Not too big, not too small, but just right. That’s the way many people feel about compact cars—which aren’t nearly as “compact” as they used to be. Many are roomy enough to be family sedans while still getting good fuel economy, which is a large part of their appeal.

Compact cars make up a prominent segment of the automotive market, and the class numbers 21 for 2017. Front-wheel-drive four-door sedans with 4-cylinder engines dominate the segment, though there are also coupes and hatchbacks, two wagons, two hybrids (both offering plug-in versions), and one electric car with a range-extending gasoline engine (we cover pure-electric vehicles at Four compact cars offer all-wheel drive, but none are available with a V6 engine.


The Hyundai Elantra is redesigned, gaining new engines, a bit more passenger room, and a host of new technology and safety features. The Elantra GT hatchback continues on the previous-generation Elantra platform this year, but we suspect it will be redesigned on the new platform soon as well. Hyundai is also set to launch a new line of hybrid and electric vehicles named Ioniq—the first vehicle in the line is the 2017 Ioniq sedan, which will offer a choice of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or pure electric powertrains on the same basic compact-sedan platform. The Subaru Impreza is redesigned on a slightly larger new platform, with a more sculpted body design, updated engine, and new technology and safety features. Toyota Prius adds a Prius Prime plug-in-hybrid model with unique styling and the ability to run about 25 miles on just electric power before switching over to gas/electric power (like the normal Prius).

After their redesigns last year, the Chevrolet Cruze gets a hatchback body style and the Chevrolet Volt gets available adaptive cruise control with forward automatic emergency braking. The Ford Focus line added the high-performance all-wheel-drive RS hatchback as a late 2016 model, and it carries over unchanged for ‘17. The Honda Civic lineup expands with the addition of a 4-door hatchback body style and high-performance Si and Type R models. The Kia Forte sedan gets freshened styling, a new base engine, newly available safety equipment, and a sporty S model. The Forte5 hatchback receives the same styling and safety updates, along with an available 7-speed automated-manual transmission. The Nissan Sentra line adds a new SR Turbo model with a 188-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder. With the demise of Toyota’s Scion division for 2017, the Scion iM 4-door hatchback is rebadged to become the Toyota Corolla iM. The Toyota Corolla sedan gets revised front styling and a 50th Anniversary Special Edition model. The VW Golf SportWagen adds AWD versions. The rest of the class is either unchanged or sees minor revisions, such as updated infotainment/connectivity systems or a rearranging of trim levels and optional equipment. The Dodge Dart is discontinued, along with the hybrid version of the Volkswagen Jetta.


Those who live in very snowy climates might lean toward vehicles offering all-wheel drive. In the compact class, that narrows it down to the Ford Focus RS, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, and VW SportWagen.

Fuel economy may top some people’s list of requirements, and though most cars in this class are quite fuel efficient, a few stand out. The Chevrolet Volt is obviously noteworthy in terms of efficiency and “green” credentials. Traditional hybrids also do particularly well in city driving, and two are offered in this class: the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius, both of which will offer plug-in-hybrid versions. VW drops its Jetta Hybrid this year, and the Honda Civic lost its hybrid version when it was redesigned last year—though Honda is said to be readying a new dedicated compact hybrid for 2018. In light of VW’s emissions-cheating scandal last year, the diesel versions of the Jetta and Golf were dropped and are unlikely to be available again soon. However, the Chevrolet Cruze is slated to get a diesel this year.