Small cars that bring big fun.

Best Small Cars | CarMax

Sometimes you just want to get away. Small cars give you a fun, practical way to do just that. They're ideal for the daily commute, with capability for weekend adventures, too. Whether it's a small sedan, a hatchback, or a coupe, you can enjoy practicality, functionality, and quite a bit of fun in a small car.

To help you on your search, we've compiled a list of the 10 best small and compact cars for 2021 shoppers, based on CarMax sales data from May 1, 2020 through October 31, 2020.

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


Mazda Mazda3

Best Small and Compact Cars: Mazda Mazda3 | CarMax

If you want to add a little zoom-zoom to your driveway, the Mazda3 should definitely be on your list. Featuring sedan and hatchback styles, you can shop for a standard 2.0L 4-cylinder engine making 155 hp, or a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine making 184 hp (2017-2018). A 186-hp, 2.5L became the standard—and only—engine available for the 2019 model year, and the Mazda3 also received optional AWD for 2019. The 2019 Mazda Mazda3 was completely redesigned, and offers standard features such as:

  • Push-button start
  • LED headlights
  • Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto capability
  • 8.8-inch infotainment screen
  • Seven-inch instrument cluster screen


Nissan Versa

Best Small Cars: Nissan Versa | CarMax

The Nissan Versa is a subcompact sedan that can meet your needs at every trim level, from the base S model to the trim-topping SV. All 2017-2019 Nissan Versas are equipped with a 109-hp, 1.6L four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission; four-speed automatic transmission is optional. All 2017-2019 Nissan Versa S models come with standard equipment such as:

  • Cloth upholstery
  • Air conditioning
  • Power mirrors
  • Rearview camera (2019)
  • Seven-inch touchscreen (2019)


Kia Forte

Best Small and Compact Cars: Kia Forte | CarMax

Available in sedan and hatchback styles, the Kia Forte was updated in 2017, with fresh exterior styling as well as a 147-hp, 2.0L four-cylinder base engine. Beyond the base trim, the 2017-2018 Forte EX features a 164-hp, 2.0L engine, and the SX boasts a 201-hp, 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Forte received a complete overhaul for the 2019 model year. Look for these standard features on the base 2019 Kia Forte:

  • Dual-zone automatic temperature control
  • Six-way manually adjustable driver seat
  • Eight-inch touchscreen display
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability
  • Remote keyless entry


Volkswagen Jetta

Best Small and Compact Cars: Volkswagen Jetta | CarMax

If you're looking for a compact sedan that has been continually evolving over several decades, the Volkswagen Jetta is a great choice. For 2017-2018 Jettas, engine options include a 1.4L four-cylinder engine with 150 hp, a 1.8L four-cylinder engine with 170 hp, or a 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 210 hp. The Volkswagen Jetta was completely refreshed for 2019, featuring a 147-hp, four-cylinder as the sole engine, as well as standard equipment such as:

  • 6.5-inch touchscreen
  • Automatic LED headlights and taillights
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability
  • Air conditioning
  • Six-way manually adjustable driver seat


Ford Focus

Best Small and Compact Cars: Ford Focus | CarMax

Available in both sedan and hatchback models, the Ford Focus is a fun and practical compact car. The 2017-2018 Focus features front-wheel drive and is powered by a standard 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 160 hp, or an optional 1.0L three-cylinder engine with 123 hp. On the 2017-2018 Focus ST, you'll get front-wheel drive and a 252-hp, 2.0L EcoBoost® engine. Looking for lots of oomph? Check out the 2017-2018 Focus RS, which boasts all-wheel drive and a 350-hp, 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Standard features across 2017-2018 Ford Focus models include:

  • 4.2-inch center display screen
  • Power front windows
  • Power-operated side-view mirrors
  • Automatic headlights
  • Air conditioning

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Chevrolet Cruze

Best Small and Compact Cars: Chevrolet Cruze | CarMax

The Chevrolet Cruze is a stylish and versatile compact car that comes in both sedan and hatchback designs. On 2017-2019 Cruze models, you can shop for a 153-hp, four-cylinder engine or a 137-hp, 1.6L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. You can also choose between a variety of trims, depending on the model year. The base L trim of the 2017-2019 Chevrolet Cruze includes standard features such as:

  • Seven-inch touchscreen
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration
  • Rearview camera
  • Cloth upholstery


Toyota Corolla

Best Small and Compact Cars: Toyota Corolla | CarMax

The Toyota Corolla is a small sedan that delivers an impressive list of standard features. Refreshed in 2017, the Corolla boasts a quiet, comfortable ride, with plenty of space for you and your passengers. All 2017-2019 Corollas feature a 132-hp, 1.8L four-cylinder engine—except the LE Eco trim, which has 140 hp. The 2017-2019 Toyota Corolla features a variety of trims, all of which include:

  • LED daytime running lights
  • Piano-black front grille
  • 6.1-inch touchscreen display
  • Backup camera


Honda Civic

Best Small and Compact Cars: Honda Civic | CarMax

The Honda Civic is a compact car with a little something for everyone. With a big list of features and options, the Civic is available in sedan, hatchback, and coupe styles. 2017-2019 Honda Civic models come with a standard 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 158 hp, or you can shop for models with a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. For 2017-2019, standard features on the base LX trim of the Honda Civic include:

  • Automatic headlights
  • Five-inch screen
  • Bluetooth® connectivity
  • USB port
  • Rearview camera


Hyundai Elantra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Hyundai Elantra | CarMax

If you're looking for a stylish, quiet sedan with tons of features, the Hyundai Elantra is a great choice. Most 2017-2019 Elantras feature a 2.0L engine with 147 hp, but you can shop for an available 128-hp, turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine (Eco trim). Base Hyundai Elantras across 2017-2019 come with standard features such as:

  • Cloth upholstery
  • Air conditioning
  • Six-speaker sound system with satellite radio
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • 60/40 split-fold rear seat


Nissan Sentra

Best Small and Compact Cars: Nissan Sentra | CarMax

Topping our list is the Nissan Sentra, which offers a roomy, comfortable ride. The 2017-2019 Sentra is powered by a standard 1.8L four-cylinder engine rated at 124 hp. You can also shop for a Sentra outfitted with the optional turbocharged 1.6L engine with 188 hp. The 2017-2019 Nissan Sentra delivers a great list of features across its four trim levels, including:

  • Five-inch touchscreen (2018-2019) or seven-inch touchscreen (2019)
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration (2019)
  • Dual power outside mirrors
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Rearview camera (2018-2019)

Are you ready to take a small car on a big adventure? With a great mix of sizes, engines, features, and options, this list offers something for everyone.

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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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