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9 Best Compact Cars of 2021

2020 Mazda3

We Rank the Best New & Used Compact Sedans in 2021

A small car is a solid option if you’re on a limited budget but still need a practical vehicle with decent passenger and cargo space. They typically seat five people and are fuel-efficient, easy to drive, and highly maneuverable.

While some small cars deliver sporty driving dynamics, others are designed to be thrifty and reliable commuters. Since these are entry-level vehicles, they’re often cheaper to insure, maintain, and repair than more expensive, better-equipped options.

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How We Ranked These Compact Cars

We ranked these small cars based on a combination of factors, focusing especially on the vehicle’s price when equipped with five important features that many new car shoppers look for. These are:

These are the Key Features* mentioned below. Some of these are unavailable in some small cars, so we note that in the text. Other factors include the estimated fuel cost, passenger space, cargo space, horsepower, and safety scores.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

2021 Hyundai Elantra / Photo Credit: Hyundai

1. 2021 Hyundai Elantra

  • Base MSRP: $19,650
  • Price w /Key Features*: $20,655
  • Legroom Rank: 2 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 37 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 147-201

The Elantra isn’t the cheapest compact car on our list, but it has the lowest price with the key features we listed. The Elantra is comfortable and it returns great fuel economy, but it’s not as athletic or upscale as rivals.

Thanks to its recent redesign, the 2021 Elantra comes standard with all the key features.

Research the Hyundai Elantra

Shopping for a Used Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai completely redesigned the Elantra for the 2021 model year.

Shop for a Used Hyundai Elantra

2019 Kia Forte

2021 Kia Forte / Photo Credit: Kia

2. 2021 Kia Forte

  • Base MSRP: $17,890
  • Price w /Key Features*: $21,455
  • Legroom Rank: 7 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 147-201

The Forte is the Elantra’s corporate cousin, so they’re similar in many ways. The Forte comes with more standard features than the Elantra, including a touchscreen infotainment system and smartphone app integration. However, a manual transmission is standard, and getting blind spot monitoring requires opting for the more expensive GT-Line model.

The Forte has a nice interior and a large trunk for the class. It also earns respectable crash test ratings.

Research the Kia Forte

Shopping for a Used Kia Forte

2019-2021 Forte models have identical styling and features; you can save by considering older model years.

Shop for a Used Kia Forte

2020 Nissan Sentra / Photo Credit: Nissan

2021 Nissan Sentra / Photo Credit: Nissan

3. 2021 Nissan Sentra

  • Base MSRP: $19,460
  • Price w /Key Features*: $20,410
  • Legroom Rank: 3 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 149

The Sentra has a lower starting price than many rivals, and it comes with a host of ADAS features. It’s more stylish than the outgoing model inside and out, and it comes with a more powerful engine, but it’s not going to win many races.

It’s got roomy front seats, but its rear seats are short on headroom and its trunk isn’t as spacious as its classmates. The base Sentra comes with all the key features.

Research the Nissan Sentra

Shopping for a Used Nissan Sentra

The Sentra was redesigned for the 2020 model year. You can save money buying a used 2020 model.

Shop for a Used Nissan Sentra

2020 Toyota Corolla

2021 Toyota Corolla / Photo Credit: Toyota

4. 2021 Toyota Corolla

  • Base MSRP: $19,825
  • Price w /Key Features*: $22,520
  • Legroom Rank: 1 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 139-169

The Corolla isn’t very peppy or agile, but it’s a solid commuter thanks to its smooth ride, good gas mileage, and history of positive crash-test results. It has much more rear-seat legroom than all other compact cars shown here, but its trunk is small.

This Toyota’s standard feature set is impressive. If you stick with the base model, you’ll enjoy a full suite of ADAS features, intuitive infotainment technology, and smartphone connectivity. However, you have to move up one trim from the base model and add a package to get blind spot monitoring.

Research the Toyota Corolla

Shopping for a Used Toyota Corolla

Toyota redesigned the Corolla sedan for 2020, so 2020-2021 models are very similar. You can save money by buying a used model, but make sure it has the features you want. 2020 models don’t have Android Auto.

Shop for a Used Toyota Corolla

2020 Mazda3

2020 Mazda3 / Photo Credit: Mazda

5. 2021 Mazda3

  • Base MSRP: $20,500
  • Price w /Key Features*: $23,645
  • Legroom Rank: 9 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 30 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 155-250

The Mazda3 is arguably the sportiest compact car on our list, but its rear seats are cramped, there’s not much cargo space, and fuel economy is average. For 2021, the Mazda3 gets a new base engine and a turbo-four that’s available in upper trims. It has a history of outstanding crash test ratings and comes equipped with several ADAS.

It comes standard with automatic emergency braking, but to get blind spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto, shoppers will have to choose a higher trim.

Research the Mazda3

Shopping for a Used Mazda3

2019-2021 Mazda3 models have nearly identical styling, but features are different. It’s also important to note that the 2021 model has an MSRP that’s $1,000 less than the 2020 model. You can still save money by buying an older model, but be sure to check its feature list.

Shop for a Used Mazda3

2020 Honda Insight

2021 Honda Insight / Photo Credit: Honda

6. 2021 Honda Insight

  • Base MSRP: $22,930
  • Price w /Key Features*: $26,160
  • Legroom Rank: 3 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 52 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 151

If you prioritize fuel economy, the Insight hybrid is hard to beat. It also delivers peppy acceleration and has a spacious cabin and a large trunk. The Insight is more expensive than most compact cars, but, according to the EPA, you’ll save about $650 per year on fuel compared to the average new vehicle.

The Insight receives excellent crash test ratings and comes standard with a full complement of ADAS. However, like many vehicles, you have to move up the trim ladder to get blind spot monitoring. Opting for the EX model also gets you Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Research the Honda Insight

Shopping for a Used Honda Insight

2019-2021 Insight models have nearly identical styling and features, so you can save by considering older model years.

Shop for a Used Honda Insight

2020 Volkswagen Jetta / Photo Credit: Volkswagen

2021 Volkswagen Jetta / Photo Credit: Volkswagen

7. 2021 Volkswagen Jetta

  • Base MSRP: $18,995
  • Price w /Key Features*: $21,290
  • Legroom Rank: 3 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 34 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 147-228

The Jetta has a comfortable cabin with adult-friendly seats in both rows and a decent amount of trunk space. Its base turbocharged four-cylinder isn’t very powerful, but it returns good fuel economy, and a stronger turbo-4 is available.

This Volkswagen compact car comes equipped with up-to-date infotainment features, but you have to add a package to get automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring, among a few other ADAS features. The Jetta comes standard with a manual transmission, and you have to upgrade to the automatic to add the safety package.

Research the Volkswagen Jetta

Shopping for a Used Volkswagen Jetta

2019-2021 Jetta models have identical styling and similar features. You can save money by shopping for a used model.

Shop for a Used Volkswagen Jetta

2020 Subaru Impreza

2021 Subaru Impreza / Photo Credit: Subaru

8. 2021 Subaru Impreza

  • Base MSRP: $18,795
  • Price w /Key Features*: $25,090
  • Legroom Rank: 6 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 32 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 152

The Impreza is one of the few compact cars to come standard with all-wheel drive, yet it still returns good gas mileage. Moreover, this Subaru has a roomy interior, sporty handling, and a history of top-notch crash test ratings. However, its trunk is small and it could use a more powerful engine.

It lands near the bottom of our list since it’s so expensive to equip with the key features. It comes standard with a manual transmission, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. To get ADAS features, you have to add the automatic transmission, but the package with blind spot monitoring requires buyers to get the Premium trim and add an expensive package.

Research the Subaru Impreza

Shopping for a Used Subaru Impreza

2017-2021 Impreza models look similar, but features have changed over the years. You can save by considering older model years, but check to make sure you’re getting the features you want.

Shop for a Used Subaru Impreza

2020 Honda Civic Sedan Touring

2021 Honda Civic / Photo Credit: Honda

9. 2021 Honda Civic

  • Base MSRP: $21,050
  • Price w /Key Features*: $23,805
  • Legroom Rank: 3 of 9
  • Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined city/hwy
  • Horsepower: 158-205

The Civic has a higher starting price than most cars on this list, and it doesn’t offer blind spot monitoring. Instead, there’s a blind spot camera down the passenger side of the car, but you have to choose the mid-level EX trim to get it.

This Honda features agile handling, eager acceleration, and good fuel economy. It also has a large trunk and lots of legroom in both rows, though tall passengers in the rear seats may wish for more headroom. Automatic emergency braking comes standard, but you have to move up from the base trim to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Research the Honda Civic

Shopping for a Used Honda Civic

2016-2021 Civic models look similar, but feature availability has changed over the years. You can save by shopping for a used model, but be sure it has the features you want.

Shop for a Used Honda Civic

Best Used Compact Cars

You can save money by considering a used compact car. Many of these models haven’t changed much in the last few years. This means you can get a gently used compact car with nearly identical styling at a fraction of the cost of a new model.

Since small cars are falling out of favor due to the SUV craze, you may be able to get a good deal on the used market. You’ll even be able to get most of the five key features we mentioned, as long as you don’t choose a used model that’s more than a few years old.

Check out each small car shown above. You’ll find information about which model years to consider when searching for a used version with similar styling and features. If you click on the link below each vehicle, you can search Carfax’s used car listings. Every car in Carfax’s used car listings comes with a free Carfax Report.

Next Steps

If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com