Small in size but big on features.

Best Small Cars | CarMax

Small and compact cars are great if you're looking for something that's easy to maneuver around a tight parking garage or down narrow city streets. But their small size doesn't mean they're not well equipped. On this list of the best small and compact cars, you'll find a wide range of engine options, trim packages, and standard features.

To help you on your search, we've compiled this list of the 10 best small and compact cars for 2020 shoppers, based on CarMax vehicle and sales data from May 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019.

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


Subaru Impreza

Best Small and Compact Cars: Subaru Impreza | CarMax

Entering its fifth generation (2017 to present) in 2017, the Impreza is available either in four- or five-door configurations. A 2.0L four-cylinder engine powers all models, producing 152 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2.0i and 2.0i Sport trims come with a five-speed manual transmission while Premium and Limited receive a Lineartronic® continuously variable transmission. Other highlights on 2017-to-present models include:

  • 2.0i — 6.5-inch touchscreen with Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay® compatibility
  • 2.0i Premium — All-Weather Package and roof rails
  • 2.0i Sport — 18-inch alloy wheels and Active Torque Vectoring
  • 2.0i Limited — LED headlights and chrome accents


Mazda Mazda3

Best Small and Compact Cars: Mazda Mazda3 | CarMax

The third-generation (2013–2018) Mazda3 is proof big things come in small packages. The handsome shell features KODO: Soul of Motion design language and is complemented by one of two SKYACTIV-G powertrain choices: a 2.0L (offered in the Sport and Touring grades) or a 2.5L four-cylinder (Grand Touring). The 2019-to-present Mazda3 is all-new and comes with plenty of standard equipment such as LED headlights and taillights as well as the following.

  • Select — Automatic headlights and an 8.8-inch infotainment display
  • Preferred — Eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and heated front seats
  • Premium — Adaptive front-lighting system and moonroof


Volkswagen Jetta

Best Small and Compact Cars: Volkswagen Jetta | CarMax

The 20172018 Volkswagen Jetta S boasts a peppy 1.4L turbocharged TSI® powerplant making 150 horsepower, a back-up camera, and funky two-tone cloth seats. The SE trim adds a sunroof, a leather shift knob, and a steering wheel, while the top-of-the-line SEL adds 16-inch aluminum wheels and a higher output 2.0L, 210-horsepower mill. The 2019 Jetta gets a sporty makeover built on VW's MQB global platform and is available in the following trims:

  • S — LED headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels
  • SE — Push-button start and panoramic sunroof
  • R-Line — 17-inch R-Line alloy wheels and fog lights
  • SEL — 10-color interior ambient lighting and VW Digital Cockpit
  • SEL Premium — Eight-inch infotainment display with navigation


Kia Forte

Best Small and Compact Cars: Kia Forte | CarMax

Refreshed for the 2017 model year, there are several visual enhancements on the Kia Forte highlighted by an elongated “tiger nose" grille sitting between the projector headlamps. The brand introduced a middle-tier S trim in 2017—nestled between the entry LX and top-of-the-line EX—riding on a performance-tuned suspension and bundling in 16-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.

The 2019 vehicle is completely overhauled and larger, measuring an extra 3.2 inches in length and 0.8 inches in width. Available grades for 2019 are the following:

  • LX — A six-speed manual transmission and an eight-inch touchscreen display
  • S — LED lights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • EX — 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, and a six-speaker stereo system


Chevrolet Cruze

Best Small and Compact Cars: Chevrolet Cruze | CarMax

Chevrolet is all about innovation, evidenced by technology like the built-in Teen Driver features found on the 2017 Cruze that allows parents to limit functionality and generate a report card based on their teen's driving. All models of this sedan utilize a standard 1.4L turbocharged engine delivering 153 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. For 2019, the car was given a facelift adding dual-element tail lamps and the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system and is available in the following grades:

  • L — Body-color door handles and a six-way manually adjustable driver seat
  • LS — Deluxe steering wheel
  • LT — 16-inch alloy wheels and automatic climate control
  • Premier — Eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and 17-inch alloy wheels

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Ford Focus

Best Small and Compact Cars: Ford Focus | CarMax

Versatile is an excellent way to describe the 2017 and 2018 Ford Focus. Buyers can easily find the right ride for them with a choice of two body styles (sedan and hatchback), three different motors (a 1.0L EcoBoost three-cylinder on the SE sedan, a 2.0L on S, SE hatchback, SEL, and Titanium trims, or a 2.0L EcoBoost on the ST trim), and three transmissions (five-speed manual on S and SE trims, six-speed manual on the ST trim, and a six-speed SelectShift® automatic on SEL and Titanium trims. More info on 2017–2018 trim levels includes:

  • S — Six-way manually adjustable driver seat and black grille with chrome accents
  • SE — SiriusXM® Satellite Radio and automatic headlights
  • SEL — Heated front seats and a Sony® 10-speaker stereo
  • Titanium — Leather front seats and a moonroof
  • ST — Center exit exhaust system with dual tips and an ST rear spoiler


Toyota Corolla

Best Small and Compact Cars: Toyota Corolla | CarMax

The Toyota Corolla has steadily been one of the best-selling compacts for good reason—the current 12th-generation model (2017 to present) is not only practical but powerful as well. For instance, even the entry-level L trim sports a 1.8L four-cylinder 132-horsepower engine and bi-LED headlights. Other 2017-to-present trims add:

  • LE – Color-matched heated power side mirrors
  • LE Eco – 140-horsepower 1.8L four-cylinder Valvematic engine and a rear spoiler
  • XLE – Moonroof and 16-inch alloy wheels
  • SE CVT – Gloss black mesh grille and 17-inch alloy wheels


Hyundai Elantra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Hyundai Elantra | CarMax

The sixth iteration (2017 to present) of the popular Hyundai Elantra launched in 2017, resulting in one of the platform's sleekest and most premium examples yet. Cue the low hood, “Cascading Grille," and fast roofline on the outside, and the soft-touch surfaces on the inside. The 2017-2019 Eco trim runs off a 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder while the SE and Limited sport a 2.0L four-cylinder. Standard features on the 2017-2019 Hyundai Elantra Eco trim include:

  • L — Heated front seats and projector halogen headlights
  • LE — Air conditioning and Bluetooth® connectivity
  • GL — Seven-inch touchscreen display and a back-up camera
  • GLS — Sunroof and powered trunk lid
  • SE — Leather seating and radar cruise control
  • Limited — Eight-inch touchscreen display and a premium eight-speaker stereo


Nissan Sentra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Nissan Sentra | CarMax

Topping our list of the best small and compact cars for 2019 is the Nissan Sentra. Now in its seventh generation (2013 to present), the Nissan Sentra moves up three spots to number one this year with a bevy of fantastic features across its most recent model years.

Take a look at our great selection of Sentra models and you'll find exactly what you're looking for in a small and compact car. The 2017 Nissan Sentra delivers a great list of features across its four trim levels:

  • S - Six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch wheels, halogen headlights, dual power outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and more
  • SV - Continuously variable transmission (CVT), rearview camera, push-button start, intelligent cruise control, and piano-black interior trim.
  • SR - Premium cloth sport trim, 17-inch wheels, LED low-beam headlights, fog lights, chrome exhaust, and a rear spoiler.
  • SR Turbo - Adds a 188-horsepower turbocharged engine (vs. 124 horsepower in all other models). Plus manual-shift mode to the CTV transmission, sport-tuned suspension and steering, and more.
  • SL - Adds additional equipment like navigation, dual-zone temperature control, a six-way power driver seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and leather seating.


Honda Civic

Best Small and Compact Cars: Honda Civic | CarMax

The Honda Civic is in its tenth generation (2015 to present) and is produced in no less than three form factors: sedan, coupe, and hatchback. This is the first time the Civic has been available with a turbocharged engine, too, a 1.5L four-cylinder mated to either a CVT or six-speed manual gearbox, to propel the iconic car. The 2015-to-present five-door is available in the following trims:

  • Sport — Fog lights and body aero
  • EX/EX-L Navi — Heated side mirrors, a moonroof, and remote engine start
  • Sport Touring — LED headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers

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If there's one thing the list above proves, it's that there's a compact car to meet virtually every need.

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Unless otherwise noted, information relating 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.