The Civic grows up as Toyota finds its styling groove.
Following the reveal of the new Civic Sedan, Honda revealed its more youthful sibling, the Civic Hatchback. Shorter than the sedan but offered with a manual gearbox, it will appeal to younger shoppers or those looking for a more engaging driving experience. Although enhanced in every area, the new Civic hatch enters a hotly contested segment and one of its primary rivals will be the latest Toyota Corolla Hatchback. Far more stylish than before and capable of excellent gas mileage, the Corolla appeals to both the head and the heart. But which hatchback strikes the best balance between the two? Let's dig in and find out.
The previous-gen Toyota Corolla was a decent car but it wasn't one that got the pulse racing in the way it looked, whereas the outgoing Honda Civic polarized with its bold styling - it never left you without a strong opinion. With the new generation of each, things have changed. The latest Corolla hatch is an attractive, cohesive-looking hatch with real presence. The sleek headlights and large but well-integrated grille work brilliantly, as does the profile and modern rear-end. By contrast, the latest Civic initially comes across as comparatively bland. Not unattractive - just bland. It does have a sporty mesh grille and a sportier rear-end than the Civic sedan but at least until the Type R arrives, the Corolla is the more appealing car to look at.
Both cars have excellent interiors that mimic more premium offerings with their classy designs and strategic use of smart materials. Both are spacious in front but at the back the Corolla offers just 29.9 inches of legroom which can make it feel a bit cramped. By contrast, the new Civic hatch has 1.4 inches of extra legroom at the back compared with its predecessor which already had a generous 36 inches of leg clearance, so the Civic is the easy choice if you regularly need to transport adults at the back.
Technology-wise, the entry-level Corolla comes with a 4.2-inch multi-function display and an eight-inch touchscreen interface as standard, whereas the base Civic has a larger seven-inch driver information display but a smaller seven-inch touchscreen. We'd give the Civic the edge here as it can also be had with a large 10.2-inch driver information display and a nine-inch touchscreen. Both cars get 10 airbags and a similar array of available driver-assist technologies.
Every Corolla is equipped with a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine that delivers 168 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a CVT or a six-speed manual. The Corolla will hit 60 mph in around eight seconds; this is acceptable but the car can struggle at higher speeds or when overtaking.
In the Civic, there is more choice. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder sans forced induction that makes 158 hp and 138 lb-ft, figures that are beaten by the Corolla. However, the Honda also comes with an excellent 1.5-liter turbocharged four-pot with 180 hp and 177 lb-ft, which should easily make it the choice for more enthusiastic drivers. Both Civic engines can be paired with either a CVT or a six-speed manual and we expect the Civic's do-it-yourself-shifter to be better than the one in the Toyota.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback has a low starting MSRP of $20,715 for the SE variant. If you want the better-equipped XSE, it'll start at $23,665. Although Honda hasn't yet revealed pricing for the all-new Civic hatch, we expect it to be more expensive as the current 2021 Civic hatch begins at $22,200 and goes up to $28,600. Clearly, the Toyota is the better value proposition here.
There are a few clear victories for each competitor. The Toyota is - in our opinion, at least - the better-looking hatchback, is likely to be more affordable when the Civic's pricing is revealed, and offers the promise of legendary Toyota reliability. The Honda, meanwhile, is substantially more accommodating for rear-seat occupants and promises to be more fun to drive with its gutsier turbocharged engine.
The Toyota's advantages are either subjective or only applicable on paper, whereas the Civic's plus points are more tangible in day-to-day use. Beyond this, the outgoing Civic was already competitive or better than the Corolla in certain areas. For these reasons, the new Civic Hatchback is our pick but nobody would call you crazy if you bought the Toyota.