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Segment Spotlight: Compact Sedans

If you’re in need of basic four-wheel transportation, chances are you’re considering a compact sedan.  Since it can be hard to make sense of all the different options out there, I’ve put together this little guide on who’s-who in the mainstream compact sedan segment.  It’s organized by 2019 sales volume, starting with the top-selling vehicle in the segment – the Honda Civic – and going down from there.

Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic sedan

The Civic has led the compact car segment for years now.  The tenth-generation Civic has been on sale since 2016, and will be replaced by an all-new eleventh-generation model for 2022.  Still, the Civic you’ll currently find on dealer lots remains competitive for a number of reasons; its main selling points are its sporty demeanor, which is supplemented by a great ride and refined handling, its quality cabin, and the peace of mind that comes with Honda reliability.  Throughout its tenth generation, the Civic has been offered in sedan, hatchback, and coupe body styles, though the coupe is discontinued for 2021.  Performance options consist of the Civic Si and Type R models, The Civic Si is taking a year off though, and will return for the 2022 model year.

If you’re looking for a compact Hybrid from Honda, look to the Insight, which is based heavily on the Civic but returns 52 mpg combined. Find a Honda Civic for sale

Toyota Corolla

2021 Toyota Corolla ApexThe Corolla and Civic are the two top-selling compact sedans by over 100,000 units annually.  Toyota rolled out an all-new Corolla hatchback for the 2019 model year, while an all-new Corolla sedan bowed for 2020.  Regardless of bodystyle, the latest Corolla has sportier, more aggressive styling than ever before.  There’s also now a Corolla Hybrid that rivals the Prius in terms of fuel economy, but in a less conspicuous package.  The drawback to the Corolla Hybrid is that it’s only available in one simple LE trim level. Find a Toyota Corolla for sale

Nissan Sentra

2020 Nissan SentraThe Sentra has long played third-wheel to the Civic and Corolla.  It was all-new for 2020, and serves as a value-driven alternative to the two segment leaders.  It’s only available in a basic sedan bodystyle, and with a simple four-cylinder engine.  Fuel economy is fine, as are its exterior, interior, and driving dynamics. Find a Nissan Sentra for sale

Hyundai Elantra

2021 Hyundai ElantraHyundai’s new Elantra aims to stand out.  All-new for 2021, the Elantra wears bold, jagged exterior styling, and a sleek modern interior.  Though it’s only available as a sedan, a hybrid model is available and is rated at 54 mpg combined by the EPA, as are two performance trims; the N-Line is set to make 201 horsepower, while a high-performance N model will put out 275.  Rounding out the Elantra’s value proposition is Hyundai’s industry-leading 5-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Find a Hyundai Elantra for sale

Volkswagen Jetta

2021 Volkswagen JettaVolkswagen’s Jetta was last fully redesigned for the 2019 model year.  It’s available exclusively as a sedan, and packs a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, putting out 147 horsepower.  The Jetta appeals to those looking for something a little more unique than a Civic or Corolla, and buyers will likely appreciate it for its European flair, though we should note that it’s built in Mexico.  A performance-oriented Jetta ‘GLI’ model is offered, which employs a 2.0-liter turbo four making 228 horsepower, and can be had with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale

Kia Forte

2021 Kia ForteThe Forte rides on the same platform as the outgoing Hyundai Elantra.  It was last redesigned for 2019, and offers good value in the form of standard active safety tech, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and available ventilated seats, among other things.  It also comes with the same 5-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty as the Elantra.  Volume-trims use a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 147 horsepower, while an available GT trim employs a turborcharged 2.0-liter four making 201 horsepower, and is available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Find a Kia Forte for sale

Subaru Impreza

2021 Subaru ImprezaDon’t look at the Impreza’s positioning toward the bottom of the sales ranks as an indictment of its credibility, but rather a nod to the fact that only a very specific group of buyers looks for all-wheel drive in their compact sedan, and the Impreza offers it as standard.  Beyond that, it’s safe, efficient, and affordable.  It’s also available as a hatchback, a version of which is sold as the Subaru Crosstrek, with roof rails, cladding, and a raised ride height. The Impreza was last redesigned for the 2017 model year. Find a Subaru Impreza for sale


2020 Mazda3Despite its ranking at the bottom of the sales hierarchy, the Mazda3 remains one of our favorite all-around vehicles, and we think most compact sedan shoppers should give it strong consideration.  It was all-new for the 2019 model year and can be optioned with all-wheel drive, and offers an available hatchback bodystyle.  It gains a new optional 2.5-liter turbocharged engine for 2021, which puts out an impressive 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque if you feed it premium fuel.  Beyond this, the Mazda3’s biggest selling points are its gorgeous exterior and luxury-car interior. Find a Mazda3 for sale


Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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