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10 Best Small and Compact Cars for 2021: Reviews, Photos, and More


PUBLISHED THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2021

Best Small and Compact Cars: Hero | CarMax

Small but mighty compacts.

The benefits of owning a small car make up a long list: squeezed-in parking spaces are no problem, the turning ratio means you can make tight turns, and you could spend less time at the pumps than those with large cars and SUVs. Some even include wireless phone connectivity, horsepower, and performance numbers to rival known sports cars, and they bring plenty of character to fit the needs and wants of almost any driver.

To help you on your search, we've compiled a list of the 10 best small and compact cars, based on CarMax vehicle and sales data from March 1, 2021, through August 31, 2021.

  1. Toyota Prius

  2. Mazda Mazda3

  3. Kia Forte

  4. Ford Focus

  5. Chevrolet Cruze

  6. Volkswagen Jetta

  7. Hyundai Elantra

  8. Nissan Sentra

  9. Toyota Corolla

  10. Honda Civic

10.

Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius changed the game when it was introduced to the US for the 2001 model year and it has been elevating the green-conscious mindset ever since. New for the 2019 model year is an electronic all-wheel drive system that increases the appeal of the small hybrid for those who want to live an active, go-anywhere lifestyle. With room for five passengers, up to 65.5 cu-ft of cargo space, and an EPA-estimated 56 combined mpg from its hybrid engine, the 2019 Prius is ready to take you where you need to go.1

2017 and newer Toyota Prius models come standard with:

  • Cloth seating with 60/40 split fold-down rear seat

  • Toyota's full suite of driver-assistance features

  • 4.2-inch color driver information screen and 6.1-inch color touchscreen infotainment

  • Heated mirrors

  • Adaptive cruise control

9.

Mazda Mazda3

The brand with a zoom-zoom mentality brings you a fun and compelling small car in the form of the Mazda3. Handling and driving fun are the hallmarks of the brand, but don't sleep on the refinement and upscale nature of the Mazda3 either. The interior on higher trims could easily be mistaken for a much larger and more expensive car. Model year 2017–2018 Sport models receive a 2.0L four-cylinder engine producing 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. However, stepping up to the Touring or Grand Touring trims swap in a 2.5L four-cylinder that is good for 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. This engine became the sole option for the 2019 model year.

Mazda Mazda3 models from 2017–2021 include the following standard features:

  • Blind-spot monitoring

  • Cruise control

  • Cloth seating with 60/40 split fold-down rear seat

  • Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel

8.

Kia Forte

Redesigned for the 2019 model year, the Kia Forte comes out swinging with new aggressive styling to match an equally compelling package. Borrowing styling from the larger Stinger performance hatchback, the 2019 Kia Forte stands out in the crowd. Powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, the Forte makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT. The 2020 model year saw the addition of the GT model with a 201 hp 1.6L engine.

All 2017 and newer Kia Forte models feature:

  • Four-speaker stereo system with Bluetooth® wireless technology

  • Cloth seating

  • 15-inch steel wheels

  • Height-adjustable driver's seat

7.

Ford Focus

The 2017–2018 Ford Focus is truly a vehicle with many different personalities. Available in a sedan or hatchback style with powertrain options to fit your needs, Ford focuses in on your small car needs with this offering. Focus trim options from model years 2017–2018 range from a commuter-friendly 1.0L three-cylinder, which will do an EPA-estimated 30 city/40 highway mpg, to the track-minded RS model with its 2.3L making 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.1 There's even an electric version (from 2013) for those who want to skip the gas pump altogether.

Focus models from 2017–2018 include:

  • Rearview camera

  • Keyless entry

  • Power front windows

  • Four-speaker audio system

6.

Chevrolet Cruze

The second generation of the Chevrolet Cruze (2018–2019) builds on the fuel-sipping nature of the previous model with smart 1.4L gas engine or 1.6L turbodiesel options. Available as either a sedan or a hatchback, the Cruze makes a compelling choice if you want a small vehicle with plenty of storage configurations for your gear. Opt for the manual transmission and turbodiesel on 2018–2019 models and you can even see up to an EPA-estimated 52 mpg of fuel economy.1

Every 2018–2019 Chevrolet Cruze includes the following features:

  • Bluetooth connectivity

  • Four-speaker audio system

  • USB port

  • 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks

5.

Volkswagen Jetta

Engineering precision shines through in the Volkswagen Jetta. Available with three different engine options, the Jetta has a powerplant that will fit your needs. Choose from the base 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder for its fuel economy of an EPA-estimated 40 mpg combined. Next on the option list is a 1.8L making 170 hp, followed by the GLI trim's 2.0L four-cylinder making a robust 210 hp. Volkswagen's Jetta is a crowd-pleaser for its intuitive controls and easy driving style.

Jetta models from 2017–present feature these standard features:

  • 16-inch alloy wheels

  • Cruise control

  • Rearview camera

  • Traction and stability control

4.

Hyundai Elantra

New for the 2017 model year, the Hyundai Elantra is available in various trims and two body styles (sedan and hatchback). Starting in 2017, the Elantra comes with three engine option starting with the 2.0L four-cylinder making 161 hp while touting an EPA-estimated 24/32 city/highway mpg.1 The 1.4L turbo GDI four-cylinder makes 128 hp and bumps the EPA-estimated economy to 32/40 city/highway mpg.1 Or you can dial up the fun with a 1.6L turbo-four making 201 hp and achieving an EPA-estimated 26/32 mpg city/highway.1

2018–2021 Hyundai Elantras include as standard:

  • 60/40 split-folding rear seat

  • Six-speaker audio system

  • Cloth upholstery

  • Full power accessories

3.

Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Sentra (2017-present) makes a strong case for itself with a spacious backseat and trunk, easy-to-use technology, and presents itself as one of the best small cars in the segment. If you are looking for a comfortable compact car to take four to five people around, you won't regret checking out the Nissan Sentra and its 37.4 inches of rear legroom. Engine choices vary from base 1.8L four-cylinder making 124 hp with an EPA-estimated 32 mpg combined.1

Base models of 2017–2021 Nissan Sentras include:

  • 16-inch steel wheels

  • Bluetooth connectivity

  • Automatic headlights

  • Four-speaker sound system

2.

Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla marked its 50th anniversary in 2017. Fifty years is a long time to perfect a winning formula, making this Toyota a great fit for your small-car lifestyle. The Corolla's 41.1 inches of rear legroom will comfortably transport adults without fuss. Models from 2017–2019 have only one engine option: a 1.8L four-cylinder that makes 132 hp and achieves an EPA-estimated 32 mpg combined.1 LE Eco models get special engine tuning to increase power and efficiency to 140 hp and 34 combined mpg per EPA estimates.1 Redesigned for model year 2020, the Toyota Corolla remains a fan favorite.

Toyota Corolla models from 2017–2021 feature:

  • 60/40 split-folding rear seat

  • Automatic high beams

  • Adaptive cruise control

  • Six-speaker audio system

1.

Honda Civic

Finishing out the top ten best small and compact cars is the Honda Civic. Available in coupe, sedan, and hatchback body styles with many trims and a couple of performance options, there is a Honda Civic for everyone. A 2017–2019 base model Civic is equipped with a 2.0L 158 hp four-cylinder good for an EPA-estimated 31/40 mpg in city and highway driving.1 Starting with the EX-T trim in 2017 models, the engine is a more powerful 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder producing 174 hp and earning EPA-estimated fuel economy of 32 mpg city and 42 mpg highway.1 Step up to an Si model and you will find 205 hp in a retuned version of the 1.5L. Above and beyond the numbers, you'll find the Honda Civic (2017-present) to be worthy of every trip you take whether it's to the grocery store or across the country.

For model years 2017–2021, Honda Civic models feature:

  • LED daytime running lights and taillights

  • Automatic headlights

  • Cruise control

  • 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks

Small in stature but not in options and amenities, the compact car market is not what it used to be. From luxurious appointments, must-have technology and connectivity, and even fire-breathing performance variants, the compact class has quite the slate of vehicles and features to offer you.

Looking to learn more? Check out these related articles:

1Fuel 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.
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We hope you found this information helpful. This content is intended to inform and is not meant to indicate that a particular vehicle is currently available or recommended for you.​

Unless otherwise noted, information related to 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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