speaker stereo system. Both offer USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Moving into higher trim levels is where the Civic takes the lead. The premium feel of the Civic Touring sets the compact apart from anything currently offered with the Corolla badge. But that statement makes a little less impact when you consider that the Touring starts at $26,500, which is a significantly higher price tag than the Corolla LE Premium’s $23,125 starting price.

My interior winner depends on your needs and budget. If you have a family with bigger kids and need the space, the Corolla’s massive rear seat is hard to beat, especially for the price. But if you have the budget and find the Civic’s rear seat appropriate, anything above the base Civic LX is my pick over the Corolla all day long.

Performance

Perhaps the area of performance is where the all-new Honda Civic has the most definitive edge. The Corolla’s normally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 132 horsepower in standard form and 140 horsepower in Eco trim. Gas mileage for the Corolla in base trim is 28/37 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual. The Corolla’s top fuel-efficiency performer is the LE Eco with the CVT, which returns 30/42 mpg.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

The Civic’s base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is good for 158 horsepower. Fuel economy for the base Civic with a six-speed manual equates to 27/40 mpg city/highway, and jumps to 31/41 mpg with the CVT. The new turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is where the Civic really comes alive. The tiny turbocharged engine produces 174 horsepower and delivers 31/42 mpg city/highway when paired with the standard CVT.

The numbers reveal that the Civic has a strong advantage over the Corolla, which was confirmed by my extended time behind the wheel of both vehicles. The Corolla offers a comfortable ride for the most part, but the steering feels less connected and the suspension offers a far less exciting ride. The new Civic feels more composed on the road and much quicker when accelerating. A few drag races between the two always had the turbocharged Civic convincingly pulling away from the highest horsepower Corolla LE Eco.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

The Corolla’s 1.8-liter is a known commodity with an excellent track record for reliability. While it isn’t the most exciting power plant, the Corolla did just fine in normal daily commuting and trips around town.

In comparison, the all-new Civic is quite fun to drive, even aggressively. The sport-tuned suspension offers excellent driving dynamics and the engines, especially the 1.5-liter turbo, use the extra power to push the compact around with authority. While the Honda falls short of being a sports sedan, the Civic is by far the sportier of the two and convincingly wins the performance category.

Cost-Effectiveness and the Verdict

The base 2016 Corolla L provides nearly bare-bones transportation for an excellent price. When comparing base models, the Corolla L is significantly less expensive than the Civic LX and offers many of the same standard features. If basic family-friendly transportation is your primary goal, the entry-level Corolla L is truly hard to beat and wins the shoot-out, especially if cost-effectiveness is a primary concern.

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(CARFAX, Inc.)

However, the Civic significantly pulls ahead in just about every category as you leave the base trim levels. The Civic also allows the base trim to be equipped with an optional active safety system that rivals what many luxury sedans offer. The package includes collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. These same active safety features are standard on the Touring trim. This is another area where the Civic has Corolla beat because none of the aforementioned active safety features are available on the 2016 Corolla, regardless of trim level. As a result, a true dollar-for-dollar comparison is almost impossible.

While the Corolla offers significant value and will likely continue to be a worldwide best-seller, the all-new 2016 Civic earns my top choice based on performance, fuel-efficiency and overall value. Both vehicles have excellent ratings in initial quality and both nameplates are synonymous with long-term reliability and durability, making either a great choice depending on your priorities. But for 2016, the Civic wins the shootout between the two.

Other compacts worth taking a peek at include the fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive 2016 Mazda3 and the enthusiast-favored Ford Focus, as well as the Volkswagen Golf and Kia Soul.

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20 thoughts on “Compact Car Shootout: 2016 Honda Civic vs. Toyota Corolla”

  1. This all sounds great, but I’ve had 3 Honda Civics and I’m so tired of the road noise, which you didn’t mention. I also had to replace the mass air flow sensor on my 2012 Honda Civic at just over 40,000 miles. I’m now thinking of switching to the Carolla, but I’d like to know what you found regarding air/road noise. When I’m on speaker phone it sounds as though I’m in an airplane.

    1. I had a corolla that last more than 270,000 miles and i only did normal maintaince and i have seen the car be cause a neighbor has it. I never had a issue neither by neighbor. I had a civic 1995 and had a problem with thermostat radiador air flow meter oxigen sensor and the car only had 95,000 miles. Toyota last more cost less

      1. Right on brother, I’ve had a few of these now (toyotas) and nothing has gone wrong with them , ever!! Slightly boring yes, but rock solid and cheap to own and maintain.

    2. I have an old Chevy Prizm, which is virtually identical to the Toyota Corolla (I’m told that the Prizms and Corollas were made side-by-side in the same factory.) I can say that the Prizms also have a great deal of road noise. In fact, I was hoping to read here that the Civics are quieter!

    3. I just test drove one, and the 2016 actually won an award for quietest interior. It was something that I noticed as a favorite thing about it.

  2. Hello Rosemary,
    The new Civic is quieter than the current Corolla on the road, at least that was my experience. Reducing road noise was an issue they went after in the 2016 redesign. My shoot out is limited here, but I review both vehicles in greater detail on the CarFax site.

    Honda and Toyota both have a strong reputation for reliability, but a bad part can surface in any vehicle. Sorry to hear about your troubles.

    I think an extended test drive in both the Civic and Corolla would be a good idea before you decide which way to go. Not to throw a wrench in the discussion, but the Mazda3 and new Hyundai Elantra are well worth a peek too.

    Thanks for reading and posting,
    Chris Brewer

    1. Chris, sorry, there is no way you can compare a hyundai or mazda to a toyota. you are leading people down the garden path there. The toyota is also due for a bunch of updates, hatches, hybrids, total sheetmetal makeover etc., perhaps put the new civic up against the new corolla when it arrives shortly. If you want to give people great advice and save them money and headaches, they have to be recommended a toyota.

    2. Engine noise is louder when accelerating but road noise is much loader. The road noise killed it for me. Loved the style though.

    3. I test drove a 2016 Civic EX last weekend. It is very quiet. The salesman said theirs a lot of sound deadening plastic underneath now.

  3. I own both, love the corolla, but have to admit that the civic feels on other level, feels like an electric car, very, very quiet, fun to drive and luxury…

  4. I’ve owned Corollas since the 2006 model, they have never let me down! Just got a 2016 Toyota Corolla S. Love it! Drives wonderfully! Smoothly and comfortably. Not sure how the civic compares in ride now but I know there used to not be any comfort when comparing the two or smoothness in my opinion. Maybe I just love Toyota though ?

  5. My observation is that both Toyotas and Hondas are the most reliable cars you can buy. That being said, almost all Hondas drive better than the competing Toyota models. However, the Toyotas are a little more durable. Honda is an engineering company that strives for the best engineering. Toyota is very conservative and sticks to the tried and true. If you want a car to go 200K miles, get a Honda. If you want a car to go 400K miles get a Toyota. Both are far better than any American car except for old Panther cars. Though American cars are far better than they used to be.

    1. Scott, well put. Any time you see a thirld world militia with a 50 calibre bolted onto the back of a pickup, its ALWAYS a toyota. Is that telling us something??

    2. I think Pontiac Vibe was only real durable car because it had everything inside identical to a Toyota Matrix. Other Pontiac are not as reliable.

      1. I’ve had a Vibe to since 2009. It’s got about 143k miles now and never ant major issues. Going for the 2016 Civic though now but no regrets with vibe.

  6. I’ve got a 1984 Impala that has 540K miles on it. Most any engine out there today will run past 500K. It’s the small stuff like alternators, belts, etc. that need to be replaced on any vehicle with that many miles.

  7. “If you want a car to go 200K miles, get a Honda. If you want a car to go 400K miles get a Toyota” Best quote and very true. Toyota is very conservative. Not as exciting as the Civic or Mazda. I have friends that own all the competing models in this class. Mazda, Kia, Honda and myself with the Toyota. I pay very close attention to all the problems they have over the years. I can tell you that over the long haul once you hit 150k miles is when the cars really show what they are made of. My 2003 corolla had 250k miles on it before I sold it to a friend who still drives the car today. My 2013 corolla now has 80k and is solid. I love these cars because I drive a lot and really need a reliable vehicle. Sure I would like the style of the Civic or the interior and handling of the Mazda but at the end of the day I know for a fact that the Toyota will be the one crossing the finish line at 300k miles for the least amount of maintenance cost.

  8. I have Honda Civic 2016 1.5 turbocharged and I love it. It’s fast, powerful and quite. One tank of gas gives me 600KM (combination of high Way and inner city) I feel like driving a sport car. I love it.

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