2021 Honda Civic vs. 2021 Volkswagen Jetta Comparison

Erin Riches-Wong | Mar 16, 2021

Today's small cars aren't small at all. They're as spacious as midsize cars used to be and quite functional whether you're driving solo or with a small family.

This is especially true of the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta, two of the roomiest cars in the compact sedan class. You can accommodate adults and teenagers in their back seats or, depending on your stage of life, a couple of children in rear-facing car seats.

The Civic is a perennial best-seller and resale-value leader among compact sedans. The Jetta is the most popular Volkswagen model sold in the United States. Both have a deserved reputation for being engaging to drive, so if fun behind the wheel is at all a priority, both the Honda and Volkswagen should be on your shortlist.

Here's a 2021 Honda Civic vs. 2021 Volkswagen Jetta comparison to help guide your research.

Price and Value

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring Red Front View Action

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring

Consumers will find that the 2021 Honda Civic comes in sedan and four-door hatchback body styles. Most Civic buyers choose the sedan. It's priced from $21,250 to $28,300, not including a $995 destination charge.

Trim levels include the LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, and Touring. The LX and Sport come with a refined 4-cylinder engine offering adequate power, while the higher trims upgrade to a livelier, turbocharged 4-cylinder. 

You've likely heard about the high-performance Civic Type R, which has an even more powerful turbocharged engine. It's available only as a hatchback and costs a princely $37,895. 

If you're interested in connected services, take note that the HondaLink plan on the 2021 Civic offers limited functionality. You can use the HondaLink app to check fuel range and oil life, and schedule service appointments. On Civics with factory navigation, you can look up destinations on your phone and send them to the nav system. That's it.

The redesigned 2022 Civic will likely offer more connected services when it goes on sale in Late Spring 2021.

There is no complimentary scheduled maintenance for the 2021 Civic. Instead, Honda sells prepaid maintenance plans.

Small Hondas have historically held their value, and indeed, the Civic was the top-ranked compact car in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Resale Value Awards.

If you're shopping for a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta, you'll find that it only comes in a sedan body style (VW sells a four-door hatchback, but it's called the Golf). Pricing ranges from $18,995 to $31,545, not including a $995 destination charge.

Jetta trim levels include the S, SE, R-Line, SEL, SEL Premium, GLI S, and GLI Autobahn. Most buyers will be content with the base turbocharged engine, but the larger, more powerful engine on the GLI trims will put a spring in your step every time you drive to work.

All 2021 Volkswagen Jettas come with five years of Car-Net connected services. VW calls its base plan Remote Access, and sure enough, you can use the Car-Net smartphone app to start the engine and lock the doors. Also, you can set geofencing parameters for less experienced drivers, get notifications about potential service and maintenance needs, and log your Volkswagen's location in crowded parking facilities.

An extra-cost Safe and Secure plan provides automatic crash notification, rapid access to emergency services, and anti-theft alerts.

Every Jetta has a standard in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot. But the free trial period only lasts a month and provides just 1 GB worth of data. Afterward, you'll need to subscribe to continue using the Wi-Fi. If you're already a Verizon customer, you might be able to add your Jetta to your existing plan.

Scheduled maintenance is on the house for the first two years or 20,000 miles that you own a 2021 Jetta.

Advantage: Neither. The Civic leads all compact cars for resale value. Still, the Jetta might be more appealing if you're looking for truly useful connected services and a couple of complimentary maintenance visits.

Reliability and Quality

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line Silver Front View Action

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line

The Honda Civic did not rank in either the J.D. Power 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study or the 2020 Initial Quality Study. The Civic comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 3 years or 36,000 miles

The Volkswagen Jetta also did not rank in the 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, but it ranked third among compact cars in the 2020 Initial Quality Study. Volkswagen's small sedan comes with the following warranty and roadside assistance coverage:

  • Standard warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles
  • Roadside assistance: 3 years or 36,000 miles

Advantage: Neither. Initial quality has been above average on the current-generation Volkswagen Jetta, but it has a shorter powertrain warranty than the Honda Civic.

Performance and Efficiency

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring Black Interior Dashboard

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring

All 2021 Honda Civic sedans are front-wheel-drive. A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard on the LX and Sport trim levels, and this engine makes 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard, and, for the most part, it behaves like a regular automatic transmission. Honda formerly offered a 6-speed manual transmission with this engine but canceled that option for the 2021 model year. A manual gearbox is likely to return on the redesigned Civic, but Honda could limit availability to the Civic Si and Type R models. 

Brisker performance is available on the Civic EX, EX-L, and Touring, which have a turbocharged, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 174 hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque (the hatchback has a 180-hp version). A CVT is standard. 

The Civic LX earns an EPA fuel economy rating of 33 mpg in combined city and highway driving, while the Civic Sport trim has a 32-mpg rating. The EX trims have the highest rating at 36 mpg combined, while the Civic Touring rates 33 mpg.

The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta sedan is also an exclusively front-wheel-drive car. Most versions of the Jetta have a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 147 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. That's less horsepower than the Honda's base engine offers, but the VW's extra torque makes it feel responsive in everyday traffic.

Moreover, Volkswagen offers two transmission options. Most Jetta buyers will choose the 8-speed automatic, but there's also a 6-speed manual available on the S and R-Line trims for those who want it.

VW also offers a 6-speed manual on the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, which upgrades to a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 228 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. If you don't want to bother with the manual gearbox, there's an easy-peasy 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

When equipped with an automatic, VW Jettas with the base 1.4-liter engine earn an EPA rating of 33 mpg in combined driving. With a manual transmission, the Jetta sedan rates 34 mpg combined.

The Jetta GLI rates 28 mpg in combined driving with either the dual-clutch automatic or the manual transmission. 

Advantage: Volkswagen Jetta

Safety and Driving Assistance

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line Interior Dashboard

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line

If safety is top of mind, you'll find that both the Civic and Jetta offer advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). Honda's collection of ADAS technology is known as Honda Sensing

On the 2021 Civic, Honda Sensing includes standard adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance (known as Road Departure Mitigation), and automatic high-beam headlight control. It also includes lane-centering assistance, but you'll find that Honda calls this feature a Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which can be confusing.

With its combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance, the Civic effectively provides Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assistance. But even though the adaptive cruise offers limited stop-and-go capability (or "low-speed follow," as Honda calls it), it's not intended for use in heavy traffic, and your hands must remain on the wheel at all times. The 2022 Civic will undoubtedly offer an upgraded version of Honda Sensing.

The current Civic sedan does not offer a blind-spot warning or rear cross-traffic alert system. Instead, Honda offers LaneWatch, which projects an image of what's in your blind spot onto the infotainment screen whenever you turn on the right-hand turn signal. It's better than nothing, but it only shows you what's on the passenger's side of the car. It's standard on the EX and up.

The Civic has a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for overall crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2021 Civic sedan a Top Safety Pick.

If you're looking at the base S version of the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta, you'll need to order the Driver Assistance package ($500) to get a forward-collision warning system and automatic emergency braking. This affordable package also includes a true blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alerts and a rear emergency braking system. These features are standard on all other VW Jetta sedans.

The SEL, SEL Premium, and GLI Autobahn add adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beam control. Unlike the Civic, the Jetta does not offer lane-centering assistance when you're using adaptive cruise control. But VW does allow a 3-second delay in traffic before the cruise control automatically disengages.

The Volkswagen Jetta also has a 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, but it received only four stars for front-passenger safety in frontal-impact crashes.

The Insurance Institute rates the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta "Good" in all its major crash-test categories. But for now, VW's compact sedan isn't an IIHS Top Safety Pick in this class due to low ratings for headlight performance (it rates Marginal or Poor, depending on the trim level). 

Advantage: Honda Civic

Infotainment and Technology

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring Red Rear View Action

2021 Honda Civic Sedan Touring

Unless there's no room to spare in your budget, we recommend skipping past the Civic LX sedan and its skimpy infotainment package. The LX has a 5-inch LCD screen, no smartphone integration, and a four-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and a single USB port.

There's more value in the 2021 Honda Civic Sport, which offers a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment interface, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an additional USB input, and eight audio speakers. The EX adds a 3-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.

If a factory navigation system is a must, proceed straight to the Civic Touring, which features Honda HD Digital Traffic. The Touring also has an upgraded, 10-speaker audio system.

Volkswagen offers two different infotainment interfaces in the 2021 Jetta sedan. The S, SE, R-Line, and GLI S have an older system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration, two USB ports, and four audio speakers.

The higher trims upgrade to Volkswagen's latest MIB 3 interface. You get an 8-inch touchscreen display, along with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration and a wireless phone charging pad.

These Jettas also have a premium Beats audio system with eight speakers, HD radio, a 3-month satellite radio subscription, and a fully digital instrument panel. The SEL Premium is the only Jetta with factory navigation.

Advantage: Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort and Utility

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line Silver Rear View Action

2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line

Standard amenities in the 2021 Honda Civic LX sedan include automatic climate control, manual seat-height adjustment for the driver, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. If you want a push-button start and a smart keyless system (allowing the remote to stay in your pocket), you'll need to step up to the Civic Sport.

The EX provides dual-zone climate control, an 8-way power driver's seat, and heated front seats. The EX-L adds leather upholstery, and the Touring alone has a 4-way power passenger seat and heated rear seats.

Trunk capacity is impressive for a compact sedan at 15.1 cubic feet (14.7 in the Touring). The Civic LX has a single-piece folding rear seatback, but all other trims offer a more versatile 60/40 split.

In keeping with its lower base price, the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta S offers manual air-conditioning but still has a height-adjustable driver's seat and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

The SE adds a smart keyless system with a push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 6-way power driver's seat, and heated front seats. You also get leatherette upholstery instead of cloth. The SE also provides access to an option package with heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated washer fluid nozzles.

Note that the GLI models feature slightly different equipment. The Jetta GLI S has cloth upholstery and manual controls for the driver's seat but otherwise has most of the SE's extra comforts. It also has ambient interior lighting, as do the Jetta SEL models.

The SEL Premium and GLI Autobahn have leather upholstery and ventilated front seats.

Trunk capacity measures 14.1 cu.-ft. in every Volkswagen Jetta. A 60/40-split folding rear seat is standard across the board.

Advantage: Honda Civic

Learn More About the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta

If you'd like to learn more about these compact sedans, be sure to read our expert reviews of the 2021 Honda Civic, including the hatchback, and the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta, including the sporty Jetta GLI. To find out how people like you rate vehicles in this segment, be sure to check out our ratings from verified vehicle owners.

Also, please keep in mind that while the information in this article was accurate and valid on March 9, 2021, it may have changed since that date. Always confirm product details and availability with the automaker's website or your local dealership.

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