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.

Though the rise in popularity of subcompact and compact crossover SUVs has cut into their sales in recent years, compact cars still make up a prominent segment of the automotive market. Front-wheel-drive four-door sedans with 4-cylinder engines dominate the class, though there are also hatchbacks and five hybrids (two offering plug-in versions). Three compact cars offer all-wheel drive, but none are available with a V6 engine.


The Honda Civic kicks off its eleventh generation with a redesigned model that gets understated exterior styling and new technology features. Four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles continue, and the 2.0-liter and turbo 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrains carry over from the previous-gen Civic. A new version of the performance-oriented Civic Si launches exclusively as a sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission, and a new high-performance Civic Type R is slated to debut in the near future.

After its redesign last year, the Hyundai Elantra gains a high-performance N model with a 276-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic. Also included are a sport-tuned suspension, sport front seats, and sporty design touches inside and out. The Kia Forte gets a styling facelift, an available 10.3-inch touchscreen, updated available driver-assist features, and an electronic parking brake with auto-hold.

The Volkswagen Jetta gets a styling facelift, a revised model lineup, and more standard features. Mainstream Jettas get a 158-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder in place of the previous 147-hp turbo 1.4-liter four. The regular-line Volkswagen Golf hatchback is discontinued for the U.S. market; it’s essentially been replaced by the new-for-2022 VW Taos small SUV. Overseas buyers get a redesigned eighth-generation Golf, but only the high-performance Golf GTI and Golf R models (which we categorize as Sporty/Performance Cars) will be sold on our shores. The Toyota Prius gets a special-appearance Nightshade Edition model with blackout trim elements.


Fuel economy may top some people’s list of requirements, and though most cars in this class are quite efficient, there are also five hybrid models on offer: the Honda Insight, Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Prius (the Ioniq and Prius also offer plug-in-hybrid versions). Those who live in snowy climates might be drawn to the Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Prius—the only cars in this class to offer all-wheel drive. Performance enthusiasts can check out the Honda Civic Si and forthcoming Type R, or the Hyundai Elantra N and N Line, Kia Forte GT, Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo, and Volkswagen Jetta GLI. The VW Golf GTI and Golf R, and the redesigned-for-2022 Subaru WRX (a performance version of the Impreza) are listed in our Sporty/Performance Car class.