2017 Honda CivicEnlarge Photo
The classic compact car isn't so compact any more. Across the set of nameplates usually thought of as small cars—Civic, Corolla, Elantra—most of them now qualify as mid-size four-doors.
Two of the newest entries not only amp up their interior space, they set new benchmarks for ride and quietness. The question is, which should you buy—the new Honda Civic, or the new Hyundai Elantra?
By the numbers, the Honda handily beats the Hyundai by more than a point. The Civic gets to 8.0 thanks to superlative safety and great fuel economy. The Elantra has both to match, but the Civic does it in style. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Honda Civic is a stalwart among small sedans. Redesigned for 2016, it has a stiff new body, efficient new engines, and lots of safety technology. There are coupe and hatchback body styles, but the sedan compares best with the Elantra.
The new 2016 Civic is simply the best-looking model in a decade or more. The rakish fastback shape effectively hides its size by widening and lowering its proportions. The flared wheels, fast roofline, wedge-shaped tail and bracket-shaped taillights add flair, though the cabin design is more restrained. It's also better organized, with horizontal lines and a single display replacing the tiered dual-screen design of its predecessor.
The 2016 Elantra has traded last year's brash looks for a more refined design with a wide, deep grille and boomerang LED running lights at the front, though its plainer sides lack the old car's distinction. The interior is straightforward, with horizontal lines and a large central touchscreen angled toward the driver. Commendably, it has knobs and buttons for basic functions.
Civic vs. Elantra: performance
Base Civic models have linear, unexciting acceleration and handling, while turbo models get more power and an exceptionally smooth ride. A 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is standard, with a 6-speed manual gearbox, but only on the base LX. All the rest come with a more efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's rated by the EPA at 31 mpg city, 41 highway, 35 combined. The light-shifting manual is lower, at 32 mpg combined.
The EX-T with CVT offers almost the same fuel economy plus far more lively performance from the 174-hp 1.5-liter turbo inline-4; its big appeal is a much-improved ride and tauter handling. Turbo versions get better tires and suspension tuning that deliver a wonderfully compliant, composed ride quality, but the ride is still good even in base models with smaller 16-inch wheels.
Standard Elantras use a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder rated at 147 hp. It's EPA-rated at 29/38/33 mpg in base form, a bit less in the Elantra Limited. Most will have the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, though the base model comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. A new Elantra Eco sports a 128-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, for an estimated EPA rating of 35 mpg combined.
The 2017 Elantra is only an average performer, but it offers one of the most composed driving experiences in the class. It accelerates evenly, though its shifts are set to maximize fuel economy, not speed. Sporty roadholding isn't a priority; instead, the new chassis delivers a remarkably supple ride—and a Sport driving mode offers crisper responses.