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 10th-generation Civic is here, and it features a redesign that pushes the model into a new area of style. Its body features a nose styled after the Accord and a fastback design that makes even the sedan and coupe look sporty. Also part of changes for the latest generation is the addition of a useful hatchback model.
The interior is also all new, and it uses more soft-touch materials than before, giving it a more upscale look and feel. What’s more, the sedan’s cabin offers 2 cubic feet more passenger room and 0.7 cubic feet more cargo room.
The redesigned Civic also gets a much-needed upgrade in the powertrain department. Its standard engine is a 2-liter that cranks out 158 horsepower, while its optional turbocharged 1.5-liter pounds out 174 horsepower, making it the most powerful non-Si Civic ever. For those who opt for the versatile hatchback model, there is a new Sport Touring trim that bumps the 1.5-liter engine to 180 horsepower. Fuel economy is also about as good as it gets at up to 42 mpg highway.
What the Elantra Gets Right
The Elantra also has a brand-new look, making the model sleeker than ever and kicking its premium look and feel up a notch. It's slightly smaller than the Civic, making it easier to navigate through tight spaces and in traffic while still retaining the interior space of a “midsize” sedan.
Along with these benefits, the Elantra also checks in significantly cheaper than the Civic, giving buyers more money to put toward extra features.
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 right where it needs to be, and the base amenities are plentiful. However, the Elantra lacks the versatility and comfort of 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's new look and expanded lineup of engines were key pieces in its victory.