2020 Honda Civic vs. 2020 Toyota Corolla: Compare Cars

2020 Toyota Corolla Nightshade Edition

The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic are household names for value and have been top-selling compact-car lines for decades.

Today, both of these models definitely aren’t calling it in. In both cases, their most recent redesigns have recast these otherwise modest compact cars in much more exciting—or at least inspiring—forms. Strong and fuel-efficient powertrains give them perky performance while still getting at least close to 40 mpg highway in both sedan and hatchback styles. The Civic comes as a coupe, and the Corolla as a hybrid. And refinement and safety features haven’t been forgotten in the name of keeping the price low.

These two models achieve exactly the same overall score of 6.7 in our TCC ratings, but with a very different points distribution. It clearly lays out that these are both strong entries today, yet the priorities between these two models are quite different—and a quick reality check of your personality and expectations would help highlight which is the better pick.

MORE: Read our 2020 Honda Civic and 2020 Toyota Corolla full reviews

Style and performance

The Toyota Corolla sedan was redesigned for 2020, after a similar redesign given to the Corolla hatchback for 2019. Both have more of an aerodynamic look, with upmarket details in front including LED headlamps; the hatchback gets a somewhat more distinctive rear styling treatment. The Civic is the bolder-looking of the two. The Honda didn’t just evolve with its last redesign in 2016; it made a move in a radically different direction—to more of a sporty emphasis that amps up the design details. At its best it looks like a great counterpoint to predictably styled hot hatches; at worst it can look like a tuner car from the ‘00s that never quite grew up.

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

These small cars offer variety both in style and in what’s under the hood. Both the Civic and Corolla have one thing in common: Their step-up engines don’t only offer better performance but also better efficiency. For the Civic, that’s the 174-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbo-4(with a 2.0-liter inline-4 and manual-transmission versions also on the table), while for the Corolla the best models (including all hatchbacks) come with the 169 horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4. Both models have continuously variable automatic transmissions that are fine for the mission, and while the Corolla now has great steering and a comfortable, well-controlled ride, the Civic is a solid notch ahead for those who enjoy driving. It is a total package that feels especially sharp and tuned to be together. Beware the Civic is a bit noisier inside, though.

While these two might once have been termed economy cars, the priorities for small-car shoppers have evolved and it’s definitely no longer entirely about gas mileage and bottom-line running costs. That said, both the Civic and Corolla boast some excellent fuel economy ratings. Corollas with the 2.0-liter engine achieve ratings of up to 32 mpg city, 41 highway (35 combined), while equivalent 1.5-liter turbo Civics get up to 31 mpg city, 40 highway (35 combined).

The Civic isn’t offered in hybrid form, but those interested in higher mileage should check out the related Honda Insight. And the ultimate high-mpg Corolla is now the Corolla Hybrid, which borrows its powertrain from the latest Prius and gets surprisingly close to Prius numbers: 53/52/52 mpg. 

Comfort, safety, and features

The Corolla and Civic are about even with respect to interior comfort and usability, but for different reasons. Both models have outboard back-seat positions that can accommodate even taller adults—although headroom might be tight for some.

2020 Honda Civic

2020 Honda Civic

Probably our biggest complaint about how the Corolla juggles interior space is that its dash protrudes somewhat, keeping front-seat passengers from scooting the seat forward as much as they might otherwise. The front seats themselves are a slight step ahead in the Corolla, and there’s now a generous smartphone bin ahead of the shifter. For cargo space, both of these models accomplish a similar level of space, apples to apples; but because of the Corolla Hatchback’s more abbreviated rear styling it has less cargo space than the Civic hatchback.

Materials and trims are a step ahead in the Civic, and we tend to think the Corolla is slightly noisier inside in this generation.

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

2020 Toyota Corolla XSE

Both of these small cars are stellar performers in safety. The Civic and Corolla both have standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. All Corollas also get active lane control. The Civic Touring and Si are the only models to earn Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS because of their better-rated LED headlamps.

We rate the Corolla a step ahead in terms of features—mostly because you get a little bit more on the feature list for the same money—but it’s by no means a disqualification for the Civic. With LX, Sport, EX, and Touring trims for the Civic lineup, as well as Sport Touring models for the hatch—and the Si sedan or coupe or fastest Type R hatchback (none of which really rival the Corolla)—there’s a lot to choose from. The Corolla lineup offers nearly as many choices, with base L, LE, LE Hybrid, XLE, SE, and XSE models. For the Civic we’d go with the mid-range EX, which steps up to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control. For the Corolla we’d get the better-equipped XLE and its upgrades to satellite radio, wireless smartphone charging, navigation, in-car wifi, and nine-speaker audio.

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

2020 Toyota Corolla SE

The Corolla starts at $20,555 for the base L and can run up to $26,505 for the XSE sedan—not counting the port-installed options that are quite likely. The Civic runs from $20,805 for an LX manual sedan up to $29,905 for the Sport Touring version (not counting the top Si Type R, which doesn’t really compete here). Both of our picks of the lineup, the Civic EX and Corolla XLE, end up with bottom-line prices right around the $25,000 mark.

They’re both careful students of the market and offer a lot to like. If you see safety and the feature set itself as trumping all other priorities, your choice should probably be the Corolla. But if you like driving—and a little more of a styling edge—the Civic is the better pick.

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