2022 Honda Civic vs. 2021 Hyundai Elantra Comparison Test Review: High-End Entry-Level

Not long after completing evaluations for this comparison test between the 2022 Honda Civic Touring and 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited, we happened to drive past a mid-1970s Honda Civic CVCC. A marvel in its day, this first-generation Civic showed Americans how compact cars can appeal as a form of everyday transportation. The rest is history. Although impossibly tiny by modern standards, that ancient Civic made a massive impact on the industry.

As we ruminated on the radness of that little yellow hatchback, it struck us how far things have come since its heyday. The performance, features, and tech found in the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited and 2022 Honda Civic Touring would have been entirely sci-fi in that era. Indeed, how these cars are equipped goes way, way beyond basic. The result is two compelling compacts that each dispel the notion that entry-level cars can’t be great. It’s a close competition.

The Contenders: Specs, Features, Prices

With the Elantra fully redesigned for 2021 and the Civic debuting in its 11th generation for 2022, these are state-of-the-art small sedans. Performance variants aside, the Touring and Limited trims represent the range-topping Civic and Elantra, respectively.

The Civic’s engine is smaller but more powerful. Essentially identical to the previous 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4, it makes 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 31/38 mpg city/highway. The Touring trim gets exclusive features such as a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, a 10.2-inch digital gauge display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a Bose premium audio system. The sole option on our test car was gorgeous $395 Morning Mist blue paint, bringing its grand total to $29,690.

The Elantra’s engine is larger yet more efficient. Displacing 2.0 liters, it puts 147 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a CVT. City fuel economy rates at 31 mpg, while on the highway it achieves 41 mpg—impressive. Limited trim niceties include leather on the seats and steering wheel, 10.3-inch infotainment and gauge cluster displays, ambient lighting, and a moonroof. With the addition of $155 carpeted floormats, our Elantra tester came in at just $26,610.

Hyundai enhances the Elantra’s bang-for-buck appeal with a five-year, 50,000-mile limited warranty and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, along with five years of roadside assistance unrestricted by mileage. Honda isn’t as generous, providing three years or 36,000 miles of basic warranty and roadside assistance, with five years or 60,000 miles of powertrain coverage.

Interior Design and Packaging

Our staff is split on which car’s exterior looks better. Some find the 2022 Honda Civic more handsome than its predecessor, while others think it’s plain and simply a miniaturized Accord. There’s no avoiding the Elantra’s wild styling, which is exciting or excessive depending on who’s asked. Inside, however, our preference is unanimous.

In Limited trim, the 2021 Hyundai Elantra comes across as a cheap car gussied up with nice equipment. Indeed, some of that equipment dazzles for this price point; the complex seat stitching, big digital displays, and silver speaker grates look expensive. Yet the vibe is compromised by the abundance of hard plastic surfaces. The grab handle bisecting the front row strikes as unnecessary and adds to a somewhat cluttered impression. Windows and door bins are about the extent of second-row amenities.

Meanwhile, the new Honda Civic’s cabin tactfully balances form and function. It simply looks and feels good. We’ll probably rave about the honeycomb-mesh air vent cover until the next-generation Civic debuts, and the textured trim on the center console and door panels adds subtle detail. Soft finishing is applied thoughtfully to high-touch areas, and plastics seem more substantial and better matched. Our drivers gushed about the buttons’ and dials’ tactile actuation. Surfaces are generally flat and pushed away from occupants, lending an open, airy feel. The Touring trim adds USB ports for rear passengers.

Styling and materials aside, the Honda’s ergonomics are better executed. Our main gripe in the Civic is that its infotainment display is parallel with the dashboard, making it trickier to see or tap. The Elantra angles its touchscreen toward the driver, but how the buttons below are recessed necessitates some awkward reaching. Touchpoints feel natural in the Civic, none more noticeable than its simple steering wheel, unlike the Elantra’s four-spoke unit with huge thumb detents. We prefer the Civic’s seating, too. Its well-bolstered front seats are supportively firm, whereas sitting in the Elantra feels like being on the car rather than in it, and its sloping roofline impedes rear headroom. Rear visibility is reduced in the Elantra by its thick C-pillars and enhanced in the Civic by windows mounted there.

On the Road

We preferred the 2022 Honda Civic at a standstill, but how about once we notched the shifter into D? Even with the two cars’ power and torque disparity, instrumented performance is generally similar. The Civic’s 8.0-second 0-60-mph time is only 0.4 second quicker than the Elantra, but the Honda’s 124-foot 60-0-mph stopping distance is considerably behind the Hyundai’s 116-foot result. Grip is comparable; the Civic stuck a 0.82 g average on the skidpad while the Elantra held on at 0.85 g.

Contrasts are more defined in real-world driving. The Civic’s powertrain responses and smoothness are superior, where its turbocharger lends an advantage as it imparts confidence in highway acceleration and passing. The CVT is well disguised, faking gearshifts but generally discreet. In the Elantra, the engine’s power delivery is appreciably relaxed—until you ask it to accelerate hard, at which point the CVT slings the tachometer to redline and holds it there amid a cacophonous groan. Despite its longer stopping distance, the Civic’s firm and progressive brakes feel better than the Elantra’s relatively spongy pedal.

Where the 2022 Honda Civic sets itself apart is with its brilliant chassis and handling. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra doesn’t really behave poorly; rather, the Honda is just so good. Its accurate, responsive steering provides enjoyable control and agility. Balanced and settled, it goes exactly where directed. We hesitate to call the Civic truly sporty, but its platform delivers for the Civic Si model and promises greatness for the next Type R. Some drivers may prefer the Elantra’s ride, which is plusher, even, dare we say, comparatively luxurious. It nicely insulates against road texture at the expense of handling composure.

If there’s any issue with the Civic’s road manners, it’s that it’s loud in the cabin. Lots of wind noise comes from around the A-pillars, and tire drone pervades at freeway speeds. Coarse pavement induces a buzzy, grinding sound through the interior. Our particular test car this time around also emitted some very un-Honda-like rattles from various trim joining points.

Driver Aids and Safety

Each vehicle provides a remarkable amount of active safety and driver assist features. Both the Civic Touring and Elantra Limited have adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, which function as desired and need minimal intervention. That said, it’s worth noting that those items come only on the Elantra Limited but are included on every Civic regardless of trim. Conversely, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are exclusive to high-end Civics but come on every Elantra. A nifty Civic Touring trick is how it shows the road’s contour and position of the vehicle ahead on its gauge display—not necessarily useful but certainly cool.

Both cars impress in crash testing, but the Civic slightly more so. The Elantra Limited earns 2021 Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS; the Civic gets the coveted “+” indicating the Institute’s highest accolade. Both earn the top “Good” score in all six crashworthiness tests. Additionally, the Civic has 10 airbags to the Elantra’s six.

Verdict: Doing the CVCC Proud

Cruising past that Civic CVCC made us reflect on the state of today’s compact sedan segment—it’s in as good a place as ever. No longer are they spartan appliances purchased out of necessity or lack of interest. Rather, they perform and are equipped to a standard that makes them not only functional but also desirable. Although the Civic Touring and Elantra Limited each demonstrate that, one does it better.

2nd Place: 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited

We respect that not every driver shares our enthusiast zeal. For them, the Elantra Limited is a solid choice. It’s an agreeable, efficient, comfortable getaround car enhanced by abundant technology and features. That it all comes for a seriously low price with one of the industry’s best warranties makes the 2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited’s value difficult to beat. Yet even if drivers can adapt to its quirky ergonomics and design, they’ll run the warranty dry before they find joy in the experience. Still, it’s advanced well beyond the level of basic transportation.

Pros

  • Huge digital displays
  • Amazing value
  • Excellent fuel economy

Cons

  • Forgettable driving experience
  • Bare-bones second row
  • Peculiar exterior and interior design

1st Place: 2022 Honda Civic Touring

Yes, the winner of this comparison costs more. The reasons it succeeds are not specific to the Touring trim—excellence permeates the model line. The 2022 Honda Civic wins because, as ever, it provides core functionality for drivers who just need to get around—but now there’s much more to it. This car is a pleasure to drive, easy yet engaging. Loudness aside, its upscale, high-quality interior is a lovely place to pass the miles. The safety and driver assist features in every Civic raise the bar for cars across the spectrum. On any road, the Civic feels complete and dialed in like the best vehicles on sale. That’s because it is one of the best vehicles on sale.

Pros

  • Agile handling
  • Stylish, functional interior
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick +

Cons

  • Noisy
  • Decent warranty coverage
  • Don’t need the Touring to have a great Civic

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