Learning from my recent mistakes, I’m taking some of your guy’s advice and going to try to not be a complete jackass. What follows is a comparison review of a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta and a 2013 Honda Civic.
(Full disclosure, I was paid to drive both of these cars because I worked at the respective dealerships at the time. The cars I drove ranged from brand new cars I was driving for a PDI, to test drives in customer cars. I drove them like I drive my own car; I’ll let you figure out how that might be.)
Let’s start with price/value first, because that’s what most people care about when purchasing a new car in this price range. The Jetta versus Civic is not cut and dry when it comes to which is cheaper/better value for money because of the different engines available on the Jetta. The basest of the base Jetta with the new for 2013 is a 2.0L four with only 115hp and 125 torques, which is anemic, and I’d want to kill myself. I have not driven the new 2.0 because it had not come out yet when I was at Volkswagen, so my driving review will be on the 2.5L 5 cylinder, which has 170hp and 177 torques. Back to value though. The base Jetta is nearly $2,000 cheaper than the base Civic. The only differences in terms of equipment are that the Civic comes with a backup camera, and hands free Bluetooth. While those things can be had in the Jetta through the aftermarket for less than two grand, the steering wheel controls offered on the Civic cannot, so this is a tough one. I will have to say that steering wheel controls are not worth two grand, so I’m going to award the base Jetta as the better one purely in terms of value for money. The base Jetta also comes with disk brakes on the rear whereas the Civic doesn’t, so I think that’s worth at least $1,999. The Jetta is also cheaper to maintain in terms of basic maintenance. The Civic can only go around 5,000 miles before an oil change is required by the computer, but almost everyone who drives Civics gets the oil changed every 3,000 miles. The Jetta on the other hand, goes 10,000 miles between oil changes, and people bring it in within a hundred miles or so of that almost every time. Civic owners varied much more, but for the most part, came in around at 3,000 miles. This information comes from my time at Volkswagen and Honda dealerships, so I’m not pulling this information out of my ass.
Many will argue that the Civic is more reliable in the long term compared to the Volkswagen, and those people would be correct if referring to older Jetta’s. But, I would argue that in the very recent past, Volkswagen has gotten their shit together and their volume offerings are much more competitive and more reliable, but only time will tell how reliable. It will take a long time for Volkswagen to match Honda and Toyota in terms of super long term reliability, and I suspect Volkswagens will still have their occasional high dollar failure, but not like they used to have. The argument on long term reliability will have to be settled at a later date. In the short term, I didn’t really see a lot of issues with Jetta’s or Passat’s. The few that I did were TDI CELs and they were DPF (diesel particulate filter) codes because people didn’t read the manual and drive it in the proper pattern to initiate a regeneration of the DPF. And I only saw that in Jetta’s, not Golf’s, but I contribute that to the really small number of Golf’s sold.
Next, we move onto the interior, and everything that involves. Both base cars have a crap load of hard plastic everywhere, and both have cloth seats. I think in those terms, they’re tied, but if I had to choose a better interior, it’s the Jetta all day long, and there’s one big reason above all, and that’s the seats. The seats are miles better in the Jetta than the Civic to me. My back doesn’t hurt after twenty minutes of driving like it does in a Civic, part of that is the ride, but I’ll get to that later. Just sitting in the car while it’s stationary, the Jetta is much more comfortable. I also enjoy the Jetta interior more, mainly because of its layout, dash length, and visibility because of that. I like the tradition speedo/tach of the Jetta. I like that radio and screen is closer, and not a mile away like they are in the Civic. I found the Civic’s back up camera useless because of the tiny ass screen that’s about three and a half miles away. But if you need a backup camera in a small sedan, you have issues. In terms of overall fit and finish though, I found them to be about equal. I did notice maybe one or two more rattles in the Civic compared to the Jetta, but I notice smaller rattles more than anyone else because they drive me nuts, and sometimes I’m the only one that can hear a particular noise. Another thing I dislike about the Civic compared to the Jetta is the extreme slope of the windshield, and the huge dash that’s required because of that. This is more of personal preference and not a knock on the Civic. I found myself having a harder time placing the Civic because I had no idea where the corners were, whereas in the Jetta, or Golf, or other cars with shorter dashes, I could tell where the front was. I’m not the only one that has a problem with the extreme slope of the windshields in Honda’s. My oldest sister’s husband is something like 6’ 5” and can’t drive a Honda sedan or CRV because of the windshields. Another point in favor of the Jetta in terms of Jetta is there is more room in the rear seats, and the trunk. There’s at least two more inches of legroom in the back seat of the Jetta compared to the Civic, and the trunk is several cubic feet larger. One last point on the interiors; I’m not sure if this is still true on the 2014 Jetta, but when you stepped up into the higher trim levels, like the TDI (I think) or the GLI, or especially the Hybrid, the interior got better, some of the harder plastics were replaced with the softer ones found in the Golf. The HVAC controls are nicer in the Hybrid. I do know that on previous GLI’s, the interior was Euro spec, so there was less hard plastic, but like I said, I can’t confirm that with the new 2014. But I do know from personal experience with the Hybrid at Volkswagen’s Academy, that the Hybrid comes with the Euro spec interior and different (better) HVAC controls. The point I’m trying to make is that the more you spend on a Civic, like the Hybrid of Si, the interior stays roughly the same, so I find the GLI and Hybrid better value than the Civic equivalents.
Now we move onto the exterior. Stated frankly, I prefer the Jetta to the Civic in terms of appearance. I’m not saying the Jetta is a looker, but if I had to live with one, I’d pick the Jetta. It’s simpler, has better proportions to my eyes, and looks similar to an Audi to me. Like I said previously, I don’t like the sloped windshield of the Civic while driving, and I don’t like the look of it from outside. In terms of fit and finish for the exterior and this is more in terms of working on these cars, the Jetta has sturdier parts, but all the panel gaps and everything else are fine. The bumpers aren’t as flimsy, and the engine splash shields are made of much sturdier plastic on the Jetta compared to the Civic. On newer Civic’s, there is a metal splash shield thing that you have to remove in order to change the oil, it’s really small, only half the size of the oil pan, and it was a huge pain in the ass because the plastic splash shield surrounding it was so flimsy it was hard to put it back on because it flexed so much. On the Jetta, which only has half a splash shield on the 2.5, and full one on the TDI, was so much better. It was durable heavy plastic and didn’t flex everywhere when I put them back on. I much preferred doing oil changes on Jetta’s compared to Civic’s because of this, and I didn’t get oil all over me doing the Jetta because you can drain the oil from the filter without getting any on yourself or the car, it’s awesome. When I say the Civic was a pain in the ass compared to the Jetta, I actually mean Civic’s is easy and I just get frustrated really easily and was finding things to bitch about because I missed working at Volkswagen, so don’t take that last part so seriously. I’m part of a tiny majority that actually enjoys working on German cars compared to Japanese because sometimes you have sit back and figure out how to do things differently, and I enjoy that sometimes.
Now, onto the section all of you care about, and the general public couldn’t give two shits about, and that’s the actual driving. The Jetta is my preferred car, if you haven’t already deduced that. I mentioned the seats in the interior section, and I’ll go into further detail here. The seats and the general ride quality of the Civic suck compared to the Jetta, in my opinion. I’ve driven both cars to Santa Barbara and back from Ventura many times (about 60 miles total,) and when I got out of the Civic, my ass and my back hurt so bad, whereas when I got out of the Jetta, they didn’t. (I also enjoy the huge dead pedal Germans put in their cars, I don’t know why, but I find myself being much more comfortable with the huge dead pedal.) The same goes for all of the Honda and Volkswagen cars I’ve driven, like the Accord versus Passat, the CRV versus the Tiguan, and the Golf versus no Honda alternative available. The Civic crashes and shakes from each highway expansion joint to the next. The Jetta is no S Class, but the ride is much more refined and controlled. The Jetta has that “German ride quality” of composed, yet comfortable, but the Golf has a better ride due to the multi-link rear suspension. The Jetta has a little less road and tire noise compared to the Civic. The stereo is better in the Jetta compared to the Civic. Both cars handle roughly the same for their price range, which is to say, they’re no sport sedans, if you want a better handling car, buy a GLI or Si.
And now we’ll move onto the powertrains. I’m sticking to the 5 cylinder in the Jetta since I haven’t driven the new 2.0. I’m also sticking with manuals since that’s what we’ve been told to choose since we’re gearheads. The 5 cylinder has more power than the Civic, and that power lives lower in the rev range, so you don’t have to rev the nuts off of it to get it to move like in the Civic. The 5 cylinder doesn’t sound great, I like the way the TDI and turbo 2.0 sounds more, but it’s more pleasing than the 4 cylinder in the Civic. In the Civic it sounds like it’s in pain and doesn’t like being wound out, the 5 doesn’t really put up too much of fight. The Jetta also feels faster, obviously, because it has more power. I don’t like the Civic’s engine because you have to rev it so high to get it to move, some people enjoy that, I don’t. Onto the transmissions: I prefer the Jetta (again) because of the clutch, and the gear changes, but mainly the clutch. Some people complain about the long clutch in VW’s but I’ve learned to live with it and found it to be so awesome because it’s so easily modulated because you can feel the clutch engage, and you can slip and modulate it so easily. The gear changes are also pretty sweet compared to the Civic, it engages easily and I can shift fast without missing shifts. Some people may find the throws a little long, I don’t know, but they’re fine for me. Onto the Civic; I hate the clutch. I hate to be so harsh but I don’t like how short it is and how lacking it is in feel. The shifter itself is ok, not great. I can’t shift as quickly in the Civic as I can in a VW, but it’s ok. I’ve just grown used to the VW manual, mainly because it was the first manual I mastered, and the fact that it was on a diesel changes things too because of the different power bands.
Overall, I prefer the Jetta, but I’m sure none of you were surprised by that. I prefer it for reasons other than because it’s German. I would rather have the Jetta only because the seats are better and so is the ride, the rest doesn’t matter to me. This piece was not meant to be purely factual, more of what I thought about these two cars compared to one another. I tried to sprinkle in some facts here and there, and tried to not come up with broad assumptions based on my limited experiences and pass them off as facts. I am trying to fine tune my writing and work out some of the kinks, so bear with me, sorry this was so long too.