|158 - 306||Horsepower (hp)||149|
|362||Combined Fuel Economy (mpg)||33|
To many people, these two compact cars may look very similar from the outside. They both use modern styling punctuated by all the latest LED lighting technology, among other things. But under the hood and beneath the skin, they are about as different as two cars of the same era and class can be. The Civic is purpose-built to be among the best all-around compact cars that anyone could ask for. Meanwhile, in stark contrast, the Sentra attempts to offer a simple and straightforward budget option. This difference in purpose and goals colors the entire matchup of 2021 Honda Civic vs 2021 Nissan Sentra.
Both vehicles are well built, reliable, and will likely last for decades with minimal maintenance, but in general, the Civic tends to offer more customization and features, while the Sentra simply is what it is. And when it comes to the powertrain and performance, the Honda Civic leaves the Nissan Sentra in the dust. Taking a step back from the rakish and digital chic of the two car's exteriors, to showcase how different these two vehicles are, let's look at them from the inside out.
The overall presentation of the interior of the two vehicles is where they are closest in terms of quality. The Sentra, especially in its higher trim variants, is set up like a small luxury car. The optional diamond-quilted leather seats with caramel coloring and black accents make for a beautiful overall package, similar to a Mercedes look. Meanwhile, the Civic has a more youthful, driver-centric, sporty layout. Similar to the world's best sports cars and performance machines, a huge tachometer dominates the digital dashboard, and all the controls in the cockpit are presented in a driver-focused enclosure.
Both vehicles execute their chosen looks rather well and have optional interior colors. Both interiors look and feel wonderful, but when digging a little deeper into the car's interior features, the Civic starts to come out ahead. For instance, both the Civic and Sentra have optional heated seats in the front, but only the Civic has that feature available for the rear seats as well. And while the Sentra offers a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, the Civic has an eight-way power-adjustable option and a power-adjustable front passenger's seat to boot.
Overall, the Civic tends to offer a greater range of features to choose from and a more driver-focused interior. The Sentra's interior has many available bells and whistles, but the Civic's has more and is better able to be tailored to an individual driver's needs and tastes.
This trend continues in terms of infotainment systems. Both vehicles have full infotainment suites available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but while the Sentra's available sound systems top out at eight speakers, the Civic Sedan has an available 450-watt premium audio system with no fewer than ten speakers. The Civic Hatchback goes even further with its 540-watt twelve-speaker premium audio option.
Both vehicles have large touchscreen displays and digital gauges, all in full color, which really add to the hyper-modern feel both compact cars exude. Both vehicles also have built-in hands-free text messaging capabilities, Bluetooth connectivity, and more networking capabilities than most would know what to do with. But the Civic also has a Satellite-Linked Navigation System with Voice Recognition and Honda HD Digital Traffic, keeping tabs on the general traffic situation in real-time. This can optimize routes to avoid problems and help ensure the best and shortest trip possible.
In terms of straightforward space and the passenger comfort that comes with it, the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra each offer way more space than one would ever expect. Yet once again, the Civic outdoes the humble Sentra, with more interior volume and more cargo volume. For instance, the Sentra has 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space in its trunk, while the Civic Sedan offers 15.1 cubic feet for luggage or groceries. Opting for the Civic Hatchback expands that to an SUV-like 46.2 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seats are folded down.
The highly modern 2021 Honda Civic and 2021 Nissan Sentra both come equipped with suites of sensors and technology meant to prevent accidents. These technologies can even perform emergency braking autonomously, acting faster than a driver could. The sensors included in these systems include a mix of cameras, radars, and sonar. The mix of sensors helps provide each individual system with redundancy, as even if one set of sensors is obscured, it is likely that the others are still functioning. These systems can operate in all weather conditions and will provide protection day or night.
While the technology behind the sensors is the kind of stuff one reads about in a spy novel or a techno-thriller, the capabilities the technology allows are all very real. Both the 2021 Honda Civic and 2021 Nissan Sentra have the ability to detect people and obstacles in the road and automatically stop to prevent an accident. Both have cameras available to the driver so that areas previously beyond the driver's field of vision are now easily visible. Even areas that side and rearview mirrors don't cover are revealed. Both cars have the ability to detect accidental lane departure and have advanced cruise control systems that make long highway cruises a breeze. Accelerometer and wheel speed sensors, in addition to intelligent braking systems, can even help prevent loss of control on slick surfaces.
The Civic and Sentra really begin showing how different they are when you look under the hood. While the Sentra only has a single naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine available, which is always mounted to the same continuously variable transmission, the Civic has several engine and transmission options. These options allow one to make their personal Civic perfectly conform to their needs and priorities, whether that be economy, power, simplicity, or any combination of the three.
The Sentra has just one 2.0-liter engine available, which makes 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It is efficient, relatively light, and cheap, but there is little else positive to say about it. Meanwhile, the three primary engine options for the Civic include two turbocharged engines, both of which are already legendary in enthusiast circles.
The simplest of the Civic's engines is the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated K20C2 offered in the lower trims of the Civic Sedan. Making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque, these engines are detuned variants of the K-series engines found in enthusiast-focused Honda models. The K-series engines are not just commonly used to win races but are so well-liked that they are often swapped into older sports cars. Including Nissans. This detuned version of the K20 offers enormous economy and is almost certainly going to last far longer than any engine has any right to - all while being clean-burning and making plenty of power.
Further up the Civic engine list is a newcomer, the L15. This engine is a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder that includes a small, instantly responsive turbocharger, bringing virtually no lag and a generous bump in torque output. This lightweight little powerhouse makes 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque with its base tune, but the Civic Hatchback Sport bumps that up to 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The engine's light weight makes the cars that it equips both better balanced and more nimble, and over 170 horsepower is a very respectable figure for a compact car that weighs under 3,000 pounds soaking wet.
The most powerful engine available for the 2021 Honda Civic is the joltingly powerful K20C1. Available only on the Civic Type-R performance model, this setup takes the already raucous enthusiast-oriented K20 engine and bolts a turbo to it, making an unbelievable 306 horsepower on a car that weighs barely over 3,000 pounds. Saying the Type-R is fast is something of an understatement. The Type-R is a car that can somehow outrace even homologation rally cars on the track and utterly destroy classic muscle cars in a straight line. Not bad for a front-wheel drive hatchback.
Coming back down to earth, the Civic's superiority over the Sentra in terms of transmission options is at least as large, if not larger, than the Civic's superiority in terms of engine options. The Sentra uses an advanced Continuously Variable Transmission that doesn't have standard gears at all. Instead, it uses a mechanism that can simulate a huge range of gear ratios and can move between them without a loss of power being delivered.
That sounds both high-tech and highly capable, but in reality, Nissan CVTs have garnered a reputation for being boring at best and unreliable at worse. They have improved since they were first introduced but are still far from ideal, especially if you want to have fun while driving. The Civic does offer a solid Honda-build CVT option, but drivers seeking enjoyment on the road will be excited to learn that it also offers a glorious 6-speed manual transmission that shifts better than many units in older exotic supercars.