Nissan Altima Vs. Honda Civic

by Michael G. Sanchez

A segment-leader for decades, Honda's venerable Civic has long appealed to buyers looking for efficient, dependable transportation in a compact, affordable package. While the ninth-generation version received an uncharacteristically weak reception from the automotive press -- particularly the folks at Consumer Reports -- it remained a competent and competitive choice.

The fifth-generation of Nissan's Altima debuted for the 2013 model year. While not as long-running a nameplate as the Civic, the Altima has been a prominent part of Nissan's lineup since the early 1990s. The midsize four-door has a reputation for being a somewhat-sportier alternative to segment leaders like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

The 2014 Civic and Altima weren't direct competitors. The Nissan was classified as a midsize, while the smaller Honda was officially a compact. Even so, the two models were close enough in price, size and features that cross-shopping them was a reasonable proposition.

Dimensions

The 2014 Civic was available as a sedan or coupe. The Sentra came in sedan form only. The Civic sedan was 179.4 inches long, 69.0 inches wide and 56.5 inches high, with a 105.1-inch wheelbase. The coupe was 177.9 inches long, 69.0 inches wide and 55.0 inches high, with a 103.2-inch wheelbase. The 2014 Altima measured 191.5 inches in length, 72.0 inches in width and 57.9 inches in height. It sat on a 109.3-inch wheelbase. The Civic sedan's front row of seats offered 39.0 inches of headroom, 56.6 inches of shoulder room, 50.5 inches of hip room and 42.0 inches of legroom. The four-door's backseat provided 37.1 inches of headroom, 53.3 inches of shoulder room, 51.4 inches of hip room and 36.2 inches of legroom. The driver and front passenger in the Civic coupe, on the other hand, got 38.1 inches of headroom, 55.1 inches of shoulder room, 53.2 inches of hip room and 42.2 inches of legroom. Backseat riders got 34.3 inches of headroom, 52.2 inches of shoulder room, 49.0 inches of hip room and 30.8 inches of legroom. The Altima's front row of seats provided 40.0 inches of headroom, 56.4 inches of shoulder room, 54.0 inches of hip room and 45.0 inches of legroom. The backseat provided 37.1 inches of headroom, 56.4 inches of shoulder room, 52.1 inches of hip room and 36.1 inches of legroom. The Civic sedan's trunk had a capacity of 12.5 cubic feet, while the coupe's trunk could hold up to 11.7 cubic feet of cargo. The larger Altima's trunk capacity was 15.4 cubic feet.

Drivetrain

The majority of Civics were powered by a 1.8-liter inline-four. The dual-overhead-cam, 16-valve engine produced 143 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 129 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm. Buyers could choose between a five-speed manual and a continuously variable transmission. The hybrid Civic was motivated by the combined output of a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor. Together, the two power sources produced a maximum of 110 horsepower and 127 foot-pounds of torque. A continuously variable transmission came standard. The Civic Natural Gas featured a modified version of the same 1.8-liter inline-four found in the standard model. It put out a bit less power, though: 110 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 106 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm. A five-speed automatic was the only transmission choice. Finally, the sporty Civic Si boasted a comparatively large 2.4-liter inline-four. It generated 205 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 174 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. A six-speed manual was the sole transmission choice. The performance-oriented Si also came standard with a helical limited-slip differential. The 2014 Nissan Altima featured two available engines: a 2.5-liter inline-four and a 3.5-liter V-6. The four-cylinder unit produced 182 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 180 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The V-6 put out 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. All models came standard with a continuously variable transmission.

Features & Options: Civic

The Civic sedan and coupe came in base LX, mid-range EX, premium EX-L and EX-L Navi and sporty Si. There were also three sedan-only, fuel-economy-oriented models: the HF, Hybrid and Natural Gas. The LX Civic came with 15-inch steel wheels, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, a one-piece fold-down rear seatback, air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5-inch infotainment display screen, a rearview camera and an audio system with CD player, auxiliary audio jack and iPod-USB interface. The EX model added 16-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, automatic headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, a 60-40-split, folding rear seat back, a 7-inch color infotainment touchscreen display, a right-side blind-spot camera, the HondaLink smartphone integration system and an upgraded audio system. The EX-L model added 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic headlights and foglights. The EX-L Navi also included a GPS navigation system, along with HD and satellite radio. The HF trim was similar to the LX but included a variety of features designed to maximize fuel efficiency. These consisted of light and aerodynamic aluminum wheels, low-rolling-resistance tires, drag-reducing underbody panels and a rear spoiler. The Civic Hybrid came in four trim levels of its own: base, Leather, Navi and Leather with Navi. Base was equivalent to EX, minus the rear disc brakes and the sunroof. The base Hybrid also had 15-inch wheels instead of the EX's 16-inchers. The Leather model featured the same equipment lineup as the EX-L, but without the 17-inch wheels. Like the EX-L Navi, the Hybrid's Leather with Navi trim level included a GPS navigation system plus satellite and HD radio. The Civic Natural Gas had two trim levels: base and Leather. Base featured everything on the EX model's equipment list, plus the right-side blind-spot camera, HondaLink system and 7-inch color infotainment touchscreen display from the LX. The Natural Gas model's Leather trim level was equivalent to EX-L Navi, but with smaller, 16-inch wheels. Finally, the high-performance Civic Si came with 18-inch alloy wheels, special front and rear fascias, a sport-tuned suspension and a rear spoiler. Its interior equipment was equivalent to the EX, but with the addition of sport front seats, an aluminum shift knob, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, faux carbon fiber trim and red backlit gauges.

Features & Options: Altima

The Nissan Altima came in four trim levels: base, S, SV and SL. Base was only available with the 2.5-liter engine. It included 16-inch steel wheels, power doors, windows and mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, a 4.3-inch LCD information display and a four-speaker CD audio system with auxiliary input jack. The S trim level added keyless ignition and entry, automatic headlights, cruise control, a power driver's seat and an upgraded six-speaker audio system. The Display Audio package was available as an option. It brought a rearview camera, a 5-inch infotainment touchscreen display, the NissanConnect smartphone integration system, a USB port and satellite radio. On 3.5-liter models, the S trim also included 18-inch wheels and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The SV trim level added 17-inch wheels for 2.5-liter models, dual-zone automatic climate control, an upgraded driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and remote ignition. The top-of-the-line SL model added leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, LED taillights, a power front passenger seat and a nine-speaker Bose audio system. In addition, Nissan offered two SL-exclusive options packages: Convenience and Technology. The Convenience package included rear air-conditioning vents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a sunroof. The Technology package came with a GPS navigation system, a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen display, voice controls, a blind-spot assist, a rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning systems.

Safety

Both the Civic and Altima came standard with four-wheel ABS, traction control, stability control, dual front airbags, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. All Civic models came with a standard rear-view camera, a feature with was optional on the Altima S, standard on the SV and SL and not available on the base model. The Civic lacked the Altima's available electronic safety assists, but did offer an optional right-side blind-spot camera.

Consumer Data

Both model lines were strong performers in term of gas mileage. The Civic Hybrid lead the pack with a 44 city, 47 highway rating. With the five-speed manual, the standard Civic was EPA-rated at 28-36. Equipped with the CVT, those figures increased to 30-39. The efficiency-minded HF model was rated at 31-41 and the Civic Natural Gas received a 27-38 rating. Finally, the faster and more powerful Si model was rated at 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. The inline-four-powered Altima received an EPA fuel economy rating of 27 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. The V-6 Altima was rated at 22-31. The entry-level 2014 Civic LX started at $18,190. The HF was priced from $19,940, the EX from $20,290 and the EX-L from $22,540. The Civic Natural Gas started at $26,640 and Civic Hybrid had a base price of $24,635. The Altima was priced from $22,170 for the 2.5-liter model and $26,320 for the V-6.

About the Author

Michael G. Sanchez has been a professional writer for over 10 years. A lifelong car enthusiast and former senior mechanic, he has written on a wide range of automotive topics. He holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Castleton State College. Sanchez started writing about cars as a part-time copywriter for a local dealership while still in high school.