In many ways, this is a golden age for compact cars. Formerly the province of economical models, a number of the world’s top luxury manufacturers have gotten into the compact category in a huge way. Thus, the best selling compact cars find some of the most respected luxury manufacturers rubbing elbows with the mainstream’s most ubiquitous brands. This has broadened the category considerably. And yet, regardless of the logo or the badge they wear, the best selling compact cars all have something in common. They really are the best at their particular mission in one way or another, whether it’s packing in as much luxury and performance as possible, or returning an outstanding value for every dollar spent, the best selling compact cars are true standouts.
Over the past 12 months, Audi’s A3 has established itself as the new benchmark in the compact luxury category. Now offered as a sedan, a convertible, and a five-door hatchback, the Audi A3 delivers a wonderfully conceived interior treatment, a broad range of turbocharged engines—including a diesel, and of course the availability of all-wheel drive. The gasoline-fired engines displace 1.8-liters and 2.0 liters, producing 170 horsepower and 220 horsepower respectively. A more powerful version of the 2.0-liter makes 292 horsepower for the high performance S3 sedan. The diesel displaces 2.0-liters to generate 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. All three are paired with a six-speed automated manual transmission. Pricing starts at $29,900.
BMW 3 Series
One of the most desirable compact sedans ever offered by any manufacturer anywhere, the BMW 3 Series is legendary for its ability to deliver a satisfying driving experience. For the 2015 model year, BMW offers the 3 Series as a sedan and a wagon; as well as with hybrid, diesel, and all-wheel drive powertrains. There is also a hatchback model known as the 3 Series Gran Turismo, and a high performance version called the M3, which is new for the 2015 model year. Upping the ante, Bluetooth audio and heated front seats are now standard equipment for all 3 Series models. Navigation and a sunroof can be ordered as standalone options. Engine output ranges from 180-horsepower to 425. Transmissions include a six-speed manual, a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual, and an eight-speed automatic. BMW 3 Series pricing starts at $32,950.
Among the best selling compact cars, the Chevrolet Cruze is also a continual presence on each and every list of the best small sedans. The compact Chevrolet is attractive to look it, enjoyable to drive, and one of but two models in the category boasting a diesel option. Thanks to all of these attributes, the front-drive Chevrolet is a wholly competitive offering. For 2015, the Cruze gets a mild styling update, Siri Eyes Free, and WiFi hotspot capability. Engine power output ranges from 138 horsepower to 151. Further, the Chevrolet Cruze is the only American compact sedan to offer the option of a diesel engine. A six-speed manual transmission is offered with most trims, a six-speed automatic is optional. Pricing starts at $16,170.
Proof the buying public knows a good thing when it sees one, the best selling Ford Focus compact cars are so value packed, it’s almost unbelievable. The Focus offers high-end features like self-parking, blind spot monitoring, and voice activated secondary controls. Factor in handsome styling and enjoyable driving characteristics and of course the Focus becomes a best seller. Further, the front-drive model can claim 40 mpg with its 123-horsepower 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine (yes, a one liter 3-cylinder) and six-speed manual transmission. The other engine choice is a 160-horespower 2.0-liter four with a five-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual. Pricing starts at $17,170.
Were you surprised to find the Honda Civic represented on a list of the best selling compact cars? Neither were we. Doing its thing with a level of refinement and sophistication usually found only in cars costing considerably more money, the Civic is so good, it’s easily one of the most coveted models in the category. Among other reasons, this is because Honda endows its small four-door with a wealth of technological advantages. In addition to its conventional 143-horsepower gasoline powered engine, the Civic is offered with hybrid, natural gas, and a high performance 205-horsepower powertrain. Five-speed automatic, continuously variable, and six-speed manual transmissions are employed by the front-drive powertrains. Offered in both coupe and sedan body styles, pricing starts at $18,290.
More than just a pretty package, the refinement, thoughtfulness, and just plan goodness of the Hyundai Elantra is only hinted at by its fluidly graceful exterior treatment. Inside, the best selling compact car offers standard comfort and convenience features typically found only in cars costing thousands more. The Elantra also delivers a nicely crafted and handsome interior treatment along with above average fuel economy. Which, of course, only serves to make it even more desirable. Power comes from either a 145-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder, or a 173-horsepower 2.0-liter four. Transmissions are a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $17,250.
Take another look at the picture above; if the caption didn’t say Kia Forte, we could probably convince you it was from a more upscale brand with a higher price point. The goodness of this best selling compact car also shows up inside the car thanks to a handsome interior treatment, a strong feature set, and good ergonomics. With available features like xenon headlights, keyless entry and ignition, and a ventilated driver’s seat, the Forte works hard for the money. The front drive small sedan features a choice of three engines, ranging in output from 145 horsepower to 201. All can be had with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Pricing starts at $15,890.
Mazda is known for building fun to drive cars, and one of its best is the Mazda3, which it offers in both sedan and hatchback body styles. With its reputation for crisp handling, peppy acceleration, and a smooth ride, of course the Mazda3 is one of the best selling compact cars. Power comes from either a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four, or a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four, feeding six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Available features include Bluetooth, cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, and navigation. Pricing for the sedan starts at $16,495, the hatchback starts at $18,495.
Nissan’s Sentra is an outstanding example of how much things have changed in the compact sedan category. Whether judged by its exceptionally capacious trunk (15.1 cubic feet!), remarkably spacious interior, or outstanding build quality, Nissan’s Sentra is rolling proof affordability doesn’t have to mean sacrifice. What’s more, Nissan offers equipment for the Sentra previously found only on luxury models. Power comes from a 130-horsepower 1.8-liter four, with 128 ft-lbs of torque. Nissan Sentra pricing starts at $16,480.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA Class comes to market as the first front-drive Mercedes sedan offered in the United States. While the fluid four-door “coupe” styling gives the baby Benz an attractive exterior appearance, the interior does show its more economy-oriented price point in some places. Rest assured though, you do get a truly authentic Mercedes-Benz experience in all of the key places. A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is offered in two states of tune. For CLA250 it makes 208 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. For CLA45 AMG, it produces 355 horsepower and 332 ft-lbs of torque. All-wheel drive is standard for the CLA45, it’s optional for the CLA250. Both use a seven-speed automated manual transmission. Pricing starts at $31,500.
As much as driving enthusiasts hate to admit it, for a large segment of the driving populace, zero to 60, top speed, and high skidpad numbers have no relevance. Most people are more concerned with having their cars start every time, carry a good deal of cargo when required, and consume long distances as comfortably as possible—on as little fuel as can be reasonably expected. All of which perfectly describes the Toyota Corolla. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in two different states of tune. The base setup makes 132 horsepower and 128 ft-lbs of torque. The “Eco” version makes 140 horsepower and 126 ft-lbs. The base model gets a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. All the others get a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $16,950.
The Volkswagen Jetta is the only car in the compact sedan category to offer a choice of diesel, hybrid, or conventional gasoline propulsion. Additionally, the Volkswagen compact sedan is quiet, smooth, and especially solid on the road. The Jetta is also one of the best selling compact cars because its interior is roomy, well equipped, and nicely finished. The VW’s trunk is quite capacious too. For 2015, the Jetta got new styling front and rear, as well as a revised diesel engine. Power ranges from 115 horsepower to 170. The transmission choices include a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, a six-speed automated manual, and a seven-speed automated manual. Pricing starts at $17,325.