Compact Car Buyer's Guide

By Editors on June 16, 2016 1:48 PM

Today's compact cars might not be quite as roomy, quiet or comfortable as their midsize counterparts, but the fit, finish and features are increasingly comparable. And even if they'll always be smaller by definition, compact cars continue to get roomier, quieter and more comfortable, making them increasingly intriguing alternatives to many larger and pricier options. It's hard to make a smarter car purchase than to go with an efficient, affordable small car.

Explore all 12 of your options right here -- listed in order of popularity according to full-year sales -- and keep reading below to see what's new, what's next, and to find out who's winning all the awards.

Toyota Corolla

Toyota's famously affordable, reliable compact sedan now has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

Explore Corolla

Honda Civic

Honda's venerable compact car has been completely redesigned for 2016, and now it almost outclasses the class.

Explore Civic

Hyundai Elantra

The new-for-2017 Elantra adds elegant style to the familiar value equation.

Explore Elantra
  • Subcompact SUV Comparison
    Subcompact SUV Comparison
  • Midsize Sedan Buyer's Guide
    Midsize Sedan Buyer's Guide

Chevrolet Cruze

New for 2016, the Cruze is one of the quietest and most comfortable compact cars you can buy.

Explore Cruze

Nissan Sentra

The Sentra's roomy, refined interior and smooth styling qualify it as one of the segment's grown-ups. Updates for 2016 only add to the appeal.

Explore Sentra

Ford Focus

There are roomier and more affordable compact cars, but few are as sporty or as stylish as the European-rooted Focus.

Explore Focus

Volkswagen Jetta

The segment's only European entry manages to be both more fun and more refined than most other compact cars.

Explore Jetta


The fun and stylish Mazda3 has earned a spot on our list of 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 for 12 years in a row.

Explore Mazda3

Subaru Impreza

Standard all-wheel drive remains the Impreza's key competitive advantage.

Explore Impreza

Dodge Dart

Sporty looks, a rich interior and one of our favorite infotainment systems.

Explore Dart

Kia Forte

It looks sportier than it drives, but the updated Forte boasts European-like interior styling and offers loads of cool tech.

Explore Forte

Mitsubishi Lancer

The oldest entry in the group, we still love that impressive warranty, and the Lancer's updated look.

Explore Lancer


What's New

The 2016 model year brings us a totally new version of the Chevy Cruze, plus a new Honda Civic that already claimed our biggest award of the year, the Kelley Blue Book Overall Best Buy Award of 2016. The Nissan Sentra isn't all-new for 2016, but receives a number of enhancements. The Hyundai Elantra is all-new for 2017. 

10 Best 

The compact car segment is well-represented on our most recent lists of 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000 and 10 Best Sedans Under $25,000.

Compact Comparison

For our most recent compact car comparison test we put 400 miles on each of seven small cars to confirm past conclusions and solidify some new ones.

The Specialists

The Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer are the only cars in this group to offer all-wheel drive, the Jetta is the only one offered with a hybrid powertrain, and only the Focus is offered as a (much pricier) all-electric car. Several now offer highway fuel economy of 40+ mpg. 

Actual Price

Most compact cars start under $18,000, but most buyers upgrade to an automatic transmission and other popular equipment, making the average price paid for a compact car right about $20,000. The average price paid for a midsize sedan, for reference, is closer to $25,000.

This Year's Winners

The redesigned 2016 Honda Civic isn't just our Small Car Best Buy of 2016, its impressive redesign earned it this year's Overall Best Buy Award. The Toyota Corolla is the category's most recent 5-Year Cost to Own Award winner, and the Subaru Impreza took home our most recent Best Resale Value Award in the compact car category.

First Pics: Check out the first-ever Chevy Cruze hatchback coming for 2017