Compact Car Buyer's Guide

By Editors on September 26, 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 recent sales data -- and keep reading below to see what's new, what's next, and to find out who's winning all the awards.

This Year's Redesigned Compact Cars

2017 Hyundai Elantra

Completely redesigned for 2017, Hyundai's compact car now offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus safety tech like blind-spot monitoring and automatic braking. Read More

2017 Subaru Impreza

The all-new, thoroughly enhanced Impreza arrives later this year and will be built in America for the first time. Read More


All Compact Cars, by Popularity

2017 Honda Civic

Starting Price: $19,575

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

2017 Toyota Corolla

Starting Price: $19,365

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

2017 Nissan Sentra

Starting Price: $17,855

The Sentra's roomy, refined interior and smooth styling qualify it as one of the segment's grown-ups. A new sportier model for 2017 only adds to the appeal. Read More

2017 Hyundai Elantra

Starting Price: $17,985

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

  • Subcompact SUV Comparison
    Subcompact SUV Comparison
  • Compact SUV Buyer's Guide
    Compact SUV Buyer's Guide

2017 Ford Focus

Starting Price: $17,650

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

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

Starting Price: $17,850

The recently redesigned Cruze is one of the quietest and most comfortable compact cars you can buy. Read More

2017 Volkswagen Jetta

Starting Price: $18,715

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

2017 Kia Forte

Starting Price: $17,340

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

2016 Mazda Mazda3

Starting Price: $18,680

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. Read More

2016 Subaru Impreza

Starting Price: $19,090

Standard all-wheel drive remains the Impreza's key competitive advantage. A full redesign bows in 2017. Read More

2016 Dodge Dart

Starting Price: $17,990

Sporty looks, a rich interior and one of our favorite infotainment systems. Alas, the 2016 model year will be the Dart's last. Read More

2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

Starting Price: $18,630

The aging Lancer is a tough sell against so many newer and more sophisticated entries, but it's not without its charms. Read More

What's New

The Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza have been totally redesigned for 2017. The 2016 model year brought us a totally new version of the Chevy Cruze, plus a new Honda Civic that claimed our biggest award of the year, the Kelley Blue Book Overall Best Buy Award of 2016.

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 300 miles on each of four 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, while the Focus is 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 comparison, 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