Why The 2014 Honda Civic Has A Fight On Its Hands

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L
The 2014 Honda Civic EX-L

Honda Civic.

Those two words used to be the gold standard in small sedans.  They stood for simplicity, dependability, fuel economy, high quality and brilliant ergonomics.

The Civic is still a hit, despite wandering off course the past few years, cheapening materials to the point where even Consumer Reports (if the Amish had a version of Car and Driver...) noticed it and docked them points.

Honda got the message and re-contented the Civic.  But is it all the way back?

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Honda Civic EX-L
2014 Honda Civic EX-L.

For 30 years, the Civic has been locked in battle with the other gold standard in small sedans, the Toyota Corolla.  And in 2012 and 2013, here in the United States, Civic has beaten Corolla in sales. Admittedly, that was the old Corolla, a car no one loved.

Go back to the beginning of the battle, 1984, when one of the two companies must have had a mole inside the other.

Front 3/4 view of 1984 Honda Civic sedan
1984 Honda Civic sedan.

Front 3/4 view of 1984 Toyota Corolla sedan
1984 Toyota Corolla Sedan.

Yep.  The all-new 1984 Honda Civic and all-new 1984 Toyota Corolla came out looking that much like each other.  But any corporate espionage must have stopped at the design studio, because a back-to-back test drive (I took one back then) showed the Civic with sportier handling, higher-quality interior materials, better ergonomics and despite nearly identical exteriors, much better visibility from the driver's seat.  Based on that test drive, I bought a Civic, which I owned for 14 years and 144,000 trouble-free miles.

Back to 2014, and I've once again driven the Corolla and the Civic back-to-back...this time, a week at a time, in consecutive weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June.  And I'm not sure I'd make the same choice.

The Civic we drove was the EX-L with Navigation. Base price $24,240.  No options.  See the list of standard equipment here. Bottom line with $790 destination and handling charges, $25,030.

Interior view of 2014 Honda Civic
2014 Honda Civic interior.
While the Civic does feel like a slightly more refined machine than the Corolla S we drove the week before, there's also a sense of needless complexity.  The interior still has too many buttons, the nav and audio system is a generation behind the competiton, and the bi-level instrument panel is a needless distraction.

It has 11 horsepower more than the Corolla, but weighs 65 pounds more, so you likely won't notice it.  It gets 30 miles per gallon in the city and 39 in the highway to the Corolla's 30/37. Even if you hit the EPA estimates, will you notice that 2 mpg on the highway?

Ultimately, it comes down to what it's like to drive.  And purely subjectively, the Corolla was easier to live with day in and day out. And to our eye, it's the more attractive car, too. So far in model year 2014, it's a very tight race.  Either car could come out on top in sales.  But if I was playing with my own money this year, as I did in '84, this time I'd go Corolla.