Back in the 1990s, no one compared a Honda to a Hyundai without laughing. While the Korean upstart was busy fending off questions about dubious quality, its Japanese rival was enjoying an enviable reputation for impeccable reliability. In recent years, though, the Hyundai and its Elantra have clawed their way into serious competition with the likes of Honda.
That it's now mentioned in the same breath as the Civic is a huge step for the Elantra, but the question remains: has it improved enough to supplant the Civic, or is it still a notch below Honda's compact champion?
What the Civic Gets Right
The Civic underwent a redesign in 2012 which was poorly received, and Honda rushed a heavily-revised Civic to market for 2013. This included a sportier outward appearance and higher-end interior materials, which have carried over in subsequent models. The 2013 Civic comes relatively well-equipped for a base economy car, with features like automatic headlights, a 5-inch central display screen, a rearview camera and much more.
Under the hood, the Civic has always received heaps of praise. Sure, its 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine isn't overly powerful, but it has been well-tested and proven reliable. Additionally, it turns in up to 41 mpg in the HF model.
What the Elantra Gets Right
The Elantra earns instant points with a price that's significantly cheaper than the Civic's. And while it matches the Civic with sedan and coupe variants, the Elantra adds a GT hatchback with 23 cubic feet of cargo room. Hyundai's compact also serves up sporty styling that's slightly more distinguished than its rival.
Under the hood, the Elantra bests its Japanese rival with a 1.8-liter engine that produces 148 horsepower – though this drops to 145 in PZEV models. The Elantra gets 40 mpg on the highway, regardless of drivetrain, and its 5-year or 60,000-mile warranty bests the Civic's 3-year or 36,000-mile warranty.
Is the Elantra There Yet?
The Elantra has come a long way, as has the entire Hyundai lineup. The engines are more powerful and efficient than ever, the Elantra’s styling is second to none in its class, and the base amenities are plentiful. However, the Elantra still has a little work to do before it catches the Civic.
Our Verdict: Honda Civic
It's a close battle – likely closer than it has ever been between these two. The Elantra is sharp, stylish, powerful and well-equipped, but so is the Civic. The Civic squeezes out a victory here because of its long-running history as one of the most reliable cars on the road.