By on January 3, 2020

2020 Toyota Corolla - Image: Toyota Canada

Not that long ago, we posited that the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic would buck the declining passenger car trend and eke out a sales win in 2019. Several things were working in the models’ favor — name recognition, diversity of choice, and the elimination of domestic rivals.

In this market, in this era, breaking even counts as a win. And that’s just what the Corolla and Civic did last year.

Now that most manufacturers have rolled out full-year U.S. sales results (we’ll have a full tally for you Monday, once Ford gets its act together), we can see that the Civic neither increased or decreased its volume in 2019, at least in terms of percentage. Static at 0.0 percent, Civic volume amounted to 325,650 units — some 110 vehicles below 2018’s total. So, technically a loss, but too small of one to even register as such.

Helping the Civic in 2019 was the continued production of three bodystyles and several power flavors, including the very desirable mid-pack Si. Content received a boost for 2020. The model’s high water mark came in 2017, when Civic sold over 377,000 vehicles in the U.S.

Image: Honda

As low-end buyers coped with the loss of the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, both offered as a hatch or sedan, Japanese automakers stood to gain disenfranchised customers in search of a new brand. Toyota seized upon the opportunity to boost appeal by rolling out a new Corolla hatch for MY2019, followed a year later by an equally revamped sedan boasting a new platform and upgraded power. In your author’s neighborhood, the 2020 model proliferated overnight. Joining it was a hybrid variant aimed at eco-conscious shoppers who dislike the idea of piloting a Prius.

With 2019 at an end, we can see that the effort paid off. Corolla sales rose 0.4 percent to 304,850 units, making it the only Toyota-badged passenger car to see a yearly gain (the Camry sunk 1.9 percent, which is hardly a death blow, and the returning Supra doesn’t count).

Drawing back a bit, Honda’s U.S. business saw sales rise 0.2 percent, comprising a 0.3-percent climb at the namesake brand and a 1-percent drop at Acura. Toyota volume declined 1.8 percent, overall, with the Toyota brand falling 2 percent and the Lexus brand slipping by a nearly imperceptible 0.1 percent.

[Images: Toyota, Honda]

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13 Comments on “Dueling Compacts: Two Class Leaders Manage a Win in 2019...”


  • avatar
    sayahh

    It’s the best Corolla since the Initial D and SR5 ones. I don’t like ebrake but I test drove one and it’s fantastic. Ford and Chevy killing the Focus and the Cruze were mistakes, but if they can’t sell them, the dropping them was the right move and their loss is Honda and Toyota’s gain. (Anyone still mourning for the Neon and the Dart?)

    They’re still appliances but they’re a bit more exciting now. I still wish Toyota made a proper Mustang-fighter, though, that’s affordable and not a cooperation (Subaru, BMW, Daihatsu, etc.) or a rebadge (Mazda).

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      It will still be “cooperation” but the rumors persist that the FR-S and BRZ are actually getting another generation with the new 2.4 turbo as part of the engine line up. I’d be excited if it meant that you could get a manual trans with the turbo engine (damn shame they won’t allow that on the Legacy.)

      Given the Legacy can do a 6 sec 0-60 with turbo and CVT I’m sure that engine would make the FR-S/BRZ positively entertaining.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      In the summer of 2015 I rented a fresh new Camry at the Denver airport for a week, and soon thereafter picked up a new Corolla rental from the Dayton, OH airport. I thought that with only a handful of more features, the Corolla would be just as fine and useful(in a smaller package)as the Camry. I think Corolla has reached that point in 2020. If not for living in a valley that encompasses a home at 4,800 feet altitude and extended family at 7,600 feet with piled up snow on the route, I wouldn’t need my RAV4 and would gladly replace it with the new Corolla, mere appliance or not.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I agree, the new Corolla SE is very good.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The only worrying thing for me on the Corolla is the CVT. I guess if anybody could offer a CVT that will last it would be Toyota, but I’m still dubious. I’m not impressed with how it works in the insurance rental I’m driving. it just turned over 10,000 miles, so I don’t think it’s a mileage thing.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’ll be curious to see what Honda does with the next Civic. The current thing is plug ugly.

    Side note: the fact that this article was without comment for 15 hours is kind of telling. Hardly anybody cares about compacts it seems, much to the chagrin of those who will but them used in two years after all the deprecation.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Agree with above – the new Corolla has largely excised the ‘boring’ washing machine appliance moniker.

    I wouldn’t touch a Civic with a 10-foot pole at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      Polka King

      “Boring” is the dumbest description of a car ever. It’s a snotty adolescent’s word for “tasteful” or even “competent”.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      I’m very happy with my 2019 Civic Si. Fast, fun, 27 mpg (with a heavy foot), was $25K out the door, and still a practical family sedan. If you took out a seven year loan for some $40K CUV, well good luck with that.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    You know Honda cooked those numbers at the end for Civic and CR-V to barely match last year. But the Pilot wasn’t competitive with anything losing the most in 2019 with -15.4% drop with last place finish on a 3-row comparison on cars dot com.

  • avatar
    Polka King

    If I knew anyone who bought a car that looked like that I wouldn’t be his friend any more. Silly me, I just don’t think that malevolence is all that funny.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I think the Corolla XSE hatch is great-looking. If they offered a performance version it would definitely be on my shortlist as a commuter car.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’ve been driving a 2020 Corolla LE insurance rental for the last three weeks, and I like almost everything about it, except for the CVT. The thing is definitely let down by it. Rapid acceleration is a myth, as the CVT takes a couple of seconds to figure out that you actually want to accelerate. The thing acts like it has a slip or flare problem, but I assume that’s normal behavior.

    The other maddening thing is the Entune, Alexa, and Apple CarPlay, which I gave up on after a couple of days with the car. I installed three different apps on my phone, and registered on Entune, but still couldn’t get CarPlay apps or Alexa to work. Toyota has a long way to go to make in-car apps user-friendly.

    But the electronic (and automatic) parking brake, automatic headlights, automatic high beams, and automatic climate control? They all work pretty much as expected. The thing also has an electronic brake hold feature which comes in handy in the drive-thru.

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