While trucks, SUVs, and crossovers continue to set sales records and take top billing in marketing materials, it's easy to overlook the essential goodness of the compact car—particularly hatchbacks. Reasonably sized, efficient, and often quite affordable, the compact has a righteous role. Thanks to tight competition and a surge in the availability of technology features, the traditional four-door-compact formula has become elastic, stretching to include everything from a box on wheels to sleek and sporty coupes. 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, from worst to best.
The Toyota Prius Prime is the plug-in-hybrid version of the Prius that includes slightly different styling. It also has added equipment, including an available touchscreen oriented vertically, like Tesla's. A larger battery pack affords the Prime up to 25 miles of electric-only driving range, a somewhat weak figure among plug-in hybrids, especially compared to the 53 miles served up by the (now-discontinued) Chevrolet Volt. That being said, the Prius Prime is a quirky looking hatchback with an EPA-estimated 640 miles between fill-ups.
- Base price: $29,215
- EPA Fuel Economy combined: 133 MPGe (hybrid) 54 (gas only)
- Cargo space: 19 cubic feet
Driving the Toyota Prius might be as exciting as folding laundry, but when it comes to efficiency and reliability, it's an absolute rockstar. The Prius is an icon of hybridization to help curb carbon emissions, offering 46 mpg during our own 200-mile highway testing. It looks like a spaceship and has more cargo capacity than many sedans thanks to its hatchback shape. Every trim comes standard with a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth capability, USB connectivity, and, if you still use one, a CD player. The hybrid components are covered under warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles, like every hybrid from Toyota.
- Base price: $25,520
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 56/58/53 mpg
- Cargo space: 24 and 27 (FWD L ECO, XLE, LIMITED) cubic feet
The Subaru Impreza is offered in both sedan and hatchback styles and with standard all-wheel drive. A 152-hp four-cylinder engine can be paired with either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but whichever you choose the lack of power makes it a less-than-exciting drive. The Impreza is also near the bottom of the list in terms of fuel efficiency, getting just 30 mpg in our own highway fuel-economy test. A user-friendly 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, with a larger 8.0-inch screen available on higher trims. The available EyeSight camera-based driver-assistance features also include adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking.
- Base price: $19,720
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 32/28/36 mpg
- Cargo space: 12 (sedan), 20 (hatchback) cubic feet
The Hyundai Veloster has one door on the driver's side and two on the passenger's side. Weird, right? Stranger yet, this 147-hp four-cylinder hatchback is a bargain, if you're willing to compromise on cargo capacity and fuel economy. Every Veloster is front-wheel drive, and buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Its direct steering and sporty suspension make it surprisingly fun to drive. For a more powerful Veloster, check out the Veloster Turbo or the Honda Civic Type R rival, the Veloster N.
- Base price: $19,905
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 30/28/34 mpg
- Cargo space: 29 cubic feet
Everything about the all-new Nissan Sentra is better than the one it replaces. The lone powertrain is a more powerful and efficient 149-hp four-cylinder with a CVT, and its new platform and suspension make it feel less like the economy car it is. The Sentra has impressive EPA-estimated fuel economy of 29/39 mpg city/highway. A 7.0-inch touchscreen is standard, but an 8.0-inch screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is optional. New standard tech upgrades include blind-spot detection and automated emergency braking as well as rear automated emergency braking.
- Base price: $20,360
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 33/29/39 mpg
- Cargo space: 14 cubic feet
The Kia Forte does a lot right. Its low base price makes it easier to get into, and its stunning fuel economy and standard safety features make it affordable to live with. Available only as a sedan, the Forte's 147-hp four-cylinder achieved 41 mpg during our highway fuel-economy test. A turbocharged 201-hp engine is available on the GT trim, which also receives a sportier suspension. We found the interior to be spacious enough—even in the rear seats, with room to seat two adults comfortably. Every Forte comes with standard safety features such as forward-collision warning with automated-emergency braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. It also has an impressive 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
- Base price: $18,885
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 35/31/41 mpg
- Cargo space: 15 cubic feet
The Volkswagen Jetta is often overshadowed by its more-fun-to-drive hatchback equivalent, the Golf, but it's actually a cheaper and more efficient alternative. A 147-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission is standard on the base model, and an eight-speed automatic is optional. Hate gas stations? The Jetta will help you avoid them with impressive EPA-estimated highway fuel economy of 40 mpg. LED exterior lighting and a state-of-the-art infotainment system are standard, and the Jetta feels upscale and refined in spite of its modest pricing. The Jetta GLI is one of our favorites to drive and is powered by a 228-hp turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual. That's as wild as the Jetta gets.
- Base price: $19,990
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 34/30/40 mpg
- Cargo space: 14 cubic feet
The Hyundai Ioniq is a small hybrid hatchback wearing work clothes. Also available as an EV and a plug-in hybrid, the Ioniq design doesn't look like it came from another planet, and it does a better job than others at trying to save ours. Not only is it more efficient than the Toyota Prius, it also comes standard with a host of driver assists and infotainment features. The base Ioniq Blue model is the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market with an EPA-estimated 58 mpg combined. For consumers looking to avoid gas pumps entirely, the Ioniq Electric's base price of $34,020 makes it an affordable choice, but that comes with just 170 miles of range on a single charge.
- Base price: $24,195
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 58/57/59 (hybrid) ,136/150/122 (EV), and 119 (PHEV) mpg
- Cargo space: 26 (hybrid), 23 (EV and PHEV) cubic feet
Only recently did the Toyota Corolla's popularity become justified. Not only does it look better than ever, the new Corolla's ride, efficiency, and power are all improved thanks to a completely new platform. The Corolla is offered as a sedan with a standard 139-hp four-cylinder or as a sporty hatchback with a larger 169-hp four-cylinder that's also optional on the sedan. A CVT or a six-speed manual transmission is available for both. A hybrid powertrain is only offered in the sedan; it comes with an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 53 mpg city and 52 mpg highway. The Corolla is a good choice for buyers looking for something as reliable as a utility bill.
- Base price: $21,020
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 35/32/41 (GAS) 52/53/52 (HYBRID) mpg
- Cargo space: 13 (SEDAN) 17 (HATCHBACK) cubic feet
The Honda Insight's hybrid powertrain delivered 46 mpg during our highway fuel-economy test, with 480 miles of travel before hitting empty. But what makes the Insight such a charming choice is that it doesn't feel or drive much like a hybrid at all. It feels more like the Honda Civic it shares a platform with. Compared to the larger Honda Accord Hybrid, the Insight is more efficient and less expensive. The 151-hp four-cylinder engine in the Insight isn't quick, and its CVT isn't our first choice, but that's the price to pay for a hybrid that doesn't forfeit solid driving characteristics for fuel mileage.
- Base price: $24,125
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 52/55/49 mpg
- Cargo space: 14 (Touring), 15 cubic feet
The sharpest looking Hyundai Elantra ever has new looks for 2021 and it also gains a hybrid and Elantra N-Line performance model. The base model comes standard with a 147-hp inline four with front-wheel drive and a CVT transmission. The hybrid is slightly less powerful with 139-hp, but uses a traditional six-speed automatic transmission instead. The Elantra N Line offers the most fun with a 201-hp turbocharged four-cylinder with your choice between a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Elantra is a great balance between affordability and quality, with a comfortable ride unlike your average harsh-riding compact car. The Elantra Hybrid has an EPA-estimated 53 mpg city and 56 highway fuel economy, matching the Prius in fuel efficiency.
- Base price: $20,655
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 37/33/43 mpg
- Cargo space: 14 cubic feet
Our favorite hatchback nears the end of its seventh generation as we excitedly await the new Golf GTI to go on sale sometime this year. The Golf does everything and does it all well. It's affordable, efficient, and spacious. The Golf GTI is fast and the Golf R is even faster, but even the base Golf is fun. A 147-hp turbo four-cylinder is standard with the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. The Golf we tested recently well outperformed its EPA estimate with 43 mpg during our own highway fuel-economy test. Base models have a 6.5-inch infotainment display, while SE trims now have an 8.0-inch touchscreen. This year marks the end for the base Golf as VW plans to only sell Golf GTI and Golf R in the states.
- Base price: $24,190
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 32/29/35 mpg
- Cargo space: 22 cubic feet
Owning a small car like the Mazda 3 means small cars can be fun and feel luxurious. Three engines are offered starting with a 155-hp four-cylinder with front-wheel drive only. A 186-hp four-cylinder is also offered and unlocks the available all-wheel drive, but all-wheel-drive models are only available with a six-speed automatic. For the sporty Turbo trim a 250-hp turbocharged four-cylinder comes with all-wheel drive. Top trims offer a head-up display, heated front seats, and high-quality leather upholstery. An 8.8-inch infotainment screen is standard, but the 12-speaker Bose audio system and SiriusXM satellite is exclusive to upper-trim models.
- Base price: $21,445
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 31/28/36 (FWD sedan) mpg
- Cargo space: 13 (sedan), 20 (hatchback) cubic feet
The 10th-generation Honda Civic might as well work at Domino's for how often it delivers on everything we want. From a competent base sedan all the way up to a 306-hp turbocharged Civic Type R hatchback, the Civic is one of only a few cars in this segment with spirit. The base sedan gets a fuel-efficient 158-hp four-cylinder with a CVT. A 174-hp turbocharged four-cylinder is standard on the hatchback and on upper-trim sedans. No matter how you slice it, the Civic's suspension tuning makes it fun to drive without sacrificing tolerability. A new Civic is coming mid-2021 with all-new looks, an updated interior, with hatchback, Si, and Type R versions to follow.
- Base price: $22,245
- EPA Fuel Economy combined/city/highway: 36/32/42 mpg
- Cargo space: 15 (sedan) 25 (LX and Sport Touring hatchback) cubic feet