Honda Civic

Honda Civic (Photo by R Nolan on Unsplash)

Have you ever found yourself in a crowded parking lot where the only spaces you can find are reserved for compact vehicles? Believe it or not, those small but powerful cars offer many more benefits than just squeezing into a tight spot (though that is a great bonus!). Compact cars tend to offer higher gas mileage, a lower average purchase price, and more affordable maintenance expenses. While these models may have a smaller footprint, many of the best compact cars have found creative ways to include comfortable legroom, organization, and cargo space for drivers to enjoy.

It’s no secret that many Americans are looking to stretch their gas budget a little further. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 Gen Z and 1,000 millennial car owners or lessees finds that rising gas prices and other auto costs have led 42 percent of respondents to seek a better-paying job or side gig to help pay for their car’s upkeep. With rising fuel costs becoming a nationwide hot topic, the superior fuel economy that comes along with many compact cars is looking increasingly appealing to car shoppers.

But even with higher gas prices, Americans still love to get behind the wheel and hit the open road. Research suggests that about three in four people prefer traveling by car than by plane — even when it means a painstakingly longer trip. According to a recent survey of 2,000 adults commissioned by Ford, the average participant would rather add up to 6.5 hours of travel time to their journey by taking the car instead of dealing with the stress of getting on an airplane. Out of three options for traveling presented to the survey participants — plane, train, or automobile — the participants preferred cars the most and planes the least. In all, 73 percent of participants preferred taking a long road trip to get to their destination than traveling by plane.

If you’re ready to maximize your fuel economy, minimize your auto expenses, and enjoy the many benefits of modern compact vehicles, you’re not alone. Auto manufacturers have put significant research and development into designing compact cars that meet the needs of today’s drivers, which means there are more choices than ever before. Not sure which vehicle is right for you? StudyFinds did the research for you and compiled this list of the best compact cars for 2024 according to expert reviews. And as always, if you have a favorite we missed, be sure to let us know in the comments below!

gray Honda sedan parked on road during day
Honda Civic (Photo by TopSphere Media on Unsplash)

The List: Best Compact Cars, According to Auto Experts

1. Honda Civic

Perhaps the quintessential compact car, the Honda Civic has been earning its spot at the top of expert rankings for over 50 years. The 2024 model seamlessly blends safety and style, bringing it right to the number one spot on our list. “For compact car shoppers, it’s hard to make a better choice than the Honda Civic,” boasts Kelley Blue Book. “Honda’s entry-level car is a stalwart of the segment and boasts a decades-long reputation for providing reliability, value, and efficiency. It’s even a joy to drive, whether you’re tackling the daily commute or a weekend road trip.”

black four door sedan
2024 Honda Civic (Photo via automobiles.honda.com)

“The current-generation Honda Civic is one of the automaker’s best yet,” says Edmunds. “Just about everything you’d want from a small sedan or hatchback is here, including plenty of interior room, pleasing performance, and nearly all of the latest technology and driver assist features Honda has on offer. There’s even the high-performance 315-horsepower Type R version to satisfy driving enthusiasts.”

Whether your commute is a mile or 100 miles, the Civic is sure to offer you a pleasant and fuel-efficient ride for years to come. As TrueCar adds, “in 2022, the Civic was named North American Car of the Year for its exceptional design, spacious cabin, and enjoyable driving experience. Two years later it remains one of America’s most popular cars with a class-leading combination of fuel economy, comfort, top safety ratings, and a well-earned reputation for reliability.”

2. Hyundai Elantra

If you’re looking for an affordable vehicle with impressive technology, gas mileage, and performance, the Hyundai Elantra is a great option to consider. With an attractive interior and exterior to match its top-notch features, the Elantra earns expert nods for providing a great bang for your buck. As CarMax puts it, “the Hyundai Elantra is one of our favorite choices when it comes to value. It offers an appealing combination of high-tech features, fuel-efficient engines, and many standard features.”

2024 Hyundai Elantra (hyundaiusa.com)
2024 Hyundai Elantra (hyundaiusa.com)

“Yet along with the bold styling and all the technology available, the Elantra still delivers what most people want from a small sedan,” explains Kelley Blue Book. “It’s relatively affordable to buy, with low running costs. It’s spacious, offering plenty of room for people and luggage. And the Elantra is safe, named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and awarded a maximum 5-Star overall score by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).”

And despite its small size, the Elantra handles bumpy roads better than you may expect. You can commute with confidence, even on streets that have seen better days. As U.S. News adds, “The Elantra is comfortable to drive on less-than-perfect pavement, and it feels surprisingly agile through turns, especially in its N and N Line configurations.”

3. Toyota Corolla

You’d be hard-pressed to find a list of compact cars that doesn’t include the Toyota Corolla. The Corolla is an undeniable classic, and experts consistently applaud its safety and reliability. According to Automoblog. “Toyota’s reputation for durability and parts availability has made the Corolla a fail-safe choice in the compact segment. It’s also the best-looking Corolla yet!”

2024 Toyota Corolla
2024 Toyota Corolla (toyota.com)

“The Toyota Corolla has been in continuous production since 1966. In that time, it’s become a benchmark for safe, reliable, and practical personal transportation,” adds Kelley Blue Book. “Now in its 12th generation, the Corolla builds on that reputation with a modern spin on a proven formula. The styling and technology are thoroughly modern, but the Corolla still impresses on its historic strong suits with excellent safety scores and outstanding fuel economy.”

“There’s an old saying that nobody has ever gotten in trouble with their parents when they buy a Toyota Corolla. While the latest generation of the long-popular Corolla sedan and hatchback might not be the most thrilling compact car you can buy, I think it’s still a rock-solid choice in the competitive segment,” notes a U.S. News reviewer. “The Corolla was one of the first compact cars to provide a full array of safety and driver assistance technology, and I feel that the latest version of Toyota Safety Sense still beats most competitors in both breadth and its unintrusive function. You must consider the Corolla if you’re looking for a ride with a supreme reputation for quality and longevity.”

4. Mazda3

If you have a taste for the finer things in life but are shopping on a budget, the Mazda3 may just be the compact vehicle for you. Built with all the basics you need and plenty of the bells and whistles you want, you’re sure to notice the extra attention to detail. As Car and Driver says, “the 2024 Mazda 3 is for people who like their ice cream with hot fudge on top. The 3 may be from a mainstream brand, but it’s sweetened up enough to almost pass for a premium-class compact. The interiors of the top trims are appointed in stylish materials that convey a sense of quality that competitors like the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra can’t match.”

2024 Mazda3 Sedan (mazdausa.com)
2024 Mazda3 Sedan (mazdausa.com)

Of course, appearance may not be everything, but it’s certainly something to consider for many car buyers. The Mazda3 expertly bridges the gap of small and stylish, making a compact car that’s worth a double take. As Road & Track claims, “the Mazda 3 might be the prettiest compact car on sale today. Factor in the available stick shift and the available all-wheel-drive (though not at the same time) and the luxury-inspired interior, and you have yourself an excellent daily-driver.”

This car is definitely nice to look at, but don’t be mistaken. The Mazda3 is far from all looks. As CarMax puts it, “driving the Mazda3, even with the standard engine, is an engaging and exciting experience. Steering and handling are excellent, with minimal body roll through corners and lots of confidence on a twisty road. The ride quality is a bit bumpy, but we think it’s an easy trade-off when you consider how fun the 3 is to drive.”

5. Kia Forte

The Forte may not be not among the first compact cars to come to mind, unlike many of the other classics on this list. But that doesn’t mean it can’t keep up with the competition. As Edmunds puts it, “It’s typically priced a little less than its direct rivals and, depending on the trim level, comes with a few extra features. Combined with high fuel economy, strong performance from the GT trim, and a generous warranty, the Forte provides compelling value.”

2024 Kia Forte (kiamedia.com)
2024 Kia Forte (kiamedia.com)

For frequent road trippers, the Forte offers a surprisingly roomy cabin and well above average fuel economy. As U.S. News says, “the Forte is a great option if you’re looking for a fuel-efficient and feature-packed compact car that won’t break the bank. It also provides a good amount of passenger and cargo space. The front row affords plenty of space for the class, and the seats are quite comfortable in both rows. The rear row has sufficient head and legroom for adults.”

And if the first thing you do when looking at a car is read through the list of features, be sure to check out the Kia Forte. Packed with a lengthy list of bells and whistles for its price, the Forte looks and feels surprisingly upscale. “Looking for a small sedan that’s stylish and packed with features? The Kia Forte just might be your best choice,” claims CarMax. “The Forte’s cabin feels pretty plush for the price and has a simple control layout. With impressive cabin construction and high-quality materials, few vehicles in this class feel this nice.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links.

Lea la versión en español en EstudioRevela.com: Los Mejores Autos Compactos para 2024: Los 5 Mejores Sedanes Pequeños Más Recomendados por Expertos.

About Anna Landry

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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1 Comment

  1. William Owens says:

    I totally agree with the Kia Forte being on the list. I purchased a beautiful gravity gray 2023 in July. I’m 59 years old and the Kia was my first new car in my life. The car that I traded in was a 2006 Kia optima LX and it only had 87,000 miles on it but it had issues and given that it was 15 years old it was time to get a new car.

    I did my research and Toyota and Hondas and Mazdas came up in the search but the problem was I could not afford the prices for the models with the equipment that I wanted I became very frustrated and I almost gave up and just kept my old Kia but as luck would have it it was on its last leg and it was time to act.

    I took a leap of faith and I went to my local Kia dealership in Tulsa to take a look at the new kias unfortunately there were very few models on the lot to look at. I asked the salesman of what is the deal with the Forte availability? Why aren’t there very many on the lot and he’s plainly said… it’s our number one seller and it is out selling the Optima and many of the SUVs. That peaked my interest even more.

    I test drove one of the basic models of the Forte it was beautiful to look at, the interior is quality all the way, precise but not overcompensating steering, comfortable seats, and an amazingly smooth and quiet… I mean quite ride, but it was lacking in certain safety and upgrades that I was wanting especially since this was my first new car.

    My salesman did a check to see what incoming shipments of Fortes was compromised of. The next shipment was a bunch of the LSXs, GTs, and GT N-Line. The last two models were out of my budget. I settled on the LSX that I now have. Not being able to test drive an LSX, took that leap of faith and in the next shipment was a unique LSX that had 96%ish the features of the GT. It took a week to arrive and was worth the wait. Everything I wanted and needed and even with the 4-year extended warranty (total of 10-years bumper to bumper, it came in at a few dollars over $28,000. Yes, that is correct.

    I have thoroughly loved this car. I have not found one thing I wished KIA would have done differently. People ask to look at inside, trunk, and under the hood. They are blown away knowing it not a new car company called KN. Yup, it’s a KIA. My 86-year-old mother drove it. She is seriously considering buying one just like mine. She’s a hard customer to please. Obviously, KIA won her.

    I have a total of 1400 miles since July 25… delivered on my birthday.

    To all of you at KIA. You are killing it!!!