While SUVs and crossovers may be all the rage these days, America’s never had a more robust selection of small cars. Today’s compacts and subcompacts deliver handling, performance, safety technology, and amenities that would’ve been unfathomable in decades past. The overall transformation of the class is remarkable. Reasonable acquisition and low operating costs are keys to the segment, of course, but it’s more than just MPGs. Base models offer attractive pricing, while the top trim levels include bells and whistles that you’d expect to see in much more expensive cars. From heated leather seats and Apple CarPlay to safety features like adaptive cruise control, active lane keep, and automatic braking, with today’s small cars, you can have it all.
10 Top Rated Small Cars
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze earns high marks for its roomy interior, smooth ride, and standard 7-inch touchscreen MyLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. A 5-door hatchback joins the Cruze lineup for 2017, with a starting MSRP of $22,115, while the base 4-door starts at $17,850. All Cruze are currently equipped with a 153-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. (A new fuel efficient turbodiesel engine will be offered shortly.) The Cruze sedan is EPA-rated at 30 highway/40 city MPG with the 6-speed automatic transmission, while the 5-door hatchback is rated slightly lower at 29/38. A 6-speed manual transmission is available on the L, LS, and LT trim levels.
Photo Credit: Honda
The Honda Civic is a perennial best seller and the latest redesign takes it to the next level. The interior is quiet and stylish, with plenty of room for passengers and cargo. Handling is tight and the ride is composed. The 2017 Civic is offered as a 5-door hatchback, 2-door coupe, and 4-door sedan with a starting MSRP of $18,740. Opt for the 1.5-liter turbo for the best combination of performance and efficiency. The Civic sedan is EPA-rated at 31 highway/42 city MPG with the 6-speed manual and 31/40 with the CVT automatic. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2017 Honda Civic a Top Safety Pick when equipped with optional front crash prevention.
Photo Credit: Mazda
The crisply styled Mazda3 is one of the best handling small cars for the money. The handsome 4-door sedan has a starting MSRP of $17,845, while the versatile 5-door hatchback starts at $19,095. Sport and Touring models are fitted with a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four cylinder engine, while the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model benefits from an 184-hp 2.5-liter four. The Mazda3 sedan and 5-door hatchback are EPA-rated at 28 highway/37 city MPG with the 6-speed automatic transmission. The IIHS rates the 2017 Mazda3 a Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with optional front crash prevention and bi-LED auto leveling headlights.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Fiat 124 Spider
We couldn’t resist including the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider on our list of 10 top rated small cars. This adorable little drop top roadster is based on the superb Mazda Miata platform, but the spunky 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and retro styling infuse the 124 Spider with a personality all its own. The tiny turbo motor, also found in the FIAT 500 Abarth, pumps out 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque while delivering an EPA-estimated 26 city/35 highway MPG with the 6-speed manual and 25/36 with the 6-speed automatic, on premium gasoline. Pricing starts at $24,995. Opt for the 124 Abarth model and you’ll get four more horsepower and a full-day class at the Bondurant Racing School.
Photo Credit: Subaru
The Subaru Impreza has been completely revised for 2017 and is one of two all-wheel drive vehicles on our list of top rated small cars. All 2017 Impreza are built in Subaru’s Lafayette, Indiana plant and fitted with Subaru’s 152-horsepower 2.0-liter horizontally opposed boxer engine and symmetrical AWD drivetrain. Pricing starts at $18,395 for the base 2.0i sedan and runs up to $24,595 for the 2.0i Limited 5-door hatchback. Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology is available on all models, with the exception of the base sedan and 5-door. The 2017 Impreza sedan is EPA-rated at 28 highway/38 city MPG with the Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual transmission is offered, as well.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
The spunky Volkswagen Golf GTI is the original hot hatchback and one of the highest regarded small cars sold in America. The GTI’s turbocharged direct-injected 2.0-liter produces 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel on the base S trim level ($25,595). Opt for the classic plaid upholstered Sport ($27,995), leather upholstered SE ($30,890), or top-of-the-line Autobahn model ($34,095) to gain ten more HP. The 2017 GTI is EPA-rated at 24 highway/34 city MPG with the 6-speed manual transmission. The IIHS rates the 4-door 2017 Volkswagen GTI a Top Safety Pick when equipped with optional front crash prevention.
Photo Credit: Ford
Ford Focus RS
The all-wheel drive 2017 Ford Focus RS sets a new hot hatchback standard. With dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel drive and 350 horsepower on tap (on 93 octane premium fuel), the 6-speed manual Focus RS delivers a remarkable level of performance for the dollar, at a starting MSRP of $36,120. You can expect a 0-60 MPH time of 4.7 seconds, along with a “top track speed” of 165 MPH. The exterior’s aerodynamic features are purposefully designed, while the interior includes a host of amenities, including partial leather Recaro front bucket seats, dual zone HVAC, and a 10-speaker Sony audio system with Sync 3. The Ford Focus RS is EPA-rated at 19 highway/25 city MPG.
Photo Credit: Toyota
The fourth generation 2017 Toyota Prius delivers phenomenal fuel economy with dramatically improved ride and handling, as well as a host of advanced safety features as standard equipment. The 2017 Prius Two Eco ($24,685) is the most efficient model in the lineup, with an EPA rating of 58 city/53 highway MPG. The base Prius Two is rated at 54 city/50 highway. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2017 Toyota Prius a Top Safety Pick+. Standard safety technology includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, active lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, a backup camera, and automatic high beams. The premium convenience option package adds a color HUD, intelligent park assist, and a 10-speaker JBL audio system.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra earns a spot on our list of 10 Top Rated Small Cars with a winning combination of style, efficiency, safety, and value. Pricing starts at $17,150 for the base SE and runs up to $22,350 for the top-of-the-line Limited. The Hyundai Elantra Eco ($20,650) stakes out the middle ground, with a 128-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter and 7-speed automatic transmission combo that’s EPA-rated at 32 highway/40 city MPG. The new Elantra Sport ($21,650) steps it up with a 201 HP 1.6-liter turbo and a sport-tuned suspension. The Insurance IIHS rates the 2017 Hyundai Elantra sedan a Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with optional front crash prevention and specific headlights.
Photo Credit: Kia
The Kia Soul’s remarkably roomy interior make it a top rated small car for big people. The 2017 Soul is offered in three trim levels. The value-priced Base model ($15,990) is equipped with a 130-horsepower 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and is EPA-rated at 24 city/30 highway MPG. The Soul+ ($19,650) 161-HP 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and 6-speed automatic transmission combo delivers 25 city/30 highway MPG. The range-topping Soul! ($22,650) is fitted with the new 201-HP turbocharged 1.6-liter and 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, along with an interior that features cloth and leather upholstery, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The turbo Soul! is EPA-rated at 26 city/31 highway MPG.