Comfort and practicality in a small package.

Best Small Cars | CarMax

With a smaller body that's designed to make it easier to maneuver through busy streets and tight parking spots, small and compact cars are ideal for around-town driving and commuting into the city. Convenient and practical, these cars are also comfortable, offering space for passengers in the cabin and room to store belongings in the trunk. Many of today's models are also equipped with useful tech features to make both quick trips and long journeys more enjoyable for you and your crew.

To help you on your search, we've compiled a list of the 10 best small and compact cars for 2020 shoppers, based on CarMax sales data from November 1, 2019 through April 30, 2020.

  1. Chevrolet Volt
  2. Mazda Mazda3
  3. Kia Forte
  4. Volkswagen Jetta
  5. Ford Focus
  6. Chevrolet Cruze
  7. Toyota Corolla
  8. Hyundai Elantra
  9. Honda Civic
  10. Nissan Sentra


Chevrolet Volt

10 Best Small and Compact Cars for 2020: Chevrolet Volt | CarMax

If you're looking for a small hatchback sedan with plug-in hybrid functionality, the Chevrolet Volt is a great choice. This five-seater gets its power from a plug-in hybrid system with two electric motors that make 149 hp, plus a 1.5L gasoline engine and an 18.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack on 2017 and newer models. The 2017-2019 Volt has an EPA-estimated range of 53 miles on a full charge (electric only), and an EPA-estimated range of 420 miles with a full charge and full tank of gas.1 The Chevrolet Volt boasts the following standard features from the base LT trim (2017-2019 models):

  • 17-inch aluminum wheels
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • Bluetooth® connectivity
  • Eight-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ integration
  • OnStar® functionality2


Mazda Mazda3

Best Small and Compact Cars: Mazda Mazda3 | CarMax

Available in sedan and hatchback styles, the Mazda Mazda3 is a fun little car with spirited handling. 2017-2018 models use a standard 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 155 hp and 150 lb.-ft. of torque, or you can opt for the Touring or Grand Touring trims, which use a 184-hp 2.5L four-cylinder with 185 lb.-ft. of torque. Introduced in 2019, the fourth-generation Mazda3 carries over the 2.5L four-cylinder as the sole engine choice. This latest generation also offers revised trim levels, like the well-equipped 2019 Mazda3 Select, which features:

  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Leatherette-trimmed seats
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration
  • Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert


Kia Forte

Best Small and Compact Cars: Kia Forte | CarMax

In 2019, Kia fully redesigned the Forte into a sporty sedan that's loaded with standard features and a gas-sipping powertrain. Available in FE, LXS, S, and EX trims, all 2019 Fortes use a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that returns an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway, when equipped with the continuously variable automatic transmission.3 The base trim now includes an eight-inch touchscreen display with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, as well as a rearview camera, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance. If the 2017-2018 Kia Forte has caught your eye, check out the well-equipped EX trim, which includes these premium features:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Fog lights
  • Leather upholstery
  • Heated front seats
  • Dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear vents


Volkswagen Jetta

Best Small and Compact Cars: Volkswagen Jetta | CarMax

Want a small sedan with big presence? The Volkswagen Jetta's energetic powertrains are designed to deliver commanding performance. The 2017-2018 Jetta GLI uses a 210-hp turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 207 lb.-ft. of torque, and a sport suspension that will leave you smiling with each curve of the road. Inside the cabin, space abounds for you and four friends, along with 15.5 cubic feet of cargo volume. The redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta comes with these standard features on the base S trim:

  • LED headlights and taillights
  • 6.5-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Volkswagen Car-Net® App-Connect
  • Rearview monitor


Ford Focus

Best Small and Compact Cars: Ford Focus | CarMax

Looking for a small sedan or hatchback that's a joy to drive? The Ford Focus is a real go-getter. When equipped with the standard 2.0L four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, the 2017-2018 Focus returns an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, making it great for commuting.3 This small car's sporty handling and ride comfort aim to please, along with many tech features for your convenience. The SEL is a popular pick if you're looking for an assortment of standard features, like these on the 2017-2018 Ford Focus:

  • Power moonroof
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • SYNC® 3 infotainment system with eight-inch display
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration
  • 10-speaker Sony stereo system

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Chevrolet Cruze

Best Small and Compact Cars: Chevrolet Cruze | CarMax

Spacious and roomy for friends or family, the Chevrolet Cruze is a compact sedan that's comfortable and sporty-looking, with an easygoing on-road personality. Second-generation Cruzes (2016 and newer) are available in five trims—L, LS, LT, LT Diesel, and Premier—and offer a nice assortment of convenience and connectivity features to enhance your time in the driver seat. There's also 14.6 cubic feet of trunk storage for hobby equipment or groceries and 36.1 inches of rear-seat legroom for taller passengers (2017-2019 models). The Premier trim boasts impressive standard features on 2017-2019 Chevrolet Cruze sedans, including:

  • 17-inch aluminum wheels
  • Heated leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Heated driver and front passenger seats
  • Eight-way power-adjustable driver seat
  • Leather-appointed seating (2017-2018)


Toyota Corolla

Best Small and Compact Cars: Toyota Corolla | CarMax

Whether you need a sedan for carpools, date nights, or weekend road trips, the Toyota Corolla is a comfortable and roomy option for you and your passengers. With 41.4 inches of rear-seat legroom in 2017-2019 models, taller passengers will have space to spread out, or if you have young children, you'll have plenty of room to install car seats without impacting front-row legroom. On the road, the Corolla's suspension is designed to maintain a well-balanced ride that's comfortable and quiet, even on the highway. With 13 cubes of trunk volume, you'll have space for luggage or a stroller. The 2017-2019 Toyota Corolla SE includes these standard features:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Rear spoiler
  • Heated power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators
  • Normal and sport drive modes
  • Leatherette upholstery


Hyundai Elantra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Hyundai Elantra | CarMax

If you want a fuel-sipping sedan for your long-distance commute, the Hyundai Elantra deserves a spot on your list. 2017-2019 models offer an available 128-hp turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine on the Eco trim, which returns an EPA-estimated 35 mpg combined with an automatic transmission.3 This sedan also features a spacious interior, with 14.4 cubic feet of cargo volume in the trunk and 35.7 inches of adult-friendly rear-seat legroom (2017-2019 models). Base Hyundai Elantra SE models (2017-2019) come standard with these features:

  • 15-inch steel wheels
  • Air-conditioning
  • Cloth upholstery
  • 60/40 split-fold rear seatback
  • Bluetooth connectivity


Honda Civic

Best Small and Compact Cars: Honda Civic | CarMax

Looking for a small car with many options? The Honda Civic gives you the power of choice. Tenth-generation Civics (2016 and newer) are available in three body styles—sedan, coupe, and hatchback—with a wide range of trim levels, including two high-performance models, the Civic Si and Type R. You can also have your pick from two powertrains—a base 2.0L four-cylinder with 158 hp or a 174-hp 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection (EX-T and higher trims on 2017-2018 models; EX and higher trims on 2019 models). With the 1.5L four-cylinder and automatic transmission, the 2017-2019 Civic returns an EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined.3 Standard features on the 2017-2019 Honda Civic EX sedan include:

  • One-touch power moonroof with tilt feature
  • 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback
  • Honda LaneWatch™ blind-spot monitor
  • Seven-inch touchscreen display
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration


Nissan Sentra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Nissan Sentra | CarMax

Great for students, small families, young professionals, and retirees, the Nissan Sentra is a small sedan that's affordable and practical for the day-to-day. Even with its compact dimensions, you'll have plenty of space in the Sentra. 2017-2019 models boast 15.1 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk and 37.4 inches of legroom in the rear seat. On the road, the Sentra's suspension is designed to deliver a comfortable ride around town and on the highway, with power flowing from a standard 1.8L four-cylinder that makes 124 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. With an EPA-estimated 37 mpg on the highway with the 1.8L and automatic transmission, the Sentra makes a great commuter car or road trip companion, too.3 Standard features on the base Nissan Sentra S (2017-2019 models) include:

  • 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers
  • Power heated outside mirrors
  • Six-way adjustable driver seat
  • Four-speaker audio system
  • USB port

Designed to be easy to park and fun to drive, small and compact cars are a great way to travel around town. They're also practical and comfortable, with cabin space for passengers and room for cargo in the trunk.

Looking to learn more? Check out these related articles:

1EPA-estimated 53-mile range based on 106 MPGe combined estimate (electric); additional EPA-estimated 420-mile extended range based on 40 mpg combined estimate (gas). Range figures are based on EPA estimates for when vehicle sold as new and assume a full battery charge and full tank of gas (if applicable). Range will vary based on things like battery age, vehicle condition and history, driving and charging habits, accessory use, and driving conditions. Battery capacity may decrease with time and use. See fueleconomy.gov for more info.
2OnStar features require activation and most require a paid OnStar plan to use. Wi-Fi hotspot functionality may also require an additional data plan. Limitations and restrictions apply. See onstar.com for more information.
3Fuel economy figures are based on EPA estimates for when vehicle sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. Unless specified, figures are for vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. See fueleconomy.gov.
Unless otherwise noted, information related to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.

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