Best Small Cars for 2020

By Julie Blackley

Most Reliable New and Used Small Cars

When it comes to finding the right vehicle, bigger is not always better. If you want an affordable and efficient ride, a small car might be exactly what you’re looking for. Since today’s small cars even come equipped with modern technology, safety features, and some have all-wheel drive, they are a practical choice over a larger sedan or SUV. But not all small cars are created equal. That’s why we’re breaking down the best small cars to help you choose the best one for your needs.

What is a Small Car?

The term “small car” is often used loosely. It can refer to subcompact cars, compact cars, or both. We have combined the two vehicle segments because both are worth considering given their unique advantages. If you already know which size is right for you or for more information on each vehicle category, be sure to check out our guides for the best compact cars and best subcompact cars

Best Small Cars

To determine our list of the best small cars, we first looked at iSeeCars research of the longest-lasting cars that analyzed the mileage of 15.8 million pre-owned vehicles.  While the study examined cars most likely to reach 200,000 miles, the threshold for our Best Small Cars list is 150,000 miles to provide more options for high-quality small cars. Along with finding the most reliable small cars, we also examined fuel economy and safety ratings. 
Best Small Cars - iSeeCars
Rank Small Car % Reach 150k Miles Combined MPG NHTSA Safety Rating (Out of 5) Average New Car Price Average 3-Year Old Used Car Price
1 Toyota Prius 8.4% 52.0 4.8 $28,484 $20,099
2 MAZDA3 4.0% 31.3 5.0 $24,065 $14,695
3 Honda Civic 3.8% 33.5 5.0 $22,668 $16,440
4 Subaru Impreza 3.7% 30.0 5.0 $23,395 $16,887
5 Honda Fit 3.5% 33.5 5.0 $18,680 $14,452
6 Toyota Corolla 3.1% 32.0 5.0 $21,630 $14,296
7 Toyota Yaris 2.9% 32.3 4.0 $18,611 $10,921
8 Kia Rio5 2.4% 31.1 4.0 $16,948 $11,550
9 Kia Rio 2.1% 31.2 4.0 $16,584 $10,537
10 Volkswagen Jetta 2.1% 30.3 5.0 $21,681 $13,694
11 Hyundai Elantra 1.3% 31.2 4.3 $20,245 $12,832
12 Nissan Sentra 1.3% 30.7 4.0 $19,186 $12,288
13 Volkswagen Golf 1.2% 30.5 5.0 $23,147 $15,417
Small Car Average 2.4% 32.5
The most reliable small car is the compact Toyota Prius, which ranks highly for long-term reliability and fuel-efficiency.  The roomy hatchback also has plenty of passenger and cargo room while offering a suite of standard safety features like a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a pre-collision system. It is also the most expensive car on the list, but the added upfront cost can be offset by fuel savings.

Next is the compact Mazda MAZDA3, which has impressive driving dynamics and is nice to look at thanks to its sporty styling. It also comes with a full suite of active safety features like automatic high-beam headlights, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and forward-collision warning.  

Next is the versatile compact Honda Civic, available as a sedan, hatchback or coupe. It’s a mainstay on all lists of the most popular cars and for good reason. Along with being fun to drive with its agile handling and sharp steering, it boasts a modern design with ample legroom and a spacious rear seat. It also has a perfect safety score, above-average fuel economy and has many powertrains to choose from.

Ranked fourth is the Subaru Impreza. The compact Impreza offers standard all-wheel drive and is considered among the best AWD cars on the market. Along with being reliable, it also earns high safety scores and has standard safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. It also offers a spacious cabin and an intuitive infotainment system.

Ranked fifth is the Honda Fit, which is the highest-ranking subcompact car on the list due to its long-term reliability, high safety score, and class-leading fuel economy. Despite its subcompact distinction, the Fit has enough head and legroom to suit tall drivers, and the car’s “magic seat,” allows for more cargo space by folding up the rear seat cushions and folding down the front passenger seat. 

No compact car list would be complete without the Toyota Corolla, which ranks sixth. The Corolla comes with a suite of driver assistance features like pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. It’s among the most affordable cars in the compact category, making it a practical choice for those in the market for a reliable small car.

Ranked seventh is the subcompact Toyota Yaris, which is available as a sedan and hatchback. Along with demonstrating the Toyota reputation for reliability, it comes with a suite of standard features including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and safety features such as forward-collision warning. With an average new car price tag of $18,611 it is both practical and fun to drive. 

The Kia Rio5 hatchback and the Kia Rio sedan earn the eighth and ninth spots. Both subcompacts offer ample passenger space and an attractive cabin. While the Rio’s only advanced standard safety feature is a rearview camera, emergency braking and forward-collision warning can be found on higher trim levels. 

Two compact Volkswagens make the list: the tenth-ranked Jetta and the thirteenth-ranked Golf. The classy Jetta boasts more cargo room than average for its class and has an intuitive infotainment system, while the iconic and spacious Golf is known for its upscale interior and sporty handling. 

The compact Hyundai Elantra ranks eleventh and is available as both a sedan and hatchback. It has the lowest starting price of all the compacts on the list, and provides ample cargo space and a pleasant driving experience.

Closing out the list is the twelfth-ranked Nissan Sentra. Redesigned in 2020 with a stronger engine, this affordable compact car comes with standard safety features including forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, and lane departure warning.

Best Luxury Small Cars

Small luxury cars are popular introductions to luxury vehicle ownership. If you want a small car with more sophistication, these are the best luxury small cars.
Best Luxury Small Cars
Rank Compact Car % Over 150,000 Miles Combined MPG NHTSA Crash Test Rating (Out of 5) Average New Car Price 3-Yr-Old Average Used Car Price
1 Lexus IS 350 3.3% 21.8 5 $48,518 $32,385
2 Volvo S60 3.0% 26.2 5 $43,200 $21,704
3 Lexus IS 300 3.0% 22.5 5 $43,355 $27,061
4 BMW 3 Series 2.6% 27.5 5 $49,887 $22,921
5 Audi A4 2.1% 27.5 5 $44,030 $23,591
6 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 1.3% 24.5 4.8 $51,621 $26,137
Small Car Average 2.4%
The top honor goes to the Lexus IS350, which is the highest trim level of the third-ranked Lexus IS 300. Both share a platform with the Toyota Corolla and are known for their reliability and sophisticated interiors. These compact cars come with the Lexus Safety System+, which includes features such as lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control.

Ranked second is the compact Volvo S60, which includes active safety features including forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, and oncoming collision mitigation. It also includes a plug-in-hybrid variant.

Ranked fourth is the sporty compact BMW 3 Series that boasts a comfortable cabin and includes the iDrive infotainment system with a digital assistant. It also has comfortable seating and a spacious trunk.

The compact Audi A4 ranks fifth and comes with many tech and safety features in its stylish interior. The Audi A4 comes with standard technology features including a 10.1-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Rounding out the list is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which has among the nicest interiors in the compact luxury car class. The C-Class has a number of common standard safety features including forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring. It also has not-so-common features like driver attention monitoring, crosswind assist and Mercedes Pre-Safe, which closes the windows and tightens the seat belts when it detects an imminent collision.

AWD Small Cars

Of all the best small cars noted above, these are the vehicles that are available with all-wheel drive. These small but mighty all-wheel drive cars are equipped to handle all-weather conditions. The disadvantages are that they are more expensive and not as fuel efficient as their front-wheel drive (FWD) counterparts. Our guide breaks down the differences of FWD vs. AWD to help you decide which drive type is best for you. 
Small Cars With AWD
Small Car Average New Car Price Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price
Toyota Prius $28,484 $20,099
Mazda MAZDA3 $24,065 $14,695
Subaru Impreza $23,395 $16,887
Lexus IS 350 $48,518 $32,385
Volvo S60 $43,200 $21,704
Subaru Impreza $24,138 $17,397
Lexus IS 300 $43,355 $27,061
BMW 3 Series $49,887 $22,921
Audi A4 $44,030 $23,591
Mercedes-Benz C-Class $51,621 $26,137
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen $24,665 $15,862
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack $27,798 $19,422

Cheapest Small Cars: Used Small Cars by Price

The best used small cars can be found across a variety of budgets. And because these cars are proven to last, used versions are still a smart long term purchase. Here are the best used small cars that can be found at multiple price points.

Best Used Small Cars Under $10,000

If you are looking for a used car under $10,000, here are the best compact cars to choose from:

Used Small Cars Under $10,000
Small Car Average Used Car Price 
2011 Honda Civic $7,992
2013 Mazda MAZDA3 $8,248
2011 Volkswagen Golf $8,843
2015 Hyundai Accent $8,952
2015 Kia Rio5 $9,162
2015 Toyota Yaris $9,431
2013 Toyota Corolla $9,540
2013 Volkswagen Jetta $9,558
2013 Honda Fit $9,584
2015 Nissan Sentra $9,593
2011 BMW 3 Series $9,776
2015 Hyundai Elantra $9,900
Best Used Small Cars Under $15,000

Here are the best small used cars under $15,000

Used Small Cars Under $15,000
Compact Car Average Used Car Price 
2017 Kia Rio $10,537
2017 Hyundai Accent $10,576
2017 Toyota Yaris $10,921
2017 Kia Rio5 $11,550
2017 Nissan Sentra $12,288
2015 Subaru Impreza $12,698
2015 Honda Civic $12,777
2017 Hyundai Elantra $12,832
2013 BMW 3 Series $13,081
2015 Volkswagen Golf $13,383
2017 Volkswagen Jetta $13,694
2011 Lexus IS 350 $14,066
2017 Toyota Corolla $14,296
2015 Toyota Prius $14,415
2017 Honda Fit $14,452
2015 Volvo S60 $14,516
2017 Mazda Mazda3 $14,695
Best Used Small Cars Under $20,000

Here are the best small used cars under $20,000

Used Small Cars Under $20,000
Small Car Average Used Car Price 
2017 Volkswagen Golf $15,417
2017 Honda Civic $16,440
2015 BMW 3 Series $16,426
2013 Lexus IS 350 $16,728
2017 Subaru Impreza $17,397
2017 Chevrolet Volt $17,875

Bottom Line

If you want a small car, there are many reliable options to choose from. These cars are practical because they have a lower starting price than their larger counterparts along with having better gas mileage. If you think a compact or subcompact car is right for you, consider the models above to help you find the safest and most reliable car to suit your needs and budget.

 

If you’re interested in a new or used small car, be sure to check out iSeeCars’ award-winning car search engine. It uses advanced algorithms to help shoppers find the best car deals and provides key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars VIN check report. Filter by price, fuel economy, drive type, and other parameters to find your next vehicle.