Buying Guides

The 5 Best Compact Sedans for Everyday Driving

These rides offer a lot in a small sedan-shaped package

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Compact sedans have been the go-to source for practical and attractive rides for millions of people. They make sense. Compact sedans offer a good mix of comfortable seating, powerful and efficient engine options and modern technology all put together in an attractive package. While more and more car shoppers are opting for crossover utility vehicles, there's no denying that the compact sedan plays a major role in the automotive world today. We've rounded up the best ones out there to make your shopping experience easier.

2017 Mazda3


for Driving Enthusiast

  • PROS: Excellent steering lets you put the car right where you want it, smooth-shifting transmission, stylish exterior thanks to Mazda’s Kodo Design language, high-quality interior.
  • CONS: Not very fast from a dead stop with the 2.0-liter engine, rear seats aren’t too spacious, some tire noise, especially over rough pavement.

If you’re looking for a car that combines good looks with excellent driving dynamics, the Mazda3 is the model you want. While other vehicles offer good steering and handling, it’s not quite up to snuff when compared with a Mazda3. That's because the G-Vectoring Control assists the already well-calibrated steering. Aside from how the car drives, the Mazda has an inviting interior and features solid construction. You get some noise from the tires, but otherwise, it is exceptionally enjoyable to be in. The 2.0-liter engine is both powerful (155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque) and efficient (28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway), but acceleration off the line won't push you back into your seat much.

2017 Honda Civic

  • PROS: All-around spacious interior designed to let you stretch out, best looking Civic yet, easy to drive and see out of, quiet and efficient.
  • CONS: Frustrating touchscreen controls make even turning up the volume a chore, CVT is as exciting as Ben Stein.

Honda’s latest Civic is leagues better than the previous generation of the car. It’s more attractive, better to drive and more spacious. While you’ll undoubtedly love getting behind the wheel of this car, you probably won’t like the infotainment system. Its controls are finicky and annoying. However, everything else about the Civic makes up for it. The base model is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but we’d advise you to go with the more powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged mill (174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque). It can be mated to either a manual transmission or CVT and is very efficient (32 mpg city and 42 mpg highway). Engines aside, the cabin of the Civic is quite nice, with comfortable seats and an interior designed to be spacious and quiet.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze


for the technophile

  • PROS: Fuel economy will keep you on the road and away from the gas pump, tech-laden interior with a focus on connectivity, comfortable seats and smooth ride.
  • Rear seats could be too tight for really long drives, driving CONS: CONS: experience isn’t very engaging unless you really push it, manual transmission isn't very good, can get expensive in upper trim levels.

Chevy’s Cruze is a car that we didn’t expect to be very good, but we were wrong. It gives Honda, Mazda and all the other players in this segment a run for their money. Chevrolet has made the Cruze interesting by endowing it with a lot of technology, decent driving dynamics and a comfy ride and interior. It’s also not all that bad looking from the outside. If you want a car that’s all about connectivity, this is a good option. Its infotainment system and connectivity features are robust and easy to use. The Cruze has a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine beneath the hood (153hp and 177 lb-ft of torque) that manages to be pretty darn efficient (28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway). Inside, the cabin is inviting and comfortable, especially in the upper trim levels. Just be careful about how high you let the trim level climb and the options list grow. The price can really shoot high once you start adding stuff.

2017 Kia Forte

  • PROS: Roomy cabin built to easily accommodate multiple occupants, comfortable seating for such a budget-focused car, easy-to-use infotainment system.
  • CONS: Not the smoothest riding car, handling is pretty dull, slower than you may think is acceptable.

The Kia Forte may not be the most exciting car on this list but it can’t be left out due to its comfortable seating, well-laid out cabin and good infotainment system. Where the Civic frustrates you this car makes you happy. The infotainment system’s controls are extremely easy to use and there’s plenty of features. However, where the Civic is great, this car lags behind. The driving dynamics of the Forte aren’t the most exciting, but they do get the job done. The Forte comes with your choice of two different 2.0-liter engines for 2017. We suggest the less powerful of the two in the LX and S trim levels. That engine gives you a good balance of power (147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque) and efficiency (29 mpg city and 38 mpg highway). You can opt for the more powerful engine, but you’ll be trading power for efficiency.

2017 Ford Focus

  • PROS: Smooth and modern infotainment system in the SYNC 3, highly efficient engine options, sporty handling that you can’t help but like.
  • CONS: Snug rear seats make long trips less enjoyable for passengers, interior sports some low-quality materials, kind of noisy at highway speeds, not quick off the line.

A compact sedan list wouldn’t be complete without the Ford Focus. While the sporty hatchback Focus ST is leagues more interesting than the sedan version, you can’t count the conventional, trunk-toting Focus out. Although it comes with some downsides—like a lot of cheaper-looking plastics—it’s really a great car to own. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system offers a smooth, modern interface that gives you access to plenty of features. As far as driving dynamics go, the Focus sedan is good, but not exceptional. It offers sporty handling and peppy, efficient engines. However, when compared to cars like the Mazda3, it comes up a little short. Beneath the hood lies either a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine or a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. While the tiny, whirring 1.0-liter three-cylinder mill will produce seriously good gas mileage (30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway), we’d suggest opting for the 2.0-liter as it punches out a good amount of power (160 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque) while still sipping gas (26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway).

What makes a good compact sedan?

  • Four doors, seating for five
  • Enough legroom and cargo space for four adults
  • Good fuel economy and a modicum performance
  • Attractive design no longer relegated to more expensive sedans

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