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Best Compact Cars (2023 Shopper’s Guide)

As crossovers, SUVs, and other derivatives entered the fray in the late ’90s and early 2000s, the compact sedan gradually faded into obscurity, overshadowed by car-based contenders like the CR-V, RAV4, and Forester, to name a few. That’s all well and good, but sometimes, you just need a reliable and straightforward small car.

The best compact cars on the market, outlined below, are proof that the eternal “three-box design” still has the goods to win over the hearts of pragmatic buyers. Here is what we recommend if you are in the market for a smaller set of wheels.

Best Compact Cars for 2023

Honda, Toyota, and Mazda top our list. The Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza are also good choices.

Best Overall
2023 Honda Civic
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Strong Reliability
2023 Toyota Corolla
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Sleek & Stylish
2023 Mazda3
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2023 Honda Civic

The eleventh-gen Civic is Honda’s renaissance car, and the Japanese automaker was sure to cover all the bases for its perennial compact sedan. The Civic was all-new for the 2022 model year, and the 2023 variant marks the entrant of the Civic Type R, the latest iteration of Honda’s pocket rocket with a 315-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.

The Honda Civic is available as a sedan or hatchback, and the latter is configurable with a manual gearbox. Moreover, the Civic Si has a 200-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo engine and a six-speed manual, great for Civic fans yearning for the glory days.


  • Fun & Sporty
  • Excellent Fuel Economy
  • Passenger & Cargo Space


  • No front lumbar support
  • Highway Driving Characteristics

Powertrain & Fuel Economy

The base Honda Civic Sport has a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder with 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft. of torque. The sedan has a standard CVT automatic and front-wheel drivetrain, but the hatchback has an optional six-speed manual. The EPA rates the CVT-equipped Civic sedan at a sterling 31 in the city, 40 on the highway, and 35 combined.

Meanwhile, the Civic EX (sedan) and EX-L (hatchback) have a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that generates 180 horsepower and 177 lb-ft. of torque. This engine is only available with a CVT, but it achieves better fuel mileage at 33/42 city/highway and 36 combined.

Interior Layout & Cargo Space

The 2023 Honda Civic sedan has a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase and a wider rear track than before. The former unlocks more rear legroom, while the latter improves the vehicle’s stance and handling. As a result, it offers up to 99 cubic feet of passenger space and 14.8 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk, making it among the roomiest and most practical in the compact class.

The 2023 Civic Hatchback offers 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, with a 1.6-inch wider hatch opening to better accommodate bulky items. Dropping the rear seats will give you more room yet inside the Civic Hatchback.

The base Honda Civic has 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, keyless entry, automatic climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen, an eight-speaker audio system, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Other trim variants receive a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, a bigger nine-inch touchscreen, and a 12-speaker Bose audio system, to name a few.

Honda Civic Safety Ratings & Features

The IIHS named the Honda Civic a Top Safety Pick+, while NHTSA gave it a five-star overall rating for safety. Credit goes to Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) architecture that improves crash safety with stiffer chassis components. Moreover, every Civic comes standard with Honda Sensing advanced driver aids like automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more.

Honda Civic Warranty

The Honda Civic has a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Our comprehensive guide on Honda extended warranties is a good starting point if you drive more miles than the average person.

2023 Honda Civic Starting MSRP

The 2023 Honda Civic sedan is available in four trims: Sport ($26,145), EX ($27,545), Touring ($31,145), and Si ($30,690). Meanwhile, the Civic Hatchback is available in Sport M/T ($26,545), Sport CVT ($26,545), EX-L ($28,845), and Sport Touring ($31,645). All prices are inclusive of the $1,095 destination charge.

2023 Honda Civic

Overall excellent choice for a stylish yet fuel-efficient compact car.

Hatchback model offers additional versatility if you frequently haul cargo.

Proprietary ACE body structure diverts crash energy away from occupants.

2023 Toyota Corolla

Unsurprisingly, the 2023 Toyota Corolla is near the top of our best compact cars list despite not being as exciting or sporty as a Civic or Mazda3. Still, 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!

The 2023 Toyota Corolla is available in multiple flavors like sedan, hatchback, hybrid, or the hotrod GR Corolla and its punchy 300-horsepower 1.6-liter three-cylinder lump.


  • Fuel Economy
  • Refined Styling
  • Spacious Cabin
  • Reasonably Priced


  • Noisy Highway Ride
  • Bland Engine Performance

Powertrain & Fuel Economy

The 2023 Toyota Corolla sedan and hatchback are available with a single engine: a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder mated to a CVT automatic transmission. It has 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft. of torque, better than the outgoing variant’s lifeless 1.8-liter mill.

The larger 2.0-liter engine is more efficient, sipping fuel at an EPA-rated 32 in the city, 41 on the highway, and 35 combined. In addition, the Corolla Hatchback shares the same CVT transmission and front-wheel drivetrain as the sedan, enabling it to achieve similar performance and fuel economy numbers.

Interior Layout & Cargo Space

The 2023 Toyota Corolla is not as spacious as the 2023 Honda Civic and offers less trunk space, but not by much. It offers 88.6 cubic feet of room in the cabin and 13.1 cubic feet of trunk space, enough to remain competitive in the segment. If you want a Corolla but need a bigger trunk, the Corolla Hatchback obliges with 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space, with more room available with the rear seats folded.

The base Toyota Corolla LE has an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, 16-inch steel wheels, and automatic climate control. The range-topping Corolla XSE has LED headlights, faux leather upholstery, a sunroof, heated front seats, and more.

Toyota Corolla Safety Ratings & Features

The 2023 Toyota Corolla was an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and has earned a five-star rating from NHTSA. Furthermore, all Corollas come standard with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0, a driving assist package with updated safety aids like automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning, and a backup camera.

Toyota Corolla Warranty

All Toyota Corollas leave the factory with a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a 60,000-mile corrosion and perforation warranty with no mileage limits.

Furthermore, the Corolla Hatchback offers two years or 25,000 miles of factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years/unlimited mileage. Our guide to Toyota extended warranties will show options to protect your Corolla for longer.

2023 Toyota Corolla Starting MSRP

The 2023 Toyota Corolla Sedan is available in three trims: LE ($22,645), SE ($25,045), and XSE ($27,795). Meanwhile, the Corolla Hatchback starts at $24,060 (SE) and $27,525 for the top-of-the-line XSE trim, including the $1,095 destination charge.

2023 Toyota Corolla

Like other Toyota vehicles, the Corolla has a strong track record of reliability.

Hatchback model offers additional versatility if you frequently haul cargo.

Modest starting MSRP will appeal to pragmatic buyers.

2023 Mazda3

The Mazda3 is the compact car to beat if styling and on-road refinement are top priorities. Mazda got rid of the base 2.0-liter engine for the 2023 model year and gave the standard 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder five more horsepower for a peppier ride. And despite its luxurious features and premium-feeling materials, the Mazda3 is still affordable, making it a shoo-in for our best compact cars list.


  • Posh Interior
  • Crisp Handling
  • Available AWD


  • Tight Rear Legroom
  • Smaller Trunk Space
2023 Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback (2023 best compact cars shoppers guide).
2023 Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback.

Powertrain & Fuel Economy

The base Mazda3 2.5 S has a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger that generates 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft. of torque on a diet of regular 87 or premium 93 octane gas. It now has five more horsepower than the outgoing 2.5 S model, and Mazda tinkered with the engine’s cylinder deactivation technology to improve the fuel economy.

As a result, it achieves an EPA-estimated 28 in the city, 37 on the highway, and a combined 31 mpg, stellar numbers for what is conceivably the most potent base engine on this list. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic are standard, but an all-wheel drivetrain is available in the 2.5 S Carbon Edition trim. Furthermore, the 2.5 S Premium Package FWD has a six-speed manual gearbox.

Meanwhile, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo has a blown 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder with 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque on 93 octane fuel. But with 87 octane gas, it still musters 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft. of torque. The turbo engine comes exclusively with an all-wheel drivetrain and a six-speed automatic. Moreover, it sips fuel at EPA-estimated 23/32 city/highway.

Interior Layout & Cargo Space

The 2023 Mazda3 is available in sedan or hatchback body styles, but neither is best-in-class for interior and cargo room. The sedan offers 13.2 cubic feet of space inside the trunk, which fairs poorly against the Civic and Corolla. However, the Mazda 3 hatchback has a decent 20.1 cubic feet of cargo room, and folding the rear seats reveals a respectable 47.1 cubic feet.

Despite not being the roomiest compact car, the Mazda3’s crowning glory is its posh cabin, making it feel like a more expensive vehicle. The base 2.5 S has an 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen, push-button start, an eight-speaker audio system, a rearview camera, and black cloth seats. Turbo variants receive a leather and heated steering wheel, leatherette seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, and more.

Mazda3 Safety Ratings & Features

The 2022 Mazda3 sedan was an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with a five-star rating from NHTSA (the 2023 model has not yet been rated at the time of this writing). All Mazda3s come with i-Activesense, a package that includes radar cruise control, lane departure warning, driver attention alert, smart brake support, and more. Higher trim variants receive more safety aids like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear cross-traffic braking.

Mazda3 Warranty

The 2023 Mazda3 has a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Our Mazda extended warranty guide shows additional coverage options for up to nine years or 100,000 miles.

2023 Mazda3 Starting MSRP

The 2023 Mazda3 2.5 S starts at $23,615 (sedan) and $24,615 (hatchback). The 2.5 S is also available with the Select, Preferred, Carbon Edition, and Premium Package. The Turbo variant with standard AWD starts at $32,450, while the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus begins at $35,065 (sedan) and $36,365 (hatchback). These figures include the $1,065 destination charge.

2023 Mazda3

Stylish and dynamic, the Mazda3 is more engaging than the average small car.

Mazda’s Skyactiv-G turbo engines offer a hearty dose of power and torque.

More luxurious interior than the starting MSRP would indicate.

2023 Hyundai Elantra

Still on solid momentum from its prestigious 2021 North American Car of the Year award, the Hyundai Elantra lands on our list of the best compact cars for its quirky styling, abundant standard features, roomy cabin, and affordable base price. Furthermore, Hyundai has the high-performance Elantra N, a direct rival to the VW Golf R and Honda Civic Type R with a 276-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

Like Honda with the Civic, Hyundai covers all the bases with its Elantra sedan. It’s available as an N-Line variant with a six-speed manual or eight-speed dual-clutch automatic or as a hybrid that achieves a combined 54 mpg.


  • Spacious Interior
  • Good Fuel Economy
  • Refined Driving Manners


  • Base Engine
  • Plasticky Cabin
  • No AWD Option

Powertrain & Fuel Economy

The base Hyundai Elantra has a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine with 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft. of torque. It has a front-wheel drivetrain and a standard CVT automatic transmission, enabling it to return an EPA-estimated 33 in the city, 43 on the highway, and 37 combined. The Elantra has the weakest base engine in terms of horsepower among its peers, but the excellent fuel economy is worth considering.

The Elantra N-Line could oblige with its 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine if performance is a concern. The package includes a front-wheel drivetrain, a six-speed manual, or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

If you’re looking to hunt down Civic Type Rs, the Elantra N is a worthy pick with its turbo four-cylinder engine. The N badge includes a six-speed manual or an eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission. The EPA rates the Elantra N automatic at 20/30 city/highway and 23 combined. The manual fares better at 22 in the city, 31 on the highway, and 25 combined.

The most efficient Elantra is, of course, the hybrid variant. It has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine, an electric motor, a lithium-ion polymer battery, and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic to return an EPA-estimated 53/56 city/highway and 54 combined.

Interior Layout & Cargo Space

The 2023 Hyundai Elantra is bigger when compared to prior generations, boasting an interior volume of 113.6 cubic feet, among the best in the segment. It also has a generous trunk with 14.2 cubic feet of space to swallow up groceries, sports equipment, or pet supplies.

The base Hyundai Elantra has an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other trim variants include keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, genuine cowhide upholstery, and a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, among other features.

Hyundai Elantra Safety Ratings & Features

The seventh-generation Hyundai Elantra is an IIHS Top Safety Pick with a five-star overall rating from NHTSA. All Hyundai Elantras have a long list of advanced driving aids like forward collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, safe exit warning, and automatic rear braking, to name a few.

Hyundai Elantra Warranty

Hyundai offers the best warranty on this list, with the Elantra having a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Moreover, hybrid Elantras receive an additional 10-year/100,000-mile hybrid warranty. Despite excellent coverage from the factory, some Hyundai owners may still benefit from an extended warranty

2023 Hyundai Elantra Starting MSRP

The Hyundai Elantra is available in SE ($22,065), SEL ($23,315), Limited ($27,915), N-Line ($28,615), and Elantra N ($34,015), all of which include the $1,115 destination charge. Meanwhile, the Elantra Hybrid is available in Blue ($25,665) and Limited ($27,915) trims.

2023 Hyundai Elantra

2023 Elantra is larger than prior model years to increase overall passenger room.

Elantra N offers additional performance and unique styling elements.

10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty provides peace of mind.

2024 Subaru Impreza

While the 2023 Subaru Impreza is among the best compact cars, the Japanese automaker already hit the ground running with updates for the 2024 model year. That said, we will focus on the 2024 model here as it’s the latest Impreza at the time of this writing. 

Now in its sixth generation, the current Impreza is far from its iconic predecessors, with turbocharged Boxer engines and a rallying pedigree to match. However, the 2024 Impreza has Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system as standard and a sporty new RS trim as an option.


  • Proven AWD System
  • Affordable Starting MSRP
  • Generous Standard Equipment


  • Average Fuel Economy
  • Lackluster Base Engine

Powertrain & Fuel Economy

The 2024 Subaru Impreza is only available in a hatchback body style, but the automaker gave it a 10 percent stiffer chassis to sharpen the car’s handling and cornering prowess. The base engine is a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter Boxer four with 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft. of torque. Meanwhile, the Impreza RS has a bigger 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated Boxer engine with 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft. of torque. All Imprezas have a CVT gearbox and AWD, but the Sport and RS trims have an upgraded eight-speed CVT with paddle shifters.

The 2.0-liter Boxer four returns an EPA-rated 27 in the city, 34 on the highway, and 30 combined. The larger 2.5-liter Boxer is rated at 26 in the city, 33 on the highway, and 29 combined. If you have your eye on the RS trim with the 2.5-liter Boxer engine, you won’t lose much in fuel efficiency despite having a nice power bump.

Interior Layout & Cargo Space

The Impreza’s interior is not as posh as the Mazda3, but it has a great lineup of standard features. The base Impreza has steering-responsive headlights, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, and dual seven-inch infotainment screens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s a practical hatchback that offers 20.8 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats. If you need more, folding the back chairs reveals 55.3 cubic feet of storage room, among the best in the compact segment.

Subaru Impreza Safety Ratings & Features

The 2023 Subaru Impreza was an IIHS Top Safety Pick with a five-star rating from NHTSA, and we would expect similar ratings for the 2024 model year. In addition, all Imprezas leave the factory with EyeSight, a package that includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-keeping assist, and more. The Impreza RS has more safety aids like blind-spot detection and automatic emergency braking.

Subaru Impreza Warranty

The 2024 Subaru Impreza has a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Options are available to extend the warranty on any Subaru vehicle, including the Impreza.

2024 Subaru Impreza Starting MSRP

The 2024 Subaru Impreza hatchback is available in three trim variants: Base ($24,085), Sport ($26,085), and RS ($28,975). The prices are inclusive of the $1,090 destination charge.

2023 Subaru Impreza

Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive provides excellent all-weather capability.

Hatchback design is stylish and versatile.

Reasonable starting MSRP will appeal to sensible car buyers.

Best Compact Cars: Conclusion

The best compact cars will serve buyers prioritizing affordability, fuel economy, and practicality without sacrificing style and the fun-to-drive factor. And with the option of all-wheel drive for some models (standard for others), the humble compact car can perform in various weather conditions minus the heft and higher costs associated with crossovers or SUVs.

Alvin Reyes is an Automoblog feature columnist and an expert in sports and performance cars. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.