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 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, a wagon, a coupe, and four hybrids (two offering plug-in versions). Three compact cars offer all-wheel drive, but none are available with a V6 engine.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2020
The compact-car class shrinks significantly this year, as the Chevrolet Cruze and Volt, Nissan Versa Note, and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and SportWagen are all discontinued. The Nissan Versa and Toyota Corolla sedan are both redesigned. As before, the new Versa is a penny-pinching 4-door sedan that straddles the line size-wise between a subcompact and compact car; the 2020 model is slightly lower, longer, and wider than the previous-generation model, and it gets much flashier styling and several new technology features. The Corolla sedan is redesigned on the same new platform that the Corolla Hatchback debuted upon last year; it gains new safety and technology features and the Corolla nameplate’s first-ever hybrid model. (The new hybrid is a sedan-only offering; the Corolla Hatchback doesn’t offer one.)
After its redesign last year, the Kia Forte adds sporty GT-Line and GT trim levels; the GT gets sport tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned dual exhaust, and a 201-hp turbo 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that can be paired with a 6-speed-manual or 7-speed-automated-manual transmission.
Though official information hadn’t been released as of this writing, the Nissan Sentra is expected to be redesigned for 2020, and the Hyundai Ioniq and Subaru Impreza should see a mild refresh. The Volkswagen Golf is pared down to a single trim level and gets an updated infotainment system. The Golf’s future is a bit uncertain in the U.S.; a redesigned eighth-generation Golf is set to debut soon, but at this point it is unclear whether the regular-line, non-performance versions of the car will be sold in America.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
The compact-car segment is a relatively homogeneous class, though there are a couple of vehicles that stand out. The Fiat 500L’s tall-wagon body style pushes it a bit toward the subcompact or compact crossover SUV category, and the Honda Civic offers a two door-coupe body style. 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 Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Prius.
The Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra Sport and Elantra GT Sport, Kia Forte GT, and Volkswagen Jetta GLI are “everyday performance” models that all have a bit more than 200 horsepower (the GLI has 228 hp) and are available with a manual transmission.
Fuel economy may top some people’s list of requirements, and though most cars in this class are quite efficient, there are also four hybrid models on offer: the Honda Insight, Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Prius (the Ioniq and Prius also offer plug-in-hybrid versions, and the Ioniq comes in a pure-electric version as well).