Now before we can even crown a winner in our compact sedan category, we give you this caveat. Allegedly Honda has tinkered even further with the 2014 Civic so they only allowed us to use our impressions of the 2013 model until the ’14 model year units start arriving in the press fleets sometime near the start of December. Also, we are due soon to take the wheel of a manual transmission 2014 Mazda3 which could easily upset the whole apple cart except for one possible problem—this new model can get pricey. But we shall see.
Rest assured, we will tell you if this even newer 2014 Civic has the stuff the take on all comers. Is it just us or is Honda starting a bad precedent here where people will expect significant changes each model year on Civic whereas Toyota hasn’t touched the Corolla in decades. So why are Honda engineers expected to shoulder all of this burden alone? Because they are perfectionists and they know each year the competition improves with a perfect example of this being the simply shocking 2014 VW Jetta 1.8T SE we drove across some of the most majestic driving roads in the Napa Valley. You might be seeing where this review is headed.
Now Honda-philes turn your head. But lovers of Honda manual transmissions listen. Our one issue with the current Civic sedan is that in EX and EX-L trims which most buyers want you can no longer get one of these economy icons with a self-shifter. Why not when it’s available with most Accord trims and we are sure more Civic buyers would opt for a stick shift? Also, the manual gearbox mated to the Jetta’s all-new 1.8 liter turbocharged 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder is an absolutely rev-hungry peach that averages 26 city/36 highway which is amazing. Why? Well because the Civic’s 4-cylinder still puts out about 140 horsepower yet only manages 39 miles per gallon on the highway.
Looking at these two sedans side by side, feature by feature and dollar by dollar and the come down to pretty much the same basic essentials like air conditioning, power windows and locks, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, USB-i/Pod integration, decent audio systems, Sirius/XM radio and 4-wheel disc brakes (talking to you again Corolla with the rear drums up to LE trim). Both are just a few hundred over $20,000 and readily available at Honda and VW stores now. You can also add power moonroofs, push button start systems, leather and other goodies while still staying beneath $23,000 easily which is a bargain when you consider how fun both the Civic and latest Jetta are to drive. Decades back they would have beaten BMW’s.
The Compact Sedan Comparison Champion is…the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SE!
Now this is not to say that Volkswagen should rest on their laurels as both the Civic and Mazda3 will be nipping at their heels shortly. But that’s the beauty of the compact sedan segment. Constant reinvention and clever mixing of both the sporty and the economical as well as the futuristic with the simple. It is perhaps the best automotive arbiter of where we are headed as a society and culture in the next decade. They are also the cars that most people drive in reality. We can’t all afford the fuel bills from an Escalade.
So this is a kudos to both Honda and Volkswagen who most definitely improved its once unbeatable Jetta sport sedan back into the Germanic icon it once was. Also, the 2014 Jetta also benefits from a fully independent rear suspension to aid handling as well as a new electric power steering rack which somehow delivers more feedback than the old hydraulic unit. Also, either the automatic or manual gearbox mate very well to the 1.8 liter turbo’s effortlessly fizzy ball of torque.
For Honda, just chalk it up for one more obstacle to face and one more challenger or the Civic to overcome. Or will they? Stay tuned as the Honda and Acura Examiner will keep you informed with non-stop comparison tests!
Review (3rd Pkace): 2013 Dodge Dart SXT
Review (Last Place): 2014 Toyota Corolla S