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8 Affordable Compact Car Options

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
October 31, 2011
5 min. Reading Time

Almost every automaker out there's got at least one compact car in the mix, and these models are frequently positioned as an affordable, entry-level option for buyers who need reliable and efficient daily transportation that's a step above a subcompact in terms of size and comfort. We are fortunate to be living in an era where there are many excellent compact vehicles to choose from, even at the lower end of the market. That being said, there are always a few examples that stand out for one reason or another, making them well worth a test drive before you decide what your next compact car purchase will be.

Let's take a look at eight compact vehicles that combine affordability and quality into one attractive package.

01. 2012 Mazda MAZDA3

The 2012 Mazda Mazda3 has been given a refresh for the current model year, and the biggest news can be found under the hood where the compact car shows off its new SkyActiv engine option. The 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G motor is a four-cylinder technological tour-de-force, offering 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque while maintaining an excellent EPA fuel mileage rating of 28-mpg in stop and go driving and 40-mpg on the highway. A six-speed automatic and a six-speed manual transmission can be paired with the SkyActiv power plant.

The 2012 Mazda MAZDA3, which comes in both hatchback and sedan editions, can also be ordered with a more traditional, 148 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 2.5-liter, 167 horsepower unit. These motors offer slightly less impressive fuel mileage, but balance out the equation by being either more affordable or by offering stronger acceleration.

02. 2011 Volkswagen Golf

The 2011 Volkswagen Golf features a two-door or four-door hatchback design that gives it a high level of practicality when compared to a more traditional sedan body style. The Volkswagen Golf can haul up to 46 cubic feet of gear with the rear row folded down, providing almost crossover-like storage capacity. The Golf is also noticeable for a suspension setup that offers a good balance between comfort and control, blessing the compact car with a level of handling prowess on par with more expensive models.

The 2011 Volkswagen Golf makes use of a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine in the base model, good for 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage for this motor shows as 23-mpg city and 30-mpg highway, and it can be matched with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. A 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder can also be had with the Golf TDI, and this 140 horsepower motor generates 236 lb-ft of torque and returns exceptional fuel economy in the range of 30-mpg around town and 41-mpg on the highway. Buyers of the Golf TDI can choose between either a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox.

03. 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze heralds a small car renaissance at the domestic automaker. The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan is a competent cruiser that can be had in extremely fuel efficient trim, erasing memories of the Chevrolet Cobalt that preceded it. The Cruze is also notable for providing a high quality interior and a healthy amount of room for occupants both front and rear.

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is initially offered with a 136 horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Also capable of generating 122 lb-ft of torque, this motor is matched with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox and returns fuel economy of 22-mpg city and 35-mpg highway. A 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine is positioned as the Cruze's fuel saver, and in addition to providing 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque the unit is good for fuel economy of 28-mpg in the city and 42-mpg on the highway in Eco trim. Transmission choices for the turbo engine remain the same.

04. 2011 Toyota Corolla

The 2011 Toyota Corolla can be thought of as the compact sedan segment's old standby, an inexpensive commuter car that oozes the kind of reliability and predictable handling and ride quality that have helped Toyota build its reputation in the United States. All versions of the Corolla come with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is included free of charge, but a four-speed automatic can be added as an option. Fuel mileage for the 2011 Toyota Corolla checks in as 28-mpg in stop and go driving and 35-mpg during highway cruising.

05. 2011 Nissan Sentra

The 2011 Nissan Sentra is a stylish and spacious compact sedan that can be ordered in conservative base trim or optioned up all the way to the SE-R and SE-R Spec V sport models. The Nissan Sentra also comes with a high level of standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows and door locks and a CD player.

The 2011 Nissan Sentra's primary workhorse is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder motor that is rated at 140 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is included with entry-level cars, while a continuously-variable automatic transmission is also available (and indeed becomes standard on all other trim levels except the SE-R Spec-V). Fuel mileage for the well-tuned mill comes in at 27-mpg city and 34-mpg highway. The Sentra SE-R jumps up to a 177 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that also provides 172 lb-ft of torque, while the Sentra SE-R Spec V churns out 200 horses and 180 lb-ft of torque from a tweaked version of the same engine. The latter model is found exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.page]06. 2012 Mazda MAZDA5

The 2012 Mazda MAZDA5 might seem like an unusual vehicle to include on this list, but this compact people mover straddles the line between minivan and crossover and is often selected by buyers looking for an inexpensive six-passenger vehicle. The all-new-for-2012 Mazda MAZDA5 also offers substantial interior cargo space despite its diminutive exterior dimensions, and its suspension system has been tweaked to give it a degree of handling no other minivan can match.

The 2012 Mazda MAZDA5's only engine option is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder that pushes out 157 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage for the unit, which can be teamed up with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, shows as 21-mpg in stop and go driving and 28-mpg on the highway.

07. 2012 Hyundai Elantra

The 2012 Hyundai Elantra is another recently redesigned model that has been making waves in the compact sedan segment. The Hyundai Elantra's easy on the eyes styling and long list of standard equipment are two of the main reasons that the vehicle has risen higher on the lists of entry-level buyers. It also doesn't hurt that the Hyundai comes with one of the longest warranties in the business.

The 2012 Hyundai Elantra is outfitted with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. With 148 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Elantra has sufficient motivation for passing and merging while still returning a frugal 29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway at the fuel pump. Transmission choices for the Hyundai include a six-speed auto and six-speed manual.

08. 2011 Subaru Impreza

The 2011 Subaru Impreza is unique on this list thanks to its standard all-wheel drive, which makes it the compact sedan (or hatchback) of choice for those forced to regularly deal with slippery winter weather. The Subaru Impreza also has a very useful side to it when ordered with a fifth door, as the hatchback's 52.4 cubic feet of total cargo space is an added bonus for drivers with a frequent need to haul oversized items.

The 2011 Subaru Impreza starts out with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine that generates 170 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for this motor is listed at 20-mpg around town and 27-mpg on the highway. The Impreza WRX offers a 265 horsepower, turbocharged version of the same engine that also generates 244 lb-ft of torque, a trim level that drops the vehicle's auto tranny option as well as its fuel mileage rating.


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