2020 Honda Civic vs. 2020 Hyundai Elantra: Compare Cars

You newly minted graduates will head out into the workforce this spring under all sorts of trying circumstances. One of the small but daunting challenges you will face: finding that first commuter car. It’s tougher than a 7 a.m. final. Been there.

We have your back. The 2020 Honda Civic and 2020 Hyundai Elantra are two of the better picks, cost about $20,000 to start, and cost comparatively less to own than many other new cars on the road.

They’re both relatively fuel-efficient, well-equipped, and assure the ‘rents that you’ve grown into adulthood—even though we both know better.

The 2020 Civic nets a 6.7 TCC Rating and the 2020 Elantra earns a 5.8. That’s a solid “W” for the Civic for now, but don’t hold your breath—a new Elantra is just around the corner for 2021, and it could change our opinion next year.

But that’s next year, and who knows what could happen then? You need wheels now. Let’s chat.

MORE: Read our 2020 Honda Civic and 2020 Hyundai Elantra full reviews

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

2020 Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line

2020 Hyundai Elantra GT N-Line

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

First things first: How many doors you need. Both the Elantra and Civic are available as four-door sedans or five-door hatchbacks. (The fifth door is the rear liftgate and bonus points for rear passengers who can enter/exit through it.)

The Civic is also available as a two-door coupe, which the Elantra skips. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the four- and five-door versions here, but if you’re in love with a two-door—the pick’s an easy one.

The Elantra starts at just a hair less than $20,000, the Civic a hair more. For that money, it’s almost a wash: the base models from Honda and Hyundai both skip touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, have small wheels and cloth upholstery, aren’t particularly fun to drive, and come with few convenience features. Hyundai offers a better standard warranty; Honda’s car looks better. We could go on, but the good news for both is that lifesaving automatic emergency braking is included in every car—including the base ones. Bully for Honda and Hyundai.

If you take a walk up beyond the base versions, the two diverge.

2020 Hyundai Elantra

2020 Hyundai Elantra

The Elantra is available with one of three engines, in one of two body styles. The smallest engine is a 1.4-liter turbo-4 on “Eco” models that’s not much more fuel-efficient than the other models. Skip it.

Most Elantras will get a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 horsepower mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The EPA says it’ll manage 34 mpg combined, which is fuel-efficient among new cars.

Sportier Elantras get a 201-hp turbo-4 that’s entertaining, but entertainment’s better covered later on.

The Elantra has enough space in the back for four adults, although leg room in the back is compromised by the small footprint and small budget—we get it. The hatchback aces practicality, which is similarly true about the Civic.

About that Civic: There’s a bigger variety of powertrains available, so we’ll focus on the most popular two. Base versions are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 158 hp and returns about 30 mpg combined when paired to a CVT.

The step-up engine is a 1.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 174 hp, and it returns better fuel economy and has more power. There’s some turbo lag, but patient drivers are rewarded with up to 35 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

The Civic is roomier in back, especially the sedans. We’re not in love with the hatchback’s flair, but it’s the practical pick of the Civic lineup.  

The Civic also splits off into wilder and milder, the Civic Si/Type R and Insight, respectively. Those versions are hugely efficient or entertaining—and also a story for another day.

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

2020 Honda Civic Hatchback

Our picks of the lineup are the 2020 Civic EX and 2020 Elantra SEL for about $24,600 and $20,600, respectively. We don’t take that $4,000 delta lightly—that’s a big ask and math majors will already know, about 20% more than the Hyundai.

The Elantra SEL gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone software, 16-inch wheels, and automatic headlights. The Civic EX also gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone hookups, 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, and the uprated turbo-4.

The Civic’s a winner at that money and it’s more engaging to drive. It’s our pick here.

However, the Elantra may have more discounts and its longer warranty is compelling. A new Elantra is on the way, so patience may be rewarded here.

That’s one thing we never learned in college. We can admit that to you now.

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