The 2016 class of small cars is having a great time. They’re efficient, they look good, and they’re fun to drive. As the market gets more competitive, it’s even better for prospective buyers. That’s because manufacturers improve existing features, such as outdated infotainment interfaces, and include new standard features, such as the latest active safety equipment. The cars examined here tend to be established favorites rather than relative newcomers, but all offer a unique perspective on the small car formula, and besides, there’s always a chance for the latest models to earn a spot among the party elite. Autobytel’s experts have selected ten of the best small cars to buy right now.
10 Best Small Cars to Buy
Photo Credit: Honda
2016 Honda Civic
The Honda Civic is a long-time favorite, and since it’s been redesigned for 2016, its inclusion on a list of the best small cars to buy is a no-brainer. The Civic is known for providing affordable, efficient, and reliable commuting, and the updated version has also earned stellar safety scores, which should put it on the short list of anyone who needs a budget-oriented new car. The base model earns fuel economy of up to 31 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower. That should be enough for most buyers in this segment, but there’s also a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder option, which makes 174 horsepower. Inside, the Civic is a lot nicer than its price would suggest, with a long list of standard equipment. A coupe and a sedan version of the 2016 Honda Civic are available, and both options seat five passengers.
2016 Mazda Mazda3
Of all the sporty small cars available this year, the 2016 Mazda Mazda3 offers one of the best overall values. The Mazda3 is available in two body styles, sedan and hatchback, both of which have five seats. The cabin of the Mazda3 is one of the class standouts, with an infotainment system that’s intuitive and easy to use, surrounded by a well laid-out dashboard. Interior material quality is good, too, and makes the Mazda3 feel more expensive than it actually is. There’s a couple of drivetrain options: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that yields 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft of torque, and a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft of torque. Both are designed for the most possible enjoyment of that power, while also providing above-average fuel economy, hence their inclusion amongst the 10 best small cars to buy. Front-wheel drive is standard, and the 2016 Mazda3 also offers 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions.
Photo Credit: Audi Media Services
2016 Audi A4
Audi’s A4 sedan is popular among entry-level luxury buyers and is one of the 10 best small cars to buy. The five-passenger A4 isn’t the smallest sedan in the brand’s lineup, but it’s close, coming in just above the A3. Though Audi typically offers several drivetrains in the brand’s mainstream models, the 2016 A4 comes with just one, a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder that’s good for 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of torque. Buyers can opt for the quattro all-wheel drive system (though this really should be the default configuration) and can choose between a 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic, or continuously variable transmission, all of which provide interesting takes on the Audi’s driving experience. Fuel mileage is higher than average for an all-wheel-drive luxury car, too. The 2016 Audi A4 does well in crash tests, and offers plenty of safety equipment.
Photo Credit: Honda
2016 Honda Fit
Despite its petite stature and small footprint, the 2016 Honda Fit is one of the most versatile and well-rounded cars in the category, and one of the best small cars on the market. The Fit is a five-passenger subcompact hatchback that was fully redesigned just last year, giving it fresher looks and more competitive performance while maintaining its affordable point of entry. The Fit is available in several trim levels but with just a single engine. The Fit comes powered by a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower and 114 lb.-ft of torque, which is just enough to hold its own amongst the competition. The Fit’s agile handling also enhances its performance capabilities. Transmission options are a 6-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic; both are good, and the CVT in particular offers great fuel economy of 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway.
Photo Credit: Kia
2016 Kia Soul
The 2016 Kia Soul, a compact five-passenger hatchback, has the styling and the profile of a very, very small SUV. And with that comes SUV-like versatility, albeit on a much tighter scale. The Soul boasts a comfortable passenger compartment and one of the roomiest cargo areas in the category, which makes it a good family-friendly option. The hatch has a low load floor, making it easy to pack and unpack. The Soul also has great safety scores and a long list of available active safety equipment, which are important characteristics in the best small cars to buy. The base Soul comes equipped with a 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, while upper trim levels offer a 164-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. While the base model comes standard with a 6-speed manual gearbox, a 6-speed automatic is available and comes standard with the turbo engine.
2016 Toyota Prius
There are plenty of excellent small hybrid cars, but there’s only one Toyota Prius. (Actually, that isn’t quite true—there are several body styles now bearing the Prius nameplate, but they’re all variants of the original.) The 2016 Toyota Prius is a descendant of the car largely credited for kicking off the hybrid craze, and it represents an excellent all-around value, especially since it’s been completely redesigned for this model year, further cementing its status as one of the 10 best small cars to buy. The updated Prius has good safety scores, which are often a good indicator of a good family vehicle, and lots of safety equipment. The latest version of the Prius’ gasoline-electric drivetrain combines a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and two motors, for a total of 121 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission helps control fuel consumption. While the 2016 Toyota Prius isn’t exactly thrilling to drive, its thrifty EPA ratings are a worthwhile sacrifice.
2016 BMW 3-Series
The 2016 BMW 3-Series is a lineup of upscale small cars, with sedan, hatchback, and wagon bodystyles on offer. Each 3-Series model seats five occupants, and is designed to please passengers and drivers with its combination of high-end comfort and entertaining performance. That said, the base model 3-Series sedan has a relatively reasonable price of entry, and the wide range of styles, engine options, and available features means it’s easy to configure this small BMW to suit a wide range of budgets. Engine options consist of four gasoline, one turbodiesel, and one plug-in hybrid powertrain, all of which make use of a turbocharger to squeeze the most horsepower out of the small-displacement engines. The base 2016 BMW 320i yields 180 horsepower, and the range-topping M3 yields 425 horsepower, with a lot of room in between for specific preferences and budgets.
2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Another solid option for one of the 10 best small cars to buy is the 2016 Mercedes C-Class. It’s available as a five-passenger sedan or a four-passenger coupe, both of which feature slick styling and a vast engine lineup. The C-Class doesn’t rank quite as high for safety as some other cars we’ve discussed, nor is it as practical—both bodystyles may be a tight squeeze in the back for some adults, and it’s not an ideal choice for buyers who keep an eye on gas mileage (though its EPA ratings are good compared to other luxury cars). That said, the C-Class’ performance outshines most other small cars on the market. The base model, the C300 sedan, makes a perfectly competent 241 horsepower; the lineup tops out at the performance-oriented AMG C63 S, which produces 503 horsepower.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
2017 Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra is another small car option that’s available in hatchback and sedan form. While the Elantra sedan is redesigned for 2017, the Elantra GT hatchback was redesigned just last year, and both are among the 10 best compact cars to buy. Both versions accommodate five passengers. Both models come equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but while the Elantra sedan yields 147 horsepower, the Elantra GT boasts 173 horsepower. Both offer the choice between 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions. The new Elantra handles well, if somewhat firm, which can lead to some minor road discomfort. While the new 2017 Hyundai Elantra hasn’t yet been safety tested, the model historically performs well in crash tests and earns high safety scores. There’s a long list of active safety features available to help ease concerns.
Photo Credit: Lexus
2016 Lexus RC
The Lexus RC was introduced in 2015 and adds new engines to the lineup for 2016. This four-passenger coupe straddles the line between performance and luxury; however, its base price reflects its premium features and performance. A total of three engines are available. The base model, the 200t, offers 241 horsepower from its turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. The 300 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 with 255 horsepower; the 350 gets the same V6 as the 300, but with 306 horsepower. The top-performing Lexus RC F comes with a 5.0-liter V8 that makes 467 horsepower. Some models are rear-wheel drive and come with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive versions get a 6-speed automatic. The 2016 Lexus RC scores very well for safety, with strong crash test scores and lots of the latest active safety features.