It's been a particularly good 12 months for small automobiles, and some of the best compact cars for 2015 are re-shaping the segment in the face of the explosion of new technologies, styling trends, and fuel-saving engineering advances now available from a wide range of brands. Performance is up, and so is comfort, but even those seeking a steady, dependable commuter are well served by the current crop of small cars. We've put together a quick list of some of the best compact cars for 2015 that have caught our collective eye over the course of the past year.
1) 2015 Ford Focus ST
The 2015 Ford Focus ST blew into town like a summer camp lifeguard flexing his or her muscles on the beach, a newcomer that surprised sport compact performance car fans with its surprisingly well-tuned chassis and healthy turbocharged horsepower. Featuring a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder unit that puts out 252 ponies and 270 lb-ft of torque, the Ford Focus ST quickly found itself near the apex of the hot hatch scene after a prolonged Blue Oval absence in that area of the market. Suddenly, a lot of other compact contenders are playing catch-up to a vehicle that no one expected to be this good.
2) 2015 Subaru BRZ
The 2015 Subaru BRZ is a rear-wheel drive compact coupe that’s unlike anything else in the brand’s tightly-edited lineup. Developed in partnership with Toyota (and also marketed as the Scion FR-S), the Subaru BRZ is lauded for the purity of its driving experience and its affordable pricing. The vehicle is based around a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer-style engine that helps to keep the BRZ's center of gravity low while delivering a high-revving 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, managed by the choice of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
3) 2015 Dodge Dart
The 2015 Dodge Dart was an important introduction for the Pentastar brand, since it hadn't offered a compact sedan since the long-departed Neon in the mid-2000s. The Dodge Dart exemplifies the corporate synergy between Dodge and Italian parent Fiat, in that the Dart borrows its underpinnings from one of the conglomerate's European sedans. The Dodge Dart offers a trio of four-cylinder engine options, but the most interesting mill to the majority of buyers is the 1.4-liter, turbocharged unit that provides 160 horsepower and a refreshing 41 mpg on the highway.
4) 2015 Nissan Sentra
The 2015 Nissan Sentra doesn’t exactly dazzle, but that's partly by design: this four-door compact sedan is intended to offer reliable, conservatively-styled transportation at an appealingly low price. The Nissan Sentra was engineered to compete against its high profile rivals, and the car features Nissan's continuously variable automatic transmission technology, available as an upgrade from the standard six-speed manual. The CVT helps the Sentra achieve 30 mpg around town and 40 mpg on the highway from a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a feat that is also made possible in part by its lightweight design.
5) 2015 Buick Verano Turbo
The 2015 Buick Verano Turbo represents the top trim level for the compact luxury car. The Buick Verano Turbo is important to the domestic premium brand as it adds much-needed grunt to the Verano's portfolio, which had previously been criticized for offering middling performance. 250 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine put those complaints to bed in a hurry, and the availability of a six-speed manual transmission to complement the standard six-speed automatic adds a touch of driver involvement that had been missing from the base Verano.
6) 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
The 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible is the topless version of the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle coupe that was introduced in 2012. What most potential drop-top buyers might not be aware of is the fact that the Volkswagen Beetle Convertible can be ordered with a TDI (turbodiesel) four-cylinder engine, making it one of the rare diesel convertibles on the market in the United States. This unit's 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque are in addition to a fuel mileage rating of 31 mpg city and 41 mpg highway - outstanding figures for any vehicle, let alone a 'vert. A base 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder cribbed from the GTI are also available with the Beetle Convertible.
7) 2015 Hyundai Elantra GT
The 2015 Hyundai Elantra GT adds an extra dimension to the Korean automaker's compact car lineup by representing the practical hatchback of the model mix. Not only does the Hyundai Elantra GT offer 51 cubic feet of total cargo space, but it also rides on a different platform than the Elantra sedan - one that is designed to offer more sprightly handling thanks to a reconfigured suspension setup. The Elantra GT maintains the same 145-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine as its four-door counterpart, which means that it also enjoys excellent fuel efficiency (27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway).
8) 2015 Acura ILX
The 2015 Acura ILX is an entry-level premium sedan that aims to join the crowd of compact cars that offer luxury trappings at relatively attainable prices. The Acura ILX has garnered attention not just for its comfort features, but also thanks to its two four-cylinder engines (the more powerful of which is a 2.4-liter unit lifted directly from the Honda Civic Si). This engine is paired exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission, provides 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, and also yields EPA mileage ratings of 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.
9) 2015 Subaru Impreza
The 2015 Subaru Impreza might not be totally fresh, but it's still the all-wheel drive vehicle that's the most frugal at the pump. The Subaru Impreza comes standard with all-wheel drive, and its continuously variable automatic transmission manages to deliver 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway from its 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower engine. A five-speed manual can also be had with the car, which is available in both sedan and hatchback editions. The Impreza has always been popular in the snowbelt, but its newfound fuel efficiency has given it new life in markets where all-wheel drive isn't always a “must-have” on the small car shopping list.
10) 2015 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2015 Chevrolet Cruze pairs excellent efficiency with an attractive exterior, helping the domestic brand become competitive in the entry-level market for the first time in decades. The base 1.8-liter, four-cylinder motor supplied with the Chevy Cruze generates the same 138-horsepower figure as the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s also available with the car, but the latter returns better fuel mileage (up to 42 mpg highway) and more torque (148 lb-ft) thanks to the magic of turbocharging. For the 2015 model year, Chevy’s treated the Cruze to mild exterior updates to help the little sedan stay fresh.
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