As someone that sells both cars, gets an employee discount on both (and got a civic hybrid), I feel like I should chime in. Yes, both engines will run like a charm for quite a while, and both honda and toyota are using the same transmissions that they have had forever, because of their "if it is not broke, why fix it" mentality.
First, the non tangible and design. Overall, the carolla is a little quieter, but the new civic is much better than its previous versions in that respect. Interior on the civic, while some have complained about it, is still a step up from the carolla. Overall, the civic handles slightly better than the LE. I also have noticed that even the rear seats, if you fold them down and then try to twist the entire seat structure in your hands, they are very flimsy and rattle, completely solid on the civic, so the build quality is a little nicer on the civic. (even the carollas front seat belts are bolted directly to the frame with nothing hiding them, on the civic the fit and finish is a bit nicer, with the seat belt covered and attached to the seat
if she ever tries to sell it, AGL residual values are as follows:
EX civic after 36 months - 54% of original value, Carolla is at 48%
after 60 months, the civic will be at 41% compared to 37% on the Carolla.
obviously the civic wins in gas mileage...with a combined highway and city of 32 compared to a combined of 29 on the LE carolla.
Both have same factory warranty.
Civic is drive by wire electronic throttle, and electronic power steering, no hydrolic pump to worry about or have serviced like on the carolla, plus no wasted power trying to turn a hydrolic pump in the first place.
both have the same 13.2 gallon tank, but with the lower fuel economy on the carolla, you will be getting gas more often.
LE Carolla has drum brakes in back, compared to disk on the Civic, so the civic wins there.
Both have the exact same turning diameter.
Overall the civic has better crash test ratings.
The civic on the left and the carolla on the right.
overall - 5 - 4
overall front - 5 - 4
overall side - 5 - 5
side barrier - 5 - 5
side pole - 5 - 3
roll over safety - 4 - 4
Fold down arm rest for the back passengers is not available on the carolla LE and standard on the EX civic.
No anti theft system on the stereo on the carolla, standard on the civic.
Moon roof standard on EX, option on the LE
Auto headlights with auto off standard on EX, not available on LE
the civic is lower, but offers more hiproom in the second row, more leg room in the front, and more shoulder room in the front as well. Carolla has almost an inch more headroom in front though.
Civic has a 3 inch longer wheel base, so a little more stable.
And finally, alloy wheels are standard on the EX, and an option on the LE.
Those are the ones that jump out at me, but overall, the civic just seems like a clear choice.
Not that there will be a huge difference in some of the options but at the price point of the Civic EX you should have been comparing the Corolla S model trim line which does have things like alloy wheels etc etc. Either that or compare the Corolla LE to the Civic LX which also doesn't have alloy wheels etc etc.