While SUVs are increasingly becoming the ride of choice for many, the compact car still manages to remain competitive — it’s lighter, more fuel-efficient and it’s better in the city. And today’s compacts aren’t the econoboxes they once were—lightweight rides that delivered superb fuel efficiency but little in the way of standard amenities. There was a time when you were lucky to get beyond hand-cranked windows and a glove box (forget about air conditioning)—now, features list have grown and performance and safety have greatly improved. Small cars are back, baby!
The other plus is most are offered in multiple trims. This is true of the top five we’ve collected here. 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 in our opinion, from best to worst.
1. The 2021 Toyota Corolla: All-Around Top Choice
There’s a reason why the Corolla’s the best selling compact of all time. And its latest entry is better looking than ever, with a colourful styling that belies its ‘beige’ reputation, standard equipment where it counts, and an interior that feels more premium than you’d expect. Taken altogether, it’s no surprise that the Corolla is our pick for top all-around compact.
The Corolla’s wider track, lower centre of gravity and highly-rigid structure—along with features like multi-link rear suspension and active cornering assist—combine to create a fun driving experience, especially with the optional 169 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder (don’t even get us started on the six speed manual). The 2021 Toyota Corolla features a smartly designed suspension that results in excellent ride quality regardless of road conditions. Interested? Check out our Quick Look Review here.
2. The 2021 Kia Forte: Strong Value Proposition
The current third-generation Kia Forte is a sporty little car that stands out in the competitive sedan segment. Its stylish looks, well-thought-out interior, and standard safety and convenience features make for a value-focused car. Its intuitive and user-friendly infotainment system is another plus.
Although the non-turbocharged Forte doesn’t offer much in the way of high-speed fun, it delivers a calm, easy ride with exemplary handling that lends itself well to an urban environment. If you want thrills, the speedier GT’s 201-hp turbo-4 engine combines with the upgraded 18-inch wheels and a rear suspension to provide livelier driving dynamics. All in all, the 2021 Kia Forte offers a strong value proposition for budget-savvy sedan shoppers. Check out our Quick Look Review here.
3. The 2021 Honda Civic: Reliable As Ever
We here at Car Digest are overall fans of the 2021 Honda Civic. We were a little disheartened to hear than news that the standard coupe models—including the famous Civic Si—were being discontinued, but Honda did a great job with the remaining sedans, hatchback, and the amazing Type R. The peppy four-cylinder engines that power the 2021 Civic models are as high-quality as always, with even the base model seeming to have a little more get-up-and-go than other similar cars. The interior is spacious and comfortable, but the infotainment system, particularly on the low-trim models, is heavily lacking. We’re looking forward to the new generation of Honda Civics coming soon for the 2022 model year, and all the upgrades that will come along with it. Check out our Quick Look Review here.
4. The 2021 Hyundai Elantra: Formidable Competitor
Overall, the seventh generation of the Hyundai Elantra is a formidable competitor in the shrinking compact sedan class. It offers a nice smooth ride with ample horsepower. Interior room has improved dramatically over the last generation, an upgrade that will be well received by your rear seat passengers. At the SEL trim level, the Elantra comes with a number of standard tech and safety features that keep you safe and make the vehicle a joy to drive. With Hyundai’s outstanding 5-year, 100,000-km powertrain warranty, the Elantra is sure to last all drivers for quite some time. Check out our Quick Look Review here.
5. The 2021 Mazda3: Fun to Drive
With the Mazda3, Mazda’s developed a compact vehicle that’s fun to drive, with a luxurious and warm feeling, at an affordable pric and somehow, the 2021 Mazda3 remains unique, stylish, and sharp. Mazda3 is considered by many as one of the segment’s best options—and that kind of praise in a market alongside the Corolla or te Honda Civic shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whichever trim you choose, you’ll own a car that’s fun to drive and comfortable. To top it all off, you won’t have to break the bank to afford the Mazda3. Check out our Quick Look Review here.