The best small cars offer you the perfect balance of pricing, cargo space, ride comfort, technology, and fuel economy. Before you get hung up on the MSRP, warranty, and available features, this list of the best small and compact cars of 2021 will help you compare your options.
Hyundai gave the Elantra a complete redesign for 2021. It's now a lower, longer, and wider coupe-like sedan. There are also several new standard features, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD radio, voice recognition, and an 8-inch touchscreen. Optional features include a touch-free trunk lid and a 10.25-inch touchscreen.
More standard equipment and a reduced number of trim levels mean there are essentially three standard Elantra models to choose from. All have a roomy interior and compliant ride, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine gets excellent fuel economy. The N Line trim packs more power with a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
While there are no significant changes for the 2021 Kia Forte from last year, it's still a great value. It's loaded with safety features and has a user-friendly infotainment system. Despite it being a compact car, you'll find the interior to be roomy, with enough room for adults to sit inside comfortably.
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine power most Forte models. Depending on the trim you buy, it'll have either a manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
Choose the top-level GT trim, and you'll get the upgraded 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Either drivetrain is a great option, with them achieving 27/37 and 31/41 mpg, respectively.
The Versa is another subcompact car that hasn't seen any significant changes for the 2021 model year after Nissan redesigned it for 2020. However, there are still plenty of things to love. It has an upscale feel to the cabin and a fine-tuned suspension for a sophisticated ride.
The trunk is decently sized at 14.7 cubic feet. Standard features include a 7-inch touch screen, a four-speaker stereo system, push-button start, and Bluetooth. Optional features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and a six-speaker stereo system.
Under the hood is a 122-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Depending on the trim, it's paired with either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT.
The Jetta has several new features for the 2021 model. It has a new infotainment system, power-adjustable driver's seat, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wireless capabilities. The Jetta isn't the sportiest car on the road, but it'll reliably serve you.
Sit inside of the Jetta, and you'll appreciate a large amount of space. It boasts 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which puts it at the top of its class. The standard engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 147 horsepower. You'll have a choice between a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. For more performance, consider the Jetta GLI with a 2.0-liter turbo engine with 228 horsepower, along with styling and suspension changes. Both engine options achieve impressive fuel economy at 30/40 mpg and 25/33, respectively.
The Chevy Spark is an impressive little hatchback, and the automaker made the smart choice of not changing anything for the 2021 model. It comes with a long list of standard features, an impressive infotainment system, and responsive handling. Its small size makes it perfect for running the city streets. However, it also means that the cabin and 11.1 square feet of cargo space can feel a bit cramped.
It comes standard with the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system, 7-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, and voice recognition. The four-cylinder engine produces just 98 horsepower and is paired with a five-speed manual transmission. There's also an optional CVT, but it can cause the engine to drag and drone on a bit. The tradeoff for such meager horsepower is that the Spark is also frugal with fuel. EPA-estimated fuel economy ranges between 29-30mpg in the city and 37-38 on the highway.
The distinctive body styling of the Mini Cooper makes it stand out in the see of compact sedans and hatchbacks. The 2021 model has several new additions, including a manual transmission, Oxford Edition availability, Mini Sidewalk, and JCW GP edition. There are three body styles, two- and four-door Mini Hardtop and the Mini Convertible.
Three basic trim levels allow for various customization levels, with color, upholstery, and wheel choices. And that's part of why the Mini majors on personality. That's also evident because it doesn't drive like the typical small car.
The base engine is a 134-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Three additional engine options are a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 189, 228, or 301 horsepower. All Minis are front-wheel-drive.
One of the most popular small cars on the market is this compact sedan. The Honda Civic has a spacious cabin and sharp handling. While the coupe is gone for 2021, the sedan and hatchback are still available.
The interior styling feels high quality but can look a bit dated compared to other cars. The infotainment system is decent but comes standard with a small 5-inch display. An available 7-inch display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and voice recognition give the Civic a more modern feel.
The base engine for the Civic is a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. More models get a 174-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder. The most powerful option is the 306 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine from the Type R hatchback. A six-speed manual transmission comes on some models, but most are equipped with a CVT as standard.
The Toyota Corolla is a classic among the best small cars, with the first generation making its appearance in 1966. Available as a sedan and hatchback, the 2021 model has Android Auto as a standard feature for the first time. The Corolla remains popular because it delivers a smooth ride, is fuel-efficient, and safe.
The Toyota Safety Sense suite comes standard on the Corolla.
It includes pre-collision warning and braking systems, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beam control. Technology includes a 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, and Android Auto.
There are two engine options, a 139 horsepower 1.8-liter base engine and an available 169 horsepower 2.0-liter engine. A Corolla Hybrid is also available as a sedan only.
One of the more stylish choices among compact cars, the Mazda3 has a vast lineup for every taste. There are several new features added to the Mazda3 for 2021. A 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, and there's an available 186-horsepower 2.5-liter engine, and a turbocharged version of the larger engine is also new. With 250 horsepower, it also comes with all-wheel-drive.
Depending on the model, features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, a head-up display, wireless smartphone charging, and leather upholstery.
The Nissan Sentra comes with plenty of safety features and delivers a comfortable, smooth ride. New for the 2021 model year is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard features. Wi-Fi hot spot is now an available feature.
The 149 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine may not be the most exciting option.
However, it's fuel-efficient with 29/39 mpg on the city and highway, and all models are paired with a CVT transmission. There are three trim levels for the Sentra. And every model comes with several in-car technology and driver-assist features.
While there are no significant changes for the 2021 model of the Impreza, it still stands out from the pack. Unlike other cars on this list, it's all-wheel-drive. That gives the car a sporty feel to the handling. You'll appreciate the intuitive infotainment system and spacious feeling cabin with attractive styling.
While the front and rear seats have enough room to be comfortable, the trunk cargo space is a bit small in this compact sedan at 12.3 cubic feet. If this is an issue, consider the hatchback with 20.8 cubic feet.
Powering both body styles of the Subaru Impreza is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There are two drivetrain options, either a five-speed manual or a CVT system. You'll have 152 horsepower, though the CVT system feels a bit more sluggish. The manual transmission gets an EPA fuel economy of 22/30 mpg, and the automatic gets 28/36 mpg.
You'll find the Veloster to be an agile and fun to drive hatchback. The standard base engine is impressive, and there are plenty of impressive powertrain options. The cabin feels nice but isn't overly luxurious. The infotainment system is straightforward to use with a 7-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth.
The cargo space is significantly more than other small sporty cars at 19.9 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats, and it increases to 44.5 cubic feet. Expect to get 27/34 mpg with a 1.6-liter turbo engine and dual-clutch automated transmission.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Golf GTI delivers performance on a compact package ahead of a redesigned 2022 model. But the current version is still a great buy. It boasts a massive 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. Then fold those seats down and have 52.7 cubic feet. The rest of the interior styling feels upscale and nothing like a budget car. Standard technology includes a 6.5-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi hot spot, VW's Car-Net telematics system, and Android Auto, Apple CarPlay.
There's also an available 8-inch touch screen, navigation, and satellite radio. The fuel economy lacks a bit, but that's because the Golf GTI comes with a 228-horsepower turbocharged engine. You'll have plenty of power, with a slight hit at the pump over other compact cars.