The sheer variety of small, compact automobiles currently available is nothing short of astounding. Gone are the days when a smattering of hatchbacks and a few sedans were all entry-level shoppers had to choose from. Now, everything from turbocharged four-cylinder engines to fuel-sipping diesel drivetrains can be ordered in vehicles that range from traditional four-doors to cube-like crossovers to condensed minivans. There has rarely been a better time to drive home in a new, affordable and frugal compact car.
Let's take a quick look at eight automobiles that offer a glimpse at the variety of the current compact scene.
The 2012 Buick Verano continues the premium automaker's trend of sharing platforms with its GM siblings without producing carbon copies of the same vehicle. The Buick Verano effectively repurposes the underpinnings of the Chevrolet Cruze in order to create an inexpensive yet luxury-oriented compact sedan. The Verano comes with a highly stylized exterior treatment that firmly places it within the Buick family, as well as revamped interior materials and a long list of comfort features suited to its high end image.
The 2012 Buick Verano is motivated by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that can't be found in any other compact sedan from General Motors. The unit is good for 180 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage for the Verano is rated at 21-mpg city and 31-mpg highway.
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf provides the choice between two-door and four-door hatchback body styles. The Volkswagen Golf offers a 12.4 cubic foot 'trunk' between the back of the rear seat and the hatch, and this handy storage area can expand to 46 cubic feet in total with that same row folded forward. This makes the Golf a very practical wagon replacement. The vehicle is also notable for its quiet cabin and responsive handling compared to other automobiles in its class.
Underneath the hood the 2012 Volkswagen Golf is gifted with a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine that has been tuned to provide 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the hatchback shows as 24-mpg in stop and go driving and 31-mpg on the highway, and transmission choices include both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.
The 2012 Nissan Sentra compact sedan offers several different faces depending on the trim level it is ordered in. The Nissan Sentra's base, S and SL models are oriented towards offering varying degrees of daily commuter car comfort, while the SE-R steps up with a stiff suspension system, an attention-grabbing body kit and other sporty features in order to make a play for the performance crowd. The Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V provides an even more tightly focused street and track package.
The 2012 Nissan Sentra starts out with a 140 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder as its entry-level engine. Also good for 147 lb-ft of torque, this motor can be matched with either a six-speed manual or a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the thrifty 2.0-liter checks in at 27-mpg city and 34-mpg highway. The Sentra SE-R gains a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder mill that produces 177 ponies and 172 lb-ft of torque (while offering fuel economy figures of 24-mpg city and 30-mpg highway) and the SE-R Spec V squeezes 200 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque (along with slightly lower fuel mileage) out of a more highly-strung version of the same engine. Both the SE-R and SE-R Spec V are available exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.
The 2012 Mazda MAZDA5 is an all-new take on the Japanese company's compact minivan. The Mazda MAZDA5 retains the competent cornering capability and sporty bias that separates it from much larger minivans while still offering up to six passenger seating and a substantial amount of interior cargo space with the second and third rows out of the picture.
The 2012 Mazda MAZDA5 brings a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine to the table that is capable of producing 157 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. Unlike any other minivan on the market the MAZDA5 can be had with a row-it-yourself six-speed transmission when ordered in Sport trim. A five-speed automatic is also available with the people mover, and fuel economy for the compact Mazda van shows as 21-mpg city and 28-mpg highway.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza is another fresh face on this list, a clean-sheet design that substantially improves on the previous generation of this compact competitor. The 2012 Subaru Impreza is offered in both five-door hatch and four-door sedan iterations, and it also features a refined and spacious passenger compartment as well as smoother exterior styling.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder is a new engine that aims to provide better fuel economy for the compact automobile than was available in previous model years. 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque are on tap from this unit, which also delivers fuel economy of 27-mpg in stop and go driving and 36-mpg during highway cruising. These are very solid numbers for a vehicle that features standard all-wheel drive and are made possible in part thanks to the availability of a continuously-variable automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission is also offered with the Impreza.
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is the most efficient edition of the German brand's almost-mid-size compact sedan. The room Volkswagen Jetta TDI is one of the better-equipped models, featuring standard items such as cruise control, heated seats, a trip computer and Bluetooth connectivity. Opting for the TDI Premium trim adds niceties like a sunroof and an upgraded multimedia system, and a navigation system is also available with the automobile.
At the heart of the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that puts down 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The Jetta TDI offers eyebrow-raising fuel mileage numbers of 30-mpg around town and 42-mpg on the highway, and transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
The 2012 Hyundai Elantra is one of the most stylish compact sedans currently available, and it backs up its handsome appearance with substantial value in the form of a long list of available gear. All editions of the Hyundai Elantra come with a CD player, power windows and door locks and satellite radio, while items such as cruise control, heated front and rear leather seats, a backup camera and a navigation system can all be added to the vehicle's window sticker.
The 2012 Hyundai Elantra features a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the default gearbox for the Elantra, but a six-speed auto is also available as an option. Fuel economy for the affordable compact sedan comes close to matching that of the Jetta TDI: 29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway.
The 2012 Scion xB's box-like shape appeals to drivers seeking a quirky yet practical compact crossover. In addition to an extensive customization program available directly from the factory, the Scion XB also provides five passenger seating and a healthy 70 cubic feet of total cargo space - a carrying capacity that rivals much larger sport-utility vehicles. Air conditioning, a Pioneer stereo system, Bluetooth and keyless entry are all included free of charge with the crossover.
The 2012 Scion xB is motivated by a 158 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that also provides 162 lb-ft of torque. Transmissions available with the xB include a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic, and fuel mileage figures for the crossover shows as 22-mpg in stop and go driving and 28-mpg on the highway.