Compact sedans are excellent choices for someone looking to downsize from an SUV or larger sedan. They are fuel-efficient, more maneuverable and more importantly, less expensive. Though admittedly, "compact" is a relative term. These cars now border on midsize sedan proportions. Impressively, though, they can still deliver at least 30 mpg in combined driving. And the best part about the cars we've gathered is that they all cost less than $20,000.
The following list is a stat-driven comparison of four compact sedans that are capable of averaging 30 mpg in combined city and highway driving. None of these cars are hybrids, which keeps the cost down and allows us to compare cars that are more popular with the general population.
Ford Focus SE
The Ford Focus SE sedan presents a well-rounded package that is comfortable, fuel-efficient, spacious and fun to drive. Its 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine is the most powerful in this group. The Focus also has the second-largest trunk.
For those who want to squeeze out a bit more fuel economy from the Focus SE, the Super Fuel Economy package adds a few options that raise the car's combined EPA rating from 30 to 33 mpg: a 6.5 percent increase for $95.
Loading up the Focus with options takes you over the $20,000 mark we set for this comparison test, but gives you access to some high-tech features such as active park assist, keyless start and voice-activated audio and climate controls.
Best for: Shoppers who want a comfortable ride with nimble handling; buyers who are willing to pay extra for high-tech features.
Honda Civic LX
If we had made this list a year ago, the Honda Civic might not have been on it. But for 2013, Honda has addressed many complaints we had with the car, and it's now a definite contender in the group. The 2013 Civic sedan received cosmetic upgrades both inside and out, and has a quieter and more refined ride.
With an estimated 32 mpg in combined driving, the Civic LX is tied with the Hyundai Elantra for second best fuel economy. It's also tied with the Mazda 3 for most rear-seat legroom in our bunch. The Civic has an impressive list of standard features, which includes Bluetooth, a rearview camera and iPod connectivity. And the best part is that shopping for a Civic is made easier due to its simplified trim levels. Just pick a color and ask for the LX model.
Best for: Shoppers who frequently carry passengers in the back and want all the features in an easy-to-shop format.
Hyundai Elantra GLS
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra GLS is the least expensive car in our group. This is partly because it is missing a few features like Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls. These are available as options, but once added, the Hyundai loses it price advantage. Despite this, the Elantra is a stylish compact sedan that can deliver an estimated 32 mpg in mixed driving.
The Elantra has the least amount of rear legroom, and our editors have noted that its tight rear headroom can make it tough to get in and out of easily. But what the Elantra lacks in rear-seat legroom, it makes up for in cargo space with the largest trunk of our test group. The Elantra also has the longest new car warranty among the group, lasting two years and 14,000 miles longer than the others. For some people, this alone can be a deciding factor.
Best for: Shoppers who carry a lot of cargo, like the distinctive styling, and want the peace of mind of a five-year warranty.
Mazda 3 i Sport
The 2013 Mazda 3 is not only one of the better handling cars in this group, it is also the most fuel-efficient. Its 2.0 liter "Skyactiv-G" engine has an EPA rating of 33 mpg combined. However, there are a few trade-offs for all this. This first is price: The Mazda 3 i Sport is the most expensive car in our group.
The second is a stiffer ride than its competitors, thanks to a more sporting nature. If you value that sportiness, chances are you'll be OK with the ride quality. And third, the Mazda 3 has the smallest trunk space in the group.
The Mazda 3 is tied with the Civic for the most rear legroom but has a slight advantage due to its taller rear headroom. The i Sport trim level comes with a competitive list of standard features, but for buyers willing to spend a bit more, the i Grand Touring trim level offers extra items such bi-xenon lights and rain-sensing wipers.
Best for: Shoppers who want the rare combination of great handling and fuel efficiency, and don't mind paying a bit extra for it.
Charts, Specifications, Information
For further information:
Compare Compact Car Specs Side-by-Side
2013 Ford Focus Model Review
2013 Honda Civic Model Review
2013 Hyundai Elantra Model Review
2013 Mazda 3