European reliability or Asian efficiency? It’s a question that comes to mind when thinking of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta and the 2011 Honda Civic. Both cars have been around since the

1970s, and neither has shown signs of leaving anytime soon. They both provide their own unique form of economy and reliability. But in order to see which one possesses the best overall value for your money, we’ve broken them down (with the help of the quality researchers at Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and Motor Trend) by category and let them confront each other head-on.

Powertrain: A four-cylinder engine is all you’re going to get from the Civic, which does leave it leading in fuel efficiency. However, the 2.5L inline-5 from the VW is the most powerful engine available from these two miniature sedans. It decreases fuel efficiency only slightly while upping horsepower and torque. The VW should win in flexibility of choices as well, with the available 2.0L diesel, but the Civic also offers a fuel-saving option with the hybrid model getting the top efficiency at 40/45 mpg (city/highway). Transmission choices are comparable and both models come standard as front-wheel drive.

Winner: Volkswagen Jetta, thanks to a more powerful engine option

Braking/Safety/Handling: Both vehicles passed their safety marks with flying colors, unless you drop down to the Civic coupe which earned only a rating of Acceptable from the IIHS. Antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard equipment on either choice. Braking is slightly better on the VW, coming to a stop from 60 mph in an above-average 117 feet. The VW is a very solid handling car but the Civic matches that handling, being very confident for a compact sedan. The additional road noise of the Civic could give the Jetta the advantage here.

Winner: Volkswagen Jetta

Cargo/Hauling: The VW wins this category, no questions asked. The Civic is built more for sport than for spaciousness. Its 12 cubic-foot trunk is well below class standards, and that drops down to 10 cubes for the hybrid and the GX models. The Jetta’s trunk is an ample 15.5 cubic feet, bigger than many sedans in this class.

Winner: Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort/Interior: The Jetta’s interior is drastically disappointing. VW has done away with several past features which gave it its signature look and feel. The remarkably adjustable front seats are now gone as are rear-seat air vents and the carpeted trunk lid. A digital speedometer and fuel gauge rest at the base of the windshield of the Civic, but that’s really the only drawback to its interior. Comfort is ample and legroom has been improved in the rear seat with the flat rear floor.

Winner: Honda Civic

Amenities/Options: In a separate matchup, we found that the Honda Accord could not beat the Jetta in overall amenities, so don’t expect the Civic to pull the task off either. Despite its addition of Bluetooth, satellite radio, heated front seats, and several sporty exterior features, it just doesn’t match the VW’s functionality or gadgetry. The stereo system of the Jetta is equipped with a six-disc CD changer, iPod interface, SD-card reader, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and may even hold your coffee for you if you ask it nicely. The VW’s touchscreen navigation interface is also more user-friendly than Honda’s.

Winner: Volkswagen Jetta

Value for the $: The starting MSRP on these models is actually fairly even. The Jetta starts at $14,995 and climbs to $25,295 at the top end. The Civic starts at $15,605 and options can run its 33 style choices to an almost double $27,150.

Winner: Given the price comparison, the Jetta is the overall better value here. Unless you’re really bucking for a hybrid car, you’ll be better off going with the VW.

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