If you're in the market for a compact car, you'll find the best bargains on the used market. In general, cars lose about 25 percent of their value in the first year of ownership, and this means you can realize big savings even if you purchase a used car that's just one year old.
Although prices in the used car segment have been rising overall, prices of used small cars have been falling. Prices of used compact cars are down by an average of 2 percent year over year. This is a side effect of car buyers' current love affair with trucks and SUVs. The prevailing preference for larger vehicles has also enriched the market with a wide variety of used small cars, since many owners of compact models have been trading up into more sizable transportation.
These factors have coalesced to create an ideal environment for shoppers looking at used compact cars, and the list below spotlights 10 of the most appealing choices available. All the picks on our list have seen price decreases over the past year, and offer the opportunity for tremendous savings.
Affordability is important, but pricing wasn't the only factor we considered. We also looked at overall quality and performance when deciding on our recommendations, so our picks will likely satisfy more than just your wallet.
We've put together a variety of choices. The lineup includes models such as the fun-to-drive Mazda 3, the snow-friendly Subaru Impreza and the green-minded Nissan Leaf.
Our selections are listed alphabetically by make and model. For each pick, our link highlights the most recent choice among the model years we've recommended.
Introduced in 2011, the Chevrolet Cruze sedan is a good choice if you're looking for a small car that delivers capable handling, good fuel economy and a generous trunk. The 2015 model year was the final one for the first generation, and it saw the introduction of 4G cellular and in-car Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, along with a Siri Eyes Free smartphone feature that gives iPhone owners enhanced voice command functionality. Choose a 2015 model if these amenities are important to you.
The selling price of a used 2015 Chevrolet Cruze at dealerships dropped 21 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The first-generation Chevrolet Volt five-door hatchback travels for about 40 miles or so on electric power, and this gives it a longer electric-only range than most plug-in hybrids. Other perks include lots of appealing features and a modern-looking cabin. The Volt was introduced in 2011, and the first generation ran until 2015.
The selling price of a used 2015 Chevrolet Volt at dealerships dropped 29 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The current generation of the Ford Focus launched in the 2012 model year, and became a top pick in its segment. Available as a hatchback and a sedan, the Focus provides agile handling and ample refinement. We especially recommend taking a look at the 2015 model, since the Focus got appealing revisions to its sheet metal and cabin in that model year. Ford also made additions to its lineup of available driver-assistive safety features.
The selling price of a used 2015 Ford Focus at dealerships dropped 22 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Honda Civic sedan impresses with poised handling and strong fuel economy. The car's ninth generation was launched in the 2012 model year, with the tenth generation introduced in 2016. Though all models in the previous generation are a solid bet, it's worth noting that the Civic received upgrades in 2013 that brought in more standard features and improved quality of the materials in the cabin.
The selling price of a used 2013 Honda Civic at dealerships dropped 12 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Hyundai Elantra has lots of features, a large trunk and a cabin that's serene and nicely put together. The fifth generation hit the market in the 2011 model year, arriving with a new engine, attractive new sheet metal and new six-speed transmission.
The selling price of a used 2011 Hyundai Elantra at dealerships dropped 16 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
A 2014 redesign made the Kia Forte a leader in the compact car segment, adding sleek styling and an upgraded cabin. Available as a sedan, coupe and hatchback, the Forte entices with handsome body styling and a long list of high-end amenities.
The selling price of a used 2014 Kia Forte at dealerships dropped 12 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Mazda 3 provides a truly engaging driving experience, delivering sharp handling and crisp acceleration. The car comes in both hatchback and sedan configurations. The Mazda 3's second generation launched in 2010, and it's quite impressive. However, choose a model from the third generation — launched in the 2014 model year — if you want to benefit from upgraded styling and engines with increased power and fuel efficiency.
The selling price of a used 2014 Mazda 3 at dealerships dropped 12 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Nissan Leaf hatchback has long been one of the top-selling electric cars in the land, and among EVs, it was second only to the Tesla Model S in total sales for 2015. The Leaf has a roomy cabin and an ample list of features. For the 2013 model year, Nissan gave the Leaf a 6.6-kW onboard charger that will get the car to a full charge in about half the time it took the previous charger. Take a look at 2013 and newer models if you want to enjoy this amenity.
The selling price of a used 2013 Nissan Leaf at dealerships dropped 23 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Subaru Impreza provides confident handling and lots of room for your belongings. Its standard all-wheel drive makes it a superb choice if you frequently drive through rain and snow. The Impreza is available as a sedan and a hatchback, and a 2012 redesign gave the car a more frugal engine and a roomier, better-looking cabin.
The selling price of a used 2012 Impreza at dealerships dropped 7 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.
The Volkswagen Golf hatchback is versatile and spacious, and it's long led the pack in overall refinement. The Golf is available in two- and four-door hatchback configurations in all the model years we've recommended except for 2014, when it was offered as a four-door hatchback only. Any used Golf from the previous generation represents good value, but choose a model from the current generation, which launched in the 2015 model year, if you want to enjoy a more powerful engine and a roomier cabin.
The selling price of a used 2015 Volkswagen Golf at dealerships dropped 19 percent in 2016 from its 2015 price, according to Edmunds transaction data.