Compact Car Buyer's Guide

By on July 31, 2015 4:48 PM
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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 sales through the first half of 2015 -- 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.

Starts at $17,785

Explore Corolla
Toyota Corolla Compact Car

Honda Civic

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

Starts at $19,475

Explore Civic

Honda Civic Compact Car

Hyundai Elantra

The sculpted Elantra adds a heavy dose of style to the familiar value equation.

Starts at $18,075

Explore Elantra
Hyundai Elantra Compact Car

Chevrolet Cruze

It isn't the roomiest compact car you can buy, but it's definitely one of the quietest and most comfortable.

Starts at $16,995

Explore Cruze
Chevrolet Cruze Compact Car

Ford Focus

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

Starts at $17,995

Explore Focus
Ford Focus Compact Car

Nissan Sentra

The Sentra's roomy, refined interior and smooth styling qualify it as one of the segment's grown-ups.

Starts at $17,305

  Explore Sentra
Nissan Sentra Compact Car

Volkswagen Jetta

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

Starts at $17,035

Explore Jetta
Volkswagen Jetta Compact Car


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.

Starts at $17,765

Explore Mazda3
Mazda Mazda3 Compact Car

Dodge Dart

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

Starts at $17,690

Explore Dart
Dodge Dart Compact Car

Subaru Impreza

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

Starts at $18,990

  Explore Impreza
Subaru Impreza Compact Car

Kia Forte

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

Starts at $16,715

Explore Forte
Kia Forte Compact Car

Mitsubishi Lancer

The oldest entry in the group, we still love that grille and the impressive warranty.

Starts at $18,210

Explore Lancer
Mitsubishi Lancer Compact Car


What's New

The Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza and Volkswagen Jetta were updated for 2015, while the 2016 model year promises an all-new Honda Civic (sneak peek), all-new Chevy Cruze (sneak peek) and a significantly updated Nissan Sentra.

10 Best

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

Compact Comparison

For this year's compact car comparison test we put 400 miles on each of seven small cars to confirm past conclusions and solidify some new ones.

Hybrids, Diesels and More

The Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer are the only cars in this group to offer all-wheel drive, the Civic and Jetta are the only models offered with a hybrid powertrain, the Cruze and Jetta are the only ones offered with diesel engines, and the Focus is the only one offered as a much pricier all-electric car.

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.

Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla?

The longest-running compact sedan nameplates are also the two best-selling compact cars in the country. Which is the better choice for you? Our Civic vs. Corolla comparison video might hold the answer.

This Year's Winners

The Honda Civic was named the very first Kelley Blue Book Small Car Best Buy this year, the 2015 Toyota Corolla is the category's most recent 5-Year Cost to Own Award winner, and the 2015 Subaru Impreza took home this year's Best Resale Value Award in the compact car category.


More New Cars at

  • 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000

    10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000

  • First Pics: New 2016 Models

    First Pics: New 2016 Models

  • New Car Buyer's Guides

    New Car Buyer's Guides

  • 10 Best CPO Luxury Cars Under $30,000

    10 Best CPO Luxury Cars Under $30,000

  • 2016 Best Buy Awards

    2016 Best Buy Awards


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