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's famously affordable, reliable compact sedan now has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Starts at $17,785Explore Corolla
There's a new Civic on the way for 2016, but the outgoing model remains a small car stalwart.
Starts at $19,310
The sculpted Elantra adds a heavy dose of style to the familiar value equation.
Starts at $18,075Explore Elantra
It isn't the roomiest compact car you can buy, but it's definitely one of the quietest and most comfortable.
Starts at $16,995Explore Cruze
There are roomier and more affordable compact cars, but few are as sporty or as stylish as the European-rooted Focus.
Starts at $17,995Explore Focus
The Sentra's roomy, refined interior and smooth styling qualify it as one of the segment's grown-ups.
Starts at $17,305Explore Sentra
The segment's only European entry manages to be both more fun and more refined than most other compact cars.
Starts at $17,035Explore 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.
Starts at $17,765Explore Mazda3
Sporty looks, a rich interior and one of our favorite infotainment systems.
Starts at $17,690Explore Dart
Standard all-wheel drive remains the Impreza's key competitive advantage.
Starts at $18,990Explore Impreza
It looks sporiter than it drives, but the Forte boasts European-like interior styling and offers loads of cool tech.
Starts at $16,715Explore Forte
The oldest entry in the group, we still love that grille and the impressive warranty.
Starts at $18,210Explore Lancer
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.
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.
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 2015 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 KBB.com