The Volkswagen Golf was the quintessential hatchback choice for a long time and had quite the reign until Honda decided to bring the hatchback to its 10th-generation Civic lineup.
We all know that the Honda Civic is a mighty impressive car. When it came out, it won AutoGuide.com’s Car of the Year award because we were really impressed that it seemed to elevate the segment with its solid driving dynamics, excellent features, and smart attention to detail that belied its price.
The Volkswagen Golf was recently updated, so it was natural to bring the Golf and the Honda Civic Hatchback together for a comparison of these highly regarded five-doors.
Here’s what we thought in all the major categories:
This seems like an easy pick. There’s no getting around the fact that the Honda Civic Hatchback is UGLY. All caps UGLY. This is a shame because the sedan and the coupe are quite handsome cars, but the hatchback is so unfortunately styled, that I often felt embarrassed driving it, even though I feel perfectly fine driving the other two. Besides all the huge fake air intakes that are just plastic shields, not one, but two spoilers, there are just too many angles and a weird overabundance of details that I can’t get behind. It’s so busy that the only color it ends up looking half good in is black. The Civic Hatchback’s style is the biggest knock against it, as it’s an otherwise fine car.
As the first model signifying the return of this body style to the Civic nameplate, I understand the need to make a statement, so at least it stands out. I’ve also seen too many poseurs who bought a white Civic hatch, then put on a red aftermarket Honda badge and a big spoiler trying to pass it off as a Type R. Nice try, but you’re not fooling anyone.
As a complete contrast, the Golf looks like it always has, which is handsome, neat, and conservative but on the edge of boring. The updated Golf gets attractive LED lights front and back that make it look more upscale. The Golf has a style that will age more gracefully than the Civic, which is a big plus. I will mention that our tester, despite it being quite new, had paint that looked more than 10 years old. It was scratched up and dull, so it’s a shame that VW doesn’t use higher quality paint.
Although the Golf still has that unmistakably German interior that feels pretty high-end, the Civic’s interior just seems to elevate its segment, where the Golf is quite status quo. With a smart attention to detail, useful cubbies to stash stuff in, and a bit more visual flavor, the Civic’s interior looks and feels more modern than the Golf, even though it once set the bar for how good a hatchback’s interior could be.
Sebastien Bell, my co-driver and editor extraordinaire at VWVortex.com said candidly, “The Golf is so boring and normal inside that you can almost forget how many features you’re being offered and how solid the chassis is.”
Still, the Golf has a better infotainment system with better graphics, a more responsive screen, and a cleaner menu structure. It’s more user-friendly and has a volume knob, unlike the Civic, which has touch-capacitive + and – buttons and buttons on the steering wheel to control volume.
The Civic Hatchback holds a huge 22.6 cubic feet in the trunk and 46.2 with the seats folded flat. It has a unique solution for the cargo cover, where it can retract and roll up like a scroll from either side of the trunk. When not in use, you can store it retracted or you can take “the scroll” out entirely and easily store it in the car.
It’s a different solution from the Golf’s traditional, hard cargo cover that takes up a lot more room and has a permanent shape that makes it harder to store when not in use.
The Golf has 17.4 cubic feet in the trunk and a huge 52.7 with the seats folded. With all seats in use, the Golf has less trunk space, but more than the Honda with the seats folded. The Golf here benefits from its more upright/taller hatch design, where the Honda sacrifices some practicality in the name of style and a more sloping, sleek roof. We think trunk space is more important than seats-down cargo room and we love Honda’s solution for a cargo cover, so it wins this portion too.
The Honda Civic Hatchback is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 174 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque. Power gets to the front wheels via a CVT. The Sport model we had gets 180 hp. Fuel economy for this model is rated at 30 mpg city, 36 highway, and 32 combined.
The Volkswagen Golf is powered by a 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder with 170 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg city, 34 highway, and 29 combined.
Both cars drive remarkably well: They’re both buttoned down, predictable, and balanced. Neither cars are fun, but both offer a respectable turn of speed, though the Civic is a tad more engaging and feels a bit peppier.
That said, Sebastien said the Civic doesn’t have that same “built-like-a-tank solidity and quietude” that the Golf offers. The Golf has that unmistakable “German” feeling, which means everything about it is tightly screwed together, the chassis feels solid, and the handling stands out in its class for being so good.
Despite this, the Golf’s steering could be tighter, and it has kind of dimwitted transmission and never seemed to know what gear to be in, which is a shame because VW’s automatics (I’m thinking DSG) are remarkable.
In the Honda, the powertrain just seems more cohesive and never got in the way. It just worked in the background exactly as you expected it to. Sebastien said the Civic was “tight in all the right ways, with soft enough seats and a ride that’s really well designed to give you stability but no crashing, it’s nearly as comfortable as the Golf and a more engaging driver.”
For this reason, the Civic wins in the driving dynamics portion, but it was a close call.
ALSO SEE: Mazda3 vs Honda Civic Hatchback
The Verdict: 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback vs Volkswagen Golf Comparison
Despite it being much uglier, the Honda Civic is our pick as the better all-around hatchback. Its style is really the only major drawback. Although the Volkswagen Golf is a fantastic hatchback I’d be happy to own (in fact, my daily driver is a 10-year old Golf I’m already very happy with), it simply doesn’t bring as much to the table as the Civic in general. The Civic is an excellent hatchback with great features, smart packaging, practicality, and driving dynamics. It’s just a shame it’s so damn ugly.
2018 Honda Civic Specs
- Engine: 1.5L turbo four-cylinder
- Output: 174 hp/180 hp, 162 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: 6-speed manual/CVT
- Cargo Capacity: 22.6/46.2 cubic feet – 640/1,308 L
- US Fuel Economy (mpg): 30 city, 36 hwy, 32 combined (Sport Touring)
- CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.9 city, 6.6 hwy, 7.3 combined (Sport Touring)
- US Starting Price: $20,150
- CAN Starting Price: $21,790 (Prices do not include destination)
2018 Volkswagen Golf Specs:
- Engine: 1.8L turbo four-cylinder
- Output: 170 hp, 199 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: 5-speed manual/6-speed auto
- Cargo Capacity: 17.4/52.7 cubic feet – 493/1,492 L
- US Fuel Economy (mpg): 25 city, 34 hwy, 29 combined
- CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.6 city, 7.2 hwy, 8.5 combined
- US Starting Price: $20,910
- CAN Starting Price: $19,595 (Prices do not include destination)