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Most of us want a sedan that offers a high fuel economy, but we do not want the trade-off to result in a dip in power. That is where the 2021 Honda Civic and the 2021 Toyota Camry both stand out. Fuel-efficient yet powerful, these two small sedans can be fun to drive. But does one overpower the other? The simple answer is "Yes."
But we do not dwell in simple answers here. You will be spending your hard-earned money on a new vehicle that you deserve to know about. That is why we need to go more in-depth with our comparison review of the Civic and the Camry. While we certainly find them both to be admirable choices, the truth of the matter is that one of them offers a more refined performance. By the end of this review, you will know exactly which of these sedans that is. But here's a hint: its name is a palindrome word.
From their powertrains to their safety ratings and features, the Camry and Civic have some standout elements. They also both have drivability factors (such as acceleration, braking, handling, steering, and ride quality) that need to be considered before making your final decision. With that being said, let us jump into what makes the 2021 Honda Civic and 2021 Toyota Camry such fierce competitors. In the end of this review, we will announce which one has the better value and is the best overall purchase.
Starting things off, we have the powertrains. The Civic is up first with its standard 2.0-L four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels. This comes on the base LX and Sport trim levels. The EX and above all come with a 1.5-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that serves up a stronger 174 hp and 162 lb- ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is also standard with this engine. Both options have their power delivered via a continuously variable automatic transmission (or CVT for short). CVTs are known for their efficiency. While some tend to be kind of clunky, the one Honda uses on the Civic is actually quite refined. It sends power without any drama.
Now for the 2021 Toyota Camry. The Camry is powered by a standard 4-cylinder engine that delivers 203 horsepower (with a turbocharged version delivering 206 hp on the XSE trim level) or a more athletic V6 engine that generates 301 hp. An 8-speed automatic transmission comes standard. Front-wheel drive is standard on the 4-cylinder, but all-wheel drive is an option. AWD does come standard on the V6. The V6 is the better of the two engines (as we will explain below), so drivers will likely find themselves spending more in order to get a more solid performance with the addition of AWD.
So, just what makes each of these vehicles' driving experiences enjoyable? What might be holding them back? It is time to assess multiple aspects of drivability, including acceleration, braking performance, steering, handling, ride comfort, and just how well the built-in technology works.
Starting with the 2021 Honda Civic, it's optional turbo engine really delivers a superb performance. It helps the Civic sedan get from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 6.7 seconds. By non-performance sedan standards, that is a pretty snappy time. When you push down on the accelerator, the vehicle responds quickly to your input, allowing you to easily pass other vehicles or merge onto the highway. Of course, you do have to upgrade to the EX trim level in order to get this engine equipped, but most buyers are finding that it is well worth the extra cost.
As far as the rest of the Civic's performance goes, it is excellent beyond its segment standards. The brake pedal has just the right amount of firmness and is easy to modulate. When you need to come to a regular stop, there is no drama at all. And making a panic stop? That can be done both quickly and safely. The Civic has a short stopping distance for its segment and will not make you endure any nosedive as you press down hard on the brake. Precision is something you also get from the steering and handling. Go ahead, take the Civic a little too fast around a turn; you will not get any body roll or feel like the wheels are going to leave the pavement.
Comfort is another shining spot for the Civic. Honda essentially takes all of the comfort it packs into the larger Accord and places it in the more compact Civic. In fact, there are not too many differences between those two models save for their size. The Civic offers a smooth suspension that keeps the cabin well dampered from road imperfections. Controlled and smooth, the ride remains composed without becoming too soft and floaty. Even the rear seats are padded for the utmost comfort, so long trips inside this cabin are cozy.
Dual-zone automatic climate control works well at maintaining temperature settings and evenly distributes air through all of the vents. The cabin remains well muted from outside noise. The only thing you might hear is a small amount of road noise as you roll over broken pavement. But even that is not bothersome inside of the Civic's cavernous cabin.
The cabin itself is intuitively designed, offering easy access and an array of user-friendly controls up front. Finding a good seating position takes almost no effort since the seat and steering wheel are highly adjustable. You also get a commanding view since the roof pillars are slender enough and the glass wide.
As for the technology, you will have to deal with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can be a bit sluggish. However, you get standard smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Touring does have a built-in navigation system that is easy to use and a downright impressive 10-speaker premium sound system.
How does the Camry stack up? Well, it struggles a bit when it comes to acceleration. The base 4-cylinder engine is slow, needing 8.2 seconds to get to 60 mph. The transmission does provide some smooth shifting capabilities, but the initial thrust just is not there like it is on the Civic. The 8-speed does have two-gear downshifts that you will feel as the engine requires more gas to get the power flowing. Upgrading to the SE gives you a sportier suspension that improves handling. The brakes are easy to modulate, and the panic stopping distance is segment-average.
The Camry's comfort levels are pretty high, given that the seats are well padded and the climate control system is effective. Even when outside temps are over 100 degrees, the cabin can be cooled down right away. However, the Camry lets in quite a bit of noise. The engine is constantly buzzing, and zipping along on the highway results in a lot of road and wind noise. It is certainly not as well muted as the Civic.
The cabin itself provides all the necessities without coming across as terribly luxurious. Practicality is more the name of the game. The rear seat offers plenty of space, and the driver gets a great view from up front. The controls are all sensibly displayed with zero guesswork involved. Even some of the smaller controls are still simple for the driver to reach. Both touchscreen options are easy to use, and you can get up to three USB ports on the Camry.
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Safety is something automakers like Honda and Toyota take very seriously. Both come with their own standard-across-the-line bundles of driver aids. On the Honda, it is the EyeSight. On the Toyota, it is Safety Sense 2.5+.
With Honda EyeSight, you get treated to forward collision mitigation (which warns you of possible frontal crashes and applies the brakes if you don't do so in time), lane departure mitigation (which warns you if you stray over the line without using a turn indicator and helps correct you back into the lane), and adaptive cruise control (which maintains a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you). Upgrading to the EX trim level nabs you a blind spot camera that, in the instrument panel, displays what is in your blind spot when you go to change lanes.
With Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, you get standard forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, automatic high beam headlights, and a road sign recognition feature. A blind spot monitor gets added to the XLE trim level. Adding the Driver Assist package will give the Camry a 360-degree surround-view camera system, a head-up display (which does come standard on the V6), rear automated braking, and - as a nice creature comfort bonus - ventilated front seats.
Which Has the Best Value?
So, which of these two small sedans has the most value? Obviously, you want the most bang for your buck. And the vehicle that will give it to you is the 2021 Honda Civic. While its warranty coverage is industry standard, the overall value of the Civic is stellar. It is priced to compete and packs a ton of standard features into an absolutely exquisite package. The interior materials are high-grade, which lends a degree of sophistication that the Camry struggles to match. Of course, the Civic has a remarkably long history of being a reliable vehicle, which serves to boost its value.
As for the Camry, it is fuel efficient and user-friendly. But the competition does better in terms of feature-laden content and materials used. The warranty coverage is typical, doing little to make it stand out against the competition. It also does not share the Civic's outstanding reputation for reliability. Model years have been too hit-and-miss for the Camry to really compete in that regard.
Which is Better?
It should be quite obvious by now which of these two small sedans we think is the better vehicle. While the 2021 Toyota Camry has some honorable qualities, the 2021 Honda Civic goes above and beyond. Its optional turbocharged engine creates a spunky ride, and the suspension keeps the ride quality feeling refined. With how little noise makes its way into the cabin, it is easy to enjoy a calm, relaxing drive. Whether you are making a short commute to work or taking a long road trip, the Civic provides plenty of comfort.
Although the infotainment system could use a few minor refinements, the Civic's tech offerings should satisfy the average driver. In fact, just about everything on the Civic should please folks. There are not too many qualms to be had with this year's Civic, as it leads the entire segment with its well-rounded performance.