The long running Volkswagen Jetta aims to compete directly with other economical compacts, which means a focus on lower price and simplified equipment choices, and greater emphasis on fuel efficiency. Despite its roomy interior and grown-up looks, the Jetta sedan carries the lowest sticker price in the VW lineup.
The Honda Civic received a substantial freshening in 2013 to include more standard features, sharper styling and improved handling. It's an impressive package of enhancements for a model that's still so new to the market.
How does the value-oriented Jetta stack up against the reinvigorated Civic?
Where the Jetta Delivers
The Jetta optimizes the notion of a lot of car for the money. Interior and trunk space come close to mid-size levels, and features like heated outside mirrors and express up/down windows are included in the modest base price. The Jetta offers clean and sensible styling inside and out, which makes it unique in a field that thrives on trends and cuteness.
The standard 2-liter engine makes 115 horsepower, but buyers can upgrade to a 2.5-liter, turbo, turbo-diesel, or hybrid. The turbo offers the most thrust with 200 horsepower, and the hybrid is the mileage champ at 48 mpg on the highway.
Where the Civic Delivers
The Civic impresses with some pretty heady standard features for this class, like a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio controls, and a data-rich color information display. As with the Jetta, the engine lineup is deep, ranging from 110 to 201 horsepower and offering hybrid and natural gas powerplants.
The Civic also received some impressive updates in 2013, including design tweaks and improved interior quality, which have gone a long way toward reestablishing the Civic as a top-tier competitor. You also get the nimble handling and diverse model choices for which the small Honda is known.
Which Stands Out?
The Jetta offers a sober personality and fine interior room at a price point populated by toy-like cars. What it may lack in flair, it makes up for in sheer capability for the money.
The Civic resumes its position as a sophisticated and people-pleasing economy car. Although it doesn't dominate the market like it once did, all of its traditional selling points continue in full force.
Our Verdict: Volkswagen Jetta
High practicality and low price make the Jetta the more compelling choice.