The Honda Civic is not only the benchmark in the compact sedan category, it also raised the bar last year when the all-new 2016 model debuted and in the process snagged our Overall Best Buy honors. Just to show that no good deed goes unpunished, the competition quickly responded with all-new versions of the Chevrolet Cruze, which bowed as a 2016 model, and the Hyundai Elantra, which having been introduced after the first of the year, is classified as a 2017 model. In between, Nissan facelifted its Sentra, giving it more of the appearance and features of its larger Altima sibling.

All four of these compacts would have been competing in a class above when it comes to size if they were introduced just a decade earlier. In addition, this quartet boasts a lot of high-tech features ranging from sophisticated infotainment systems to adaptive cruise control that more likely than not would have been found only on luxury cars. That these vehicles carry so much equipment in comfortable 4-door packages and still cost less than the average price of all new vehicles (the most expensive model, the Chevy Cruze, came in under $30,000) is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

For our test, we combined local Southern California freeway driving with twisty two-lane highways through San Diego’s North County. After an overnight in Mission Bay, we continued our drive back up Interstate 5 to Kelley Blue Book headquarters in Irvine. While the 2016 Honda Civic remains the top of the class, sharing that step is the all-new 2017 Hyundai Elantra with the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze not far behind. While the Nissan is a noble effort and is the roomiest and most affordable model in the test, it certainly could benefit from a more comprehensive remake to upgrade the design and powertrain. But given the competitive nature of the segment, we suspect those changes will likely come sooner than later. In any event, buyers in this class will find much from which to choose.

In order of popularity according to nameplate sales through the first half of 2016:


2016 Honda Civic

Starting Price: $19,475

Excellent road manners, good power and great fuel economy coupled with high resale value make the Civic hard to beat. Read More

2016 Nissan Sentra

Starting Price: $17,615

While Nissan has spiffed up the exterior of the Sentra, the real value in this 4-door is in its roomy cabin, large trunk and high level of content at an affordable price. Read More

2017 Hyundai Elantra

Starting Price: $17,985

It does many things well, combining clean classic lines with state-of-the-art infotainment and features like adaptive cruise control. Read More

2016 Chevrolet Cruze

Starting Price: $17,495

The all-new Cruze benefits from great looks, an easy-to-use touchscreen and a spirited chassis that also delivers a comfortable and quiet ride. Read More


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More Compact Cars

We tested most of the following models as part of last year's compact car comparison, all of which are essentially unchanged since. Almost any one of them might be the right choice for you.

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