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2018 Honda Civic vs. 2018 Volkswagen Jetta: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Eric Brandt September 2018
  • The 2018 Volkswagen Jetta and 2018 Honda Civic compete for the compact car crown.

  • The Jetta is in its final model year for its current generation while an all-new 2019 model takes over.

  • The Honda Civic has been a consistent class leader over the years. Is that still the case in 2018?

Having been around since the 2011 model year, it was time for a refresh for the Volkswagen Jetta. The Jetta got the makeover it needed, and it's coming out as the 2019 model, but the 2018 model still might be an attractive option for shoppers in the market for a compact sedan.

One of the toughest competitors the Jetta faces is the 2018 Honda Civic. With its 2016 redesign still fresh and modern, the Civic is as competitive as ever, which is saying a lot, considering the name plate's track record.

Let's take a look at which of these compacts is better.

Exterior

The Jetta and the Civic have very different appearances. The Jetta has a design ethos that's traditional to Volkswagen in the sense that it's very simple, conservative and, well, boring. It just isn't much to look at and its styling is very generic without much personality at all.

The Civic, on the other hand, is bursting with personality. Some might argue it's too much personality to the point of being ugly, but we think it's a nice-looking car that looks interesting without being too radical.

The Honda is available as a sedan, coupe or hatchback, while the Jetta is exclusively a sedan. That gives the Civic some nice versatility that the Jetta can't match. If you want a Jetta, you have to get a sedan, but if you want a Civic, you have quite a few options for how it's packaged.

The Volkswagen Jetta used to be considered big for a compact, putting it almost into midsize territory, but the class has been changing and the exterior dimensions of the Jetta and the Civic sedan are almost identical.

Interior

The conservative styling of the Jetta's exterior continues on the inside. It has a clean and well-constructed cabin that's comfortable for everyone inside. The interior of the Civic has a techy feel to it with a nicely integrated infotainment screen and a cool all-digital gauge cluster. The Civic's interior is more modern and the Jetta's interior is more traditional.

Interior space is very similar for these two cars, both of which are roomier than most other compacts. The Jetta has slightly more legroom in the back seat, while the Civic has a little more legroom in the front.

Mechanicals

The 2018 Volkswagen Jetta offers three different engines under the hood, all of which are turbocharged 4-cylinders. The base engine is a 1.4-liter unit that isn't particularly exciting, making only 150 horsepower, but it returns good fuel economy up to 28 miles per gallon city/40 mpg highway. Unfortunately, this is the only engine available with a manual transmission. Upgrading to the 1.8-liter engine gives the car a little more motivation with 170 hp and is still good on gas at 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Finally, the 2.0-liter engine in the GLI trim makes 210 hp, and its fuel economy numbers are identical to the 1.8-liter engine.

The 2018 Honda Civic has two excellent 4-cylinder engines available under the hood. The base engine is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter that makes 158 hp and returns 31 mpg city/40 mpg hwy. The engine you really want in the Civic is the 1.5-liter turbocharged unit that improves both performance and fuel economy. It makes 174 hp (205 hp in the Si trim) and it's very thrifty at up to 32 mpg city/42 mpg hwy. This peppy turbo makes the Civic one of the quickest cars in its class. Both engines can be had with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a CVT.

The Jetta's engines are good, but the Civic's engines are excellent. The Civic strikes a rare balance of exciting performance and frugal fuel economy with no compromise to speak of.

Features and Technology

The Honda Civic has a few nice interior features that are standard that you normally have to pay extra for on other compacts, like steering-wheel-mounted audio control and automatic climate control. The available HondaLink infotainment system looks nice in the Civic's center stack, but it's a bit behind the competition in terms of user friendliness. Luckily, is has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integrated, which we recommend using over the standard HondaLink interface.

The Jetta's infotainment system is nice, but not as nice as the one in the Golf. Like the Civic, it has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay available. It isn't quite as responsive as we'd like, and it would be nice if the Jetta had more than one USB port, making the Jetta's infotainment pretty middle-of-the-road for its segment.

Honda has a nice safety tech suite called Honda Sensing, which unfortunately isn't available on cars with manual transmissions. It's only standard on the top Touring model, but it's optional on the lower trims. Honda Sensing comes with adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.

The Jetta is available with a few of these features as well. The VW can be had with adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors and a rear cross-traffic monitor. These features aren't conveniently packaged like Honda Sensing is, but they're available across the Jetta model range.

When it comes to safety and connectivity technology, the Civic and the Jetta are pretty evenly matched.

Pricing

The Jetta is competitively priced with a starting MSRP of $18,645. The Civic starts a little higher at $18,940. Since these cars are so close in size and in options, similarly optioned models are similarly priced with no significant winner in pricing over the other.

Conclusion

The Volkswagen Jetta is a good, affordable entry into the world of European cars, but we prefer the Honda Civic due to its more interesting look, excellent drivetrains and more techy interior. These cars might be priced similarly, but we think the Civic is a better overall value than the Jetta. The Honda looks, feels and drives like a more modern car than the VW, which helps make it an easy car to recommend.

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2018 Honda Civic vs. 2018 Volkswagen Jetta: Which Is Better? - Autotrader