While trucks, SUVs, and crossovers continue to set sales records and take top billing in marketing materials, it's easy to overlook the essential goodness of the compact car—particularly hatchbacks. Reasonably sized, efficient, and often quite affordable, the compact has a righteous role. Thanks to tight competition and a surge in the availability of technology features, the traditional four-door-compact formula has become elastic, stretching to include everything from a box on wheels to sleek and sporty coupes. Whatever your needs, there's probably a compact car that will fill them. Here, we've arranged how the current compact offerings rank against one another, from worst to best.
9. Subaru Impreza
Subaru sells the Impreza as both a sedan and hatchback, although the automaker plans to sunset the former body style come 2024. A 152-hp four-cylinder engine serves as the model's sole power source, and it pushes that grunt to all four wheels by way of a five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). As much as we go on about "saving the manuals," we're willing to sacrifice the Impreza's notchy five-speed gearbox to the great beyond. While the CVT is the better choice, it's still an incredibly underwhelming setup. With a new Impreza due for 2024, there's little reason to snag the current model. Besides its standard all-wheel-drive system and intuitive infotainment system, there's little about the Impreza that makes it stand out in the shrinking compact car segment.
- Base price: $21,315
- C/D rating: 6/10
8. Kia Forte
Despite its sporty looks, the Kia Forte proves itself a better cruiser than a corner carver. Avoid optioning up this Kia too much, though, and the Forte presents itself as a solid value among compact cars. Don't expect much in the way of soul, though, as the car's 147-hp base four-cylinder and CVT make for a rather dull driving experience. An optional 201-hp turbocharged four-cylinder in the Forte GT gives the Kia sedan enough power to make things interesting, and it mates with either a seven-speed dual-clutch self-shifting transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox. Still, the forced-induction four-cylinder lacks the verve of other compact options with similarly powerful engines under their hoods.
- Base price: $20,815
- C/D rating: 7.5/10
7. Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla goes under the knife for 2023. Along with updated styling, Toyota's compact model ditches the 1.8-liter four-cylinder it previously offered in lower-level sedans. It also abandons the previously available six-speed manual gearbox. As such, all 2023 Corollas, save for the racy GR Corolla hatchback and hybrid sedan, rely on a 169-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a CVT. Available as either a sedan or hatchback, the Corolla brings attractive styling and quality insides to the table. Those looking to save on fuel costs will want to take a look at the aforementioned Corolla hybrid sedan, which is newly available with all-wheel drive for 2023. While the Corolla may not be our favorite compact car option, it's far from a penalty box. That said, we wish the rest of the Corolla line had half the personality of its stick-shift GR kin.
- Base price: $22,645
- C/D rating: 8/10
6. Nissan Sentra
Kudos to Nissan for making a decidedly handsome compact sedan. Don't judge the 2023 Nissan Sentra by its cover, though, because beneath that stylish sheet metal is a rather ho-hum small four-door. Though its seats are comfortable, the Sentra's ride is less so. Especially in sporty-looking SR trim. Nor is it particularly powerful, as its 149-hp four-cylinder engine and CVT move the Sentra at a rate that's merely acceptable. Still, the Sentra packs a long standard feature list and a relatively roomy cabin. It may not be the pick of the compact sedan litter, but it's no runt, either.
- Base price: $21,045
- C/D rating: 8/10
5. Hyundai Elantra
Depending on your point of view, the Hyundai Elantra is either the best- or worst-looking compact car sold today. Looks aside, the Elantra is a generally tame machine (with the exception of the rowdy Elantra N that produces north of 270 horsepower). A 147-hp four-cylinder serves as the sedan's default powertrain. It pairs with a CVT, and much like its corporate cousin, the Kia Forte, this combination makes for a relatively underwhelming driving experience. A more fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain that makes a peak of 139 horses is also available, as is a more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder with 201 horsepower. Both of these engines also forgo a manual transmission, and instead pair with either a six- or seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, respectively. The racy Elantra N, meanwhile, offers buyers the choice of a six-speed manual or eight-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Regardless of what's under the hood, all Elantras share niceties such as an intuitive infotainment system and a roomy interior. The 2023 Elantra is a good choice among compact sedans, but it's far from the best.
- Base price: $21,765
- C/D rating: 8.5/10
4. Volkswagen Jetta
If a value is what you're after, then you ought to look no further than the Volkswagen Jetta. Sure, its interior's middling materials underwhelm, as does its underwhelming driving engagement when equipped with the standard 158-hp turbo four, but the Jetta makes up for this with plenty of interior and cargo space and a lengthy list of standard features. It's also one of a handful of compact cars to offer a stick shift across its powertrain lineup. Those looking for a more engaging driving experience will be better served by the 228-hp Jetta GLI. With a base price of $32,680, though, the GLI lacks the value-oriented appeal of lesser Jettas.
- Base price: $21,750
- C/D rating: 8.5/10
3. Toyota Prius
A for 2023 turns the Prius into a beautiful swan relative to its ugly-ducking predecessor. Though the hybrid hatchback's low-slung styling cuts into interior space and hurts rearward visibility, the latest Prius is, for the most part, vastly improves upon its predecessor. Credit the likes of a more ergonomically friendly interior that ditches the center-mounted instrument cluster of yore and a powertrain that pumps out 194 horsepower in front-wheel-drive guise. Opt for all-wheel drive and that figure jumps to 196 horses. Despite this additional 0omph, the 2023 Prius remains a fuel miser, netting up to 57 mpg combined, per the EPA. Opting for the plug-in Prius Prime, meanwhile, nets a total of 220 horsepower, as well as the ability to travel short distances on electricity alone. Expect the new Prius Prime to greatly improve upon the outgoing model's 25 miles of EPA-rated range on a full charge.
- Base price: $28,545
- C/D rating: 8.5/10
2. Mazda 3
The Mazda 3 brings luxury-car-like refinement to the mainstream compact car segment. Sharp exterior styling and rich interior materials make the 3 feel far more expensive than its $23,615 starting sum suggests. Available in either sedan or hatchback body styles, the 3 offers buyers the choice of a 191-hp naturally aspirated four-cylinder or a 250-hp turbocharged setup. A six-speed automatic powers most 3 models, including all all-wheel-drive ones, though a six-speed stick is available in the front-drive 3 hatchback. While the 3 feels like a bonafide luxury vehicle, it's no longer the driver's car it once was. Still, the 3 is more engaging to drive than most other compact cars sold today. We just wish it drove a little bit more like a budget BMW 2-series coupe instead of a less expensive Audi A3.
- Base price: $23,615
- C/D rating: 9/10
1. Honda Civic
What the Honda Civic lacks in luxury-car-like trimmings compared to the Mazda 3, its engaging driving experience more than makes up for. Available as either a sedan or hatchback and with a bevy of powertrain options, the Civic offers different levels of excitement for different sorts of drivers. A naturally aspirated 158-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers the entry-level Civic Sport sedan and hatchback, the latter of which is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. It's the transmission we'd choose, even if we think the Civic's CVT is one of the better ones out there. Moving up to the EX sedan, EX-L hatchback, Touring sedan, and Sport Touring hatchback nets buyers a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 180 horsepower. A CVT is the default setup in all but the top-line Sport Touring hatch, which offers an optional six-speed manual. Those looking for more power can opt for the Si sedan or Type R hatchback, which make 200 and 315 horsepower, respectively. Better like rowing your own gears, though, as the Si and Type R are stick-shift-only affairs. There are better and worse Civic variants, but no matter how you slice it, there's not a bad apple in the entire Civic model line.
- Base price: $26,145
- C/D rating: 10/10
Yes, he's still working on the 1986 Nissan 300ZX Turbo project car he started in high school, and no, it’s not for sale yet. Austin Irwin was born and raised in Michigan, and, despite getting shelled by hockey pucks during a not-so-successful goaltending career through high school and college, still has all of his teeth. He loves cars from the 1980s and Bleu, his Great Pyrenees, and is an active member of the Buffalo Wild Wings community. When Austin isn’t working on his own cars, he’s likely on the side of the highway helping someone else fix theirs.
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