Compact cars: Have they gotten so good/big that they have rendered midsize sedans pointless? At the 2020 Washington Auto show in late January, Honda offered test drives of the Civic and Accord, giving me the opportunity to determine which is the better car when price is taken into consideration. All impressions of handling are my dad’s -- because I’m still not old enough to drive. (All photos are from Honda’s website.)
We tested both cars in top of the line Touring trim levels. The Civic came in at around $31K, the Accord at $37K. Both came with leather interiors, a large screen, and a suite of active safety features called “Honda Sensing.” (There's a read more link down in the bottom right corner, or click on the headline to read more. Sorry how hard it is to figure that out, Weebly was designed by idiots. But I digress).
Civic exterior. This is a Civic Touring sedan in blue, like the one we drove.
The Civic came with a 1.5 liter turbocharged inline-four, making 174 horsepower and paired with a CVT automatic transmission. The Accord came with a 252 horsepower 2.0 liter inline four (a detuned version of the Civic Type R engine) and paired with a ten -- yes, ten-- speed automatic transmission.
Accord exterior. This is an Accord Touring in black, like the one we drove.
Both vehicles have really gotten big over the years. In fact, I would now consider the Accord to be a large sedan, and the Civic to be a midsize. As a lover of small, light cars, this is a bit disappointing. However, the tradeoff is that both vehicles are really spacious inside, with lots of legroom and, despite their sloping rear rooflines, ample amounts of headroom.
The Civic’s interior looked like this
The interiors of both vehicles are very good, with clean, elegant styling and high-quality materials. Unfortunately, both vehicles have a leather interior. And I really hate leather (I’m a vegetarian...) especially in non-luxury vehicles. Thankfully, if you avoid the Touring trim level, you can get cloth seats, which are just better in every way.
The interior of the Accord we drove was black, but otherwise it looked like this.
On the road:
Both of these cars are excellent on the road, but they do have fairly different characters. The Civic is definitely the more overtly sporty car; it has a stiffer ride than the Accord, but the tradeoff is sharper, more responsive handling (the smaller size of the Civic probably has something to do with this as well). The Civic is a very fun car to drive even without a manual transmission, and the refinement of the CVT is vastly improved over older CVTs (including the one in the previous generation Civic). That said, the CVT did have one feature that annoyed me: paddle shifters that simulate gear changes. I’m not even really a fan of paddle shifters on conventional automatics, on the basis that the transmission is always smarter than you are, but on a CVT, I’m even more skeptical. Overall, though, if you like driving, you’re probably going to prefer the Civic.
The Accord is a bit different. The first thing I noticed was how solid, almost Audi-like, the Accord felt. It had a very smooth ride quality, but it was never floaty or squishy. It also felt very responsive for such a big car. That said, the Accord’s size does tend to prevent it from being truly agile.
I didn’t get a chance to try it out, but the push-button shifter in the Accord seems to be very intuitive, and it makes a lot of sense to me. But what’s even more impressive is the engine. With a 2.0 liter I4 taken from the Civic Type R, the Accord feels really quick--considering this is a midsize/large car, and one that isn’t even pitched as a high-performance model, it was kind of shocking how quick the Accord felt. That said, this is not an overtly sporty car. It kind of reminded me of a non-high performance Volkswagen--it may be quick for its class, and it may have real dynamic talent that sets it apart from most of its rivals, but it never has an overtly sporty feel. Rather, the Accord focuses on being smooth, refined, spacious, and comfortable for several, uh, big-boned American adults.
Both the Accord and the Civic are excellent cars, at or near the top of their class, and I would happily recommend them to car fans and non-car fans alike. That’s a balance that is incredibly hard to nail, but both these cars have managed it. That said, the Accord, despite being one of the best cars in its class, has one major problem: the Civic. The problem is, the Civic is nearly as spacious and comfortable as the Accord, it’s more fun to drive than the Accord, and it’s about $6K less as tested. I could see someone preferring the Accord to the Civic, but with a $6K difference between them, I just don’t think the Accord is worth the extra money. For that reason, I have to say that the Civic wins this round. And you can get it as a hatchback, too--and you should.
Rory Cahill is a highly sarcastic teenage car enthusiast and amateur automotive journalist, who is especially interested in 80s/90s cars, classic off-roaders, and anything weird. He owns a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel. He is also very interested in rock music and politics, and wrote this whole bio in the third person because he is a filthy, filthy snob