2021 Honda Civic vs. 2021 Hyundai Elantra: Compare Cars

The compact sedan is a great first car, an efficient means of transportation, and a wise choice for the budget-minded. 

The Honda Civic has been the benchmark in the compact-car segment for years, but the redesigned 2021 Hyundai Elantra aims to take a bite out of the Civic’s turf before the Civic gets redesigned for the 2022 model year. 

We like the look of both cars and rate their styling equally. The Civic is offered in sedan and hatchback body styles, both with a similar look that starts with a sleek fastback profile. Honda incorporates attractive detailing along the sides, but the hatchback’s rear end is overly busy. Honda applies that busy aesthetic to every aspect of the Type R’s racing bro exterior, but we like the cabin of any Civic. The interior is laid out in a sedate and practical manner around horizontal dashboard lines. 

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

The Elantra takes a different path to the same rating. We like the exaggerated curves and jet-fighter stance better than the Civic’s. Trimmed down, lengthened, and offered only as a sedan, the Elantra’s body lines flow from a wide grille that grins like the Joker. The intricate surface detail is sculpted into diamond shapes and origami-like creases. Inside, however, the look is rather plain. The controls are canted toward the driver, and a prominent grab handle on the right side of the center console cocoons the driver while walling off the front passenger. A spate of hard plastics take on decent shapes but come across as a sure sign of cost cutting. 

The Civic starts to take a lead in the performance category. Yes, Honda offers the amped-up Type R model, but this little car is fun even in base trim.

Civic buyers have a choice of three engines. The base engine is a 158-liter 2.0-liter inline-4. Teamed with a continuously variable automatic transmission, it lacks feel but gets the job done. Hatchbacks get a standard 174-hp 1.5-liter turbo-4 that offers more power and better fuel economy. It can come with a 6-speed manual as well as the CVT, and few automakers make a manual transmission feel as satisfying as Honda does. The top of the lineup boasts a 306-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that is raucous fun, and it only comes with a manual, the way the sports car gods meant it to be. 

Fun comes packed into all Civics, with crisp handling and communicative steering. The Type R is the most fun you can have with front-wheel drive. It turns commutes into personal race courses and begs to be flung into corners. The ride is also giggly and the engine loud, but we love it. 

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

2021 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

The Elantra is built around a sturdy platform. It has quick steering and a well-damped ride, but it doesn’t match the Civic for road feel, agility, or overall driver engagement. The base engine is a 147-hp 2.0-liter inline-4, and like the Civic it comes with a dowdy CVT. The Elantra Hybrid is even more mild, with a 1.6-liter inline-4, an electric motor, a small 1.3-kwh lithium-ion battery pack, and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It makes 139 hp and bests any Civic for fuel economy at 54 mpg combined. The Elantra also gets better fuel economy from its 2.0-liter inline-4 at 37 mpg combined versus 33 mpg combined for the Civic. However, we prefer the Civic’s 1.5-liter turbo-4, which gets 36 mpg combined

The Elantra N Line’s 1.6-liter turbo-4 makes 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. With a 0-60-mph time of about seven seconds, it’s about as peppy as the Civic Si, which is on hiatus for 2021. 

The Civic expands its lead with cabin quality. Both cars are roomy for the class. The Elantra has more rear-seat leg room, while the Civic has more cargo space, and neither falls down on either of those counts. But the materials quality, seat support, and fit and finish of the Elantra is no match for the Civic and a step back from previous generations. The Elantra’s base seats are thin and sport chintzy fabrics, and the whole cabin is awash in hard plastic. The Civic, on the other hand, has more comfortable seats with better cloth, and materials that would work in a mid-size sedan, let alone a compact. 

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line

The Elantra makes up for its interior and dynamic shortcomings with its feature mix. It’s bargain priced, well equipped at every level, and it has a warranty the Civic can’t match. The base Elantra SE comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the Civic has only a 5.0-inch screen in its base LX model and requires buyers to move up to the Sport to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The next step up, the EX, has a 7.0-inch touchscreen that still falls short of the screen in the Elantra’s base model. The Elantra is also less expensive at every trim level, and its 5-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty blows Honda’s 3-year/36,0000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty out of the water.

Both cars also come with a spate of safety features, including automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high beams. The Civic also has standard adaptive cruise control and excellent crash-test scores that would be even better if its base headlights were more effective. The Elantra makes adaptive cruise control optional and has yet to be crash tested. 

In the final analysis, the Elantra pulls off a bit of an upset with a TCC Rating of 6.8 versus 6.7 out of 10 for the Civic, mostly on the strength of its features. Good crash-test scores could increase that lead, but the Civic will soon get its own 2022 redesign that could tip the scales back in its favor. In the meantime, we recommend both of these smart compact cars.

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