There's a lot to love in a good compact car.
With lower prices, better fuel economy, and easier maneuverability than a midsize sedan, today's best compacts – the best-selling Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, and their competitors – also couple unexpected substance with the expected level of value. Even south of $20,000, you can expect fairly high levels of comfort, quality, safety, driving fun, and premium features.
The best compact sedans pull this off, at any rate. Back-to-back test drives of eleven such vehicles – nearly every vehicle in the market segment – helped reveal which is which. The different models were each designed with particular tradeoffs that will fit some buyers better than others – style versus interior space, ride versus handling, luxury versus value, and others. Some of these cars, too, have flaws that keep them from achieving even the balance they intended to strike.
This comparison relies on test drives and analyses of price, safety and fuel economy of the eleven compact sedans to pick winners and losers for different types of customers, and to rank them from top to bottom overall.
There has been significant changeover in this class since this reviewer compared ten compact sedans three years ago. Chrysler re-entered the segment with the Dodge Dart. The Kia Forte, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Corolla have been fully redesigned. The Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta have been updated. Working to hold their own against the newer competitors are the Ford Focus, often ranked the world's best-selling car; and the Chevrolet Cruze, 2011's defending champion.
Chosen for this comparison were cars equipped with an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen, or the nearest equivalent. So equipped, the cars' estimated transaction prices ranged from $17,000 to $21,000 – no pittance, but still a price point that delivers a lot of car for the money.
The only current 2014-model compact sedan excluded was the Mitsubishi Lancer, a slow-selling vehicle that has barely changed since it placed last in this reviewer's comparison five years ago; also left our are models sold only as hatchbacks, including the Scion tC and Volkswagen Golf.
Scroll down for quick summary reviews of the eleven compact sedans, or use the links below to learn more:
More from this comparison:
- Rating the eleven compact sedans: How do they compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Ranking the eleven compact sedans: How do they stack up for different types of buyers?
- Full reviews of the: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT, 2014 Dodge Dart SXT, 2014 Ford Focus SE, 2014 Honda Civic EX, 2014 Hyundai Elantra SE, 2015 Kia Forte LX, 2014 Mazda3 i Touring, 2014 Nissan Sentra SV, 2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium, 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Plus, and 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE.
- All Cars Examiner reviews
- Comparison review: Ten midsize sedans
- Comparison review: Nine compact crossover SUVs
- Comparison review: Ten large sedans
- Comparison review: Ten 2011 compact sedans