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Let's be practical.

Small SUVs are the hottest vehicles on the market right now, but you don’t have to give up the efficiency and affordability of a mainstream compact car to get SUV-like cargo versatility (or all-wheel drive, even). And while hatchbacks have long taken a backseat to their trunk-toting brethren in traditionally sedan-centric America, they’re currently enjoying their own little renaissance. With this year’s introduction of the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, Honda Civic Hatchback and Toyota Corolla iM, compact car shoppers now have nine hatchbacks from which to choose.

So for this year’s compact car comparison we left the sedans at home and went with an all-hatchback lineup. The new Cruze and Civic hatchbacks were obvious invitees, as was the totally redesigned Subaru Impreza 5-Door. The familiar and celebrated Mazda3 served as the hatchback of reference.

We don’t incorporate long stretches of winding road into all our comparison tests, but this group deserved the workout. So we laid out a 350-mile test drive that took us the long way from our home base in Irvine, California, to Santa Barbara, incorporating a couple of Southern California’s best hard-driving roads.

As usual, this was a true comparison test designed to ferret out each vehicle’s relative strengths and weaknesses, not to name overall winners and losers. If you live where it snows, consider the Impreza the one to beat. If you enjoy spirited driving, the Mazda3 should be first on your list. There's definitely a winner here, but you get to choose it. Our job is to make your job easier.

In alphabetical order:

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback

Starting Price: $22,115

Good looks, newfound versatility and a long list of impressive tech make this the most appealing Cruze ever. Read more 

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

Starting Price: $20,575

An even more practical and slightly sportier version of our Overall Best Buy of 2017. It's almost unfair. Read more

2017 Mazda3 5-Door

Starting Price: $19,930

One of the greatest compact cars of all time somehow continues to impress. Read more

2017 Subaru Impreza 5-Door

Starting Price: $19,215

Totally redesigned for 2017, the newest Impreza is more refined than ever and just as capable. Read more

 

More Compact Cars

Once you've found your favorite in this group, the next step is to see and consider the rest of your options. Our Compact Car Buyer's Guide is updated throughout the year to help make you an instant expert. 

 

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