In addition to their 4-cylinder engines, one thing the best compact 4-cylinder sedans all have in common is an affordable price point. With the average new-car transaction price hovering at an astounding $33,000, it’s remarkable to see just how much car $20,000 buys these days. Another thing you’ll find in the best small 4-cylinder sedans is reliability. For the most part, all are using proven engine designs. Further, as a rule, these are pretty uncomplicated cars. Which is not to say they’re boring or shoddily made. After all, the compact 4-cylinder sedan is usually a manufacturer’s first shot at getting young buyers into the fold — and giving them reason to want to remain throughout their car buying careers.
The Best Compact 4-Cylinder Sedans
Chevrolet Cruze was the first indication General Motors had finally figured out how to build a competent small sedan. With its attractive styling, handsome interior, and broad array of features, Cruze gave 4-cylinder sedan buyers a reason to look at a Chevrolet product. Three engine choice are offered; a 1.4-liter turbo with 138 horsepower and 148 ft-lbs of torque; a normally aspirated 1.8-liter with 138 horsepower and 125 ft-lbs of torque; and a 2.0-liter diesel with 151 horsepower and 254 ft-lbs. Transmission choices for the front drive compact sedan are a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $16,170.
Though technically a subcompact, the Sonic’s heart is so big it acts like a compact. Excellent road manners, a roomy passenger compartment and trunk, an engaging personality, and a generous feature set are all qualities you’ll find in this small 4-cylinder sedan. The two engine choices are a 138-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo with 148 ft-lbs of torque, and a 138-horsepower normally aspirated 1.8-liter with 125 ft-lbs of torque. If you’re performance oriented, the turbo feels more robust. While Sonic’s front wheels are usually fed through a six-speed manual transmission, a six-speed automatic is optional. Pricing starts at $15,070.
Easily one of the best looking offerings among the best compact 4-cylinder sedans, the Dodge Dart’s Alfa Romeo roots shine through rather vividly. In addition to good looks, the Dodge delivers a roomy cabin, a nice selection of features, and strong safety scores. Dodge offers three engines; a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter with 184 ft-lbs of torque; a 160-horsepower 2.0-liter with 148 ft-lbs of torque; and a 184-horsepower normally aspirated 2.4-liter with 171 ft-lbs. Both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions are available to feed the Dart’s front wheels. Pricing starts at $16,495.
One of the most admired of the best 4-cylinder small sedans, the Ford Fiesta comes to market with a playful personality, agile handling, cutting-edge infotainment, and outstanding build quality. Another plus, Fiesta feels like it should cost considerably more than it does. Engine choices include a 120-horsepower 1.6-liter with 112 ft-lbs of torque and a 123-horsepwer turbocharged 1.3-liter with 125 ft-lbs of torque. If you go with the 1.3, you’ll get a five-speed manual transmission, the 1.6 is also offered with a six-speed automated manual. All Fiesta sedans use front-wheel drive. Pricing starts at $13,965.
Like its Fiesta sibling, Ford’s Focus is a standout in best small 4-cylinder sedan category. Attributes include lively handling, a high degree of refinement, a comfortable ride quality, excellent attention to detail with strong fit and finish, and a thoroughly modern infotainment suite. Power comes courtesy of a 160-horsepower 2.0-liter with 146 ft-lbs of torque. Transmission choices for the front-drive powertrain include a five-speed manual and a six-speed automated manual. Pricing starts at $17,170.
Considered by many a hero car in the best 4-cylinder small sedan segment, the Honda Civic is an acknowledged leader in the segment. This is in large part due to its bulletproof engines, spacious passenger compartment and trunk, outstanding build quality, sumptuous interior materials, and the Honda’s good looking body. Oh, and then there’s the whole strong fuel economy thing — in addition to a wealth of eclectic powertrain choices. You can get a hybrid Civic, a natural gas powered Civic, or if performance is your obsession, the Civic Si is a wonderful little sport sedan. Pricing stats at $18,490.
A real head turner, when the current generation of the Elantra first appeared on the street, many a person did a double take in the lovely compact 4-cylinder sedan’s wake. More than just good looking though, the Elantra offers a strong feature set, a spacious cargo compartment, a quiet, well-built and comfortable interior, and an exceptionally munificent warranty. Engine choices are tied to rim levels. The Sport model gets a 173-horsepower 2.0-liter with 154 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic is optional. All others get a 145-horsepower 1.8-liter with 130 ft-lbs. Elantras are front-wheel drive, and pricing starts at $17,250.
Critics were wowed when the current version of the Kia Forte appeared on the scene. First of all, the compact 4-cylinder sedan’s upscale look blew all expectations out of the water. This, in addition to a roomy interior outfitted with really nice materials, and a generous array of standard features marked Kia’s Forte as an excellent value. The Forte has also proven to be quite reliable. Three engine choices are available; a 145-horsepower 1.8-liter with 130 ft-lbs of torque, a 173-horsepower 2.9-liter with 154 ft-lbs of torque, and 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter with 195 ft-lbs of torque. All are front-drive. The 2.0-liter is available only with an automatic in the sedan, but the others can be had with a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $15,890.
Along with Civic, Corolla, and Jetta, Sentra is probably one of the most recognizable nameplates in this listing of the best small 4-cylinder sedans. There was a time, in the very recent past, when these four were pretty much the meat and potatoes of the compact segment. Times change, and choices have too. What’s remained consistent though is the Sentra is still a very strong pick in this category. First of all, it undercuts many of its rivals in price without sacrificing trunk space, infotainment options, or the upscale nature of its interior. Power comes from a 130-horsepower 1.8-liter with 128 ft-lbs of torque. The front-wheel drive Nissan Sentra offers a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $16,480.
Though technically a subcompact, one peek at the spacious interior of the Versa and you might well consider it one of the best compact 4-cylinder sedans. What’s more, Nissan’s Versa holds the distinction of being the lowest-priced four-door sedan currently offered. Now, with that said, some may find the Versa to be rather modestly equipped, but if you’re looking for solidly reliable transportation, a large trunk, a comfortable ride, and good fuel economy, Nissan’s Versa may be exactly what you’ve been hoping for. The engine is a 109-horsepower 1.6-liter with 107 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed manual is standard on the base model, a four-speed automatic is optional. Upper trim levels get a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $11,990.
If you live in an area subject to heavy snows or extended periods of other inclement weather, your best bet among compact 4-cylinder sedans is the Subaru Impreza. It’s the only model in this category to offer all-wheel drive—and it’s a standard feature. You’ll also find a nice balance of ride and handling, a spacious passenger compartment, and a remarkably high level of contemporary comfort and convenience features; all in the base model. Power comes from a 148-horsepwer horizontally opposed engine with 145 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the sport models. A continuously variable transmission is optional there, but standard with the other trims. Pricing starts at $18,195.
Next time you’re out try this experiment. Look around, we bet you’ll see Toyota Corollas everywhere. Easily one of the best sellers in this category, Corolla’s attributes include rock solid reliability, comfortable and spacious interiors, a healthy array of standard features, and above average safety scores. These keep Toyota factories very busy pumping the front-drive 4-cylinder compact sedans out into the world. For propulsion, go with the 140-horsepower version of the 1.8 with 126 ft-lbs of torque. Base models and the S trim can be had with a six-speed manual. There’s also a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $16,950.
The lone German car on this list of the best 4-cylinder compact sedans, all of the Volkswagen Jetta’s compact 4-cylinder compatriots play in the luxury arena. Happily, Jetta has much in common with them. Built for long distance touring at high speeds, Jetta is comfortable, remarkably agile, well laid out, and offers a handsomely decorated interior hosting a wealth of highly desirable features. Engines range in power from 115 horsepower to 170. The diesel option offers 236 ft-lbs of torque. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic, and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Pricing starts at $17,325.