I’m 6’4″ and I drive a Honda Fit. It’s one of the smallest (and cheapest) cars on the market.
If I can fit in this little hatchback, most people can.
So you should have few excuses for not buying a small, fuel-efficient car these days. (Emphasis on “fuel-efficient” — with gas prices where they are these days, even just a few extra miles per gallon will make a big difference in your budget.)
Below, I review the “best of the best” cars in the small car category. I’m basing my rankings on several important factors including:
- Satisfying changing consumer demand for features like alternative fuel and electronic compatibility.
- Performance on the road as determined by actual scientific tests.
- Safety based on advanced features and safety record in accidents.
- Reliability based on problems from real consumers driving these cars the year before.
1. Chevrolet Bolt
If you want to buy American, you can’t go wrong with this car that’s raising the bar for electric vehicles. On a single charge, you can drive 230 miles, the furthest in the industry. This contributes to its reputation as the first electric car designed for the masses. To top it off, the Chevrolet Bolt won the “Green Car of the Year” award for 2017 by the Green Car Journal.
The Chevrolet Bolt far surpasses other cars in its class in the tech features department. You can check on the charge and/or pre-condition the interior of the car using a smartphone app. Meaning you can warm it up or cool it down before jumping in. This is nice if you’re finishing up a meal at a restaurant on a cold night, for instance. Here are some of the other cool tech features:
- Two USB ports to connect to Android Auto and CarPlay
- A large 10.2-inch interactive display to access vehicle information and your music
- Five cameras surrounding the entire car
- Advanced safety features like the “lane keep assist” which helps you avoid collisions
U.S. News picked this sporty compact car as their number one pick in “Compact Cars.” But they do note that it’s still a little pricier than buying a small car with a gasoline engine. Although, if you plan to drive the Bolt for several years, you may actually end up saving money. Not having to buy gas can be a huge change. Furthermore, you’ll get a $7,000 federal tax credit on this all-electric car.
2. Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius remains one of the most well-recognized and popular cars sold. It’s named as the “most reliable” car by Consumer Reports for 2017 (and past years). This car has fewer breakdowns and mechanical issues than any other car on the market. This is why it’s not only one of the most popular cars to buy new but also a trendy pick as a used car.
If there was any criticism for the Prius on earlier versions, it was that it wasn’t as fast as other small cars. And it was even a bit clunky when driving. But let’s face it, you’re not buying a Prius for street racing. But, all that has changed with the 2017 model of Toyota Prius. It now has improved acceleration, better handling, and has a steadier ride. The price tag also remains lower than most other “green cars” on the market.
The Toyota Prius can go up to 25 miles powered by electricity alone. But it also has the ability to use gasoline, which consumers like. There are still few electrical charging stations in most parts of the United States. With its hybrid nature and the use of electricity, the Toyota Prius gets an average of 52 miles per gallon. This makes it one of the most efficient cars on the road.
3. Toyota Yaris iA
The Yaris iA is also one of the most affordable small cars on the market. The low price tag makes this car well within financial reach for the majority of Americans.
The retail price of a new Yaris iA is only $17,570. Plus, it gets 35 miles per gallon and is pretty sporty-looking. Although marketed as a Toyota brand car, the Toyota Yaris iA was actually designed by Mazda. Meaning it has all the high performance attributes that many other Mazdas have.
4. Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a highly-affordable sports car. It’s for anyone who enjoys driving but doesn’t have the budget for much higher-end sports cars.
The MX-5 Miata is a lightweight vehicle that hugs the road. It handles with beauty when there are lots of sharp curves to navigate and tight turns to make.
This car also has some “intangible” qualities that drivers love. One example is its finely-tuned tactile steering. This allows you to change course, with even subtle movements, at the drop of a dime.
5. Subaru Forester
While we don’t always put SUVs in the category of “small cars,” I’ll make an exception with the Subaru Forester. It’s a compact sports utility vehicle (a crossover), and it’s the smallest SUV on the market.
It also drives and feels more like a small sporty car. You get a roomy interior, easy access, and lots of storage like most SUVs. But you also get the fuel efficiency (26 mpg), maneuverability, and handling of a smaller car. A pro review at Edmunds points out that the Forester also offers ample ground clearance. This is ideal for those off-road weekend and vacation excursions.
6. Honda Civic
The Honda Civic is a top-rated car with many repeat buyers. It’s hard not to find a Civic on the road these days. But many people don’t realize it’s also very safe and reliable. It received a perfect 10 out of 10 safety score by J.D. Power. That’s a compelling selling point for anyone with kids who still wants to drive a small car.
It’s also quite comfortable. Edmunds describes the interior as a “comfortable, roomy interior filled with upscale materials.” You can also get the 2017 version of the Honda Civic with a hatchback and a turbocharged engine. This is good if you want easier access to cargo areas and increased power over previous models.
7. Honda Fit
Those of you that have been following me for a while know I love my Fit. But know that I’m unbiased here (because the features speak for themselves). U.S. News picked the Fit as the “Best Subcompact Car for the Money” in 2017.
It has the best features included, given the cost of the vehicle. It’s considered an exceptional buy for the “entry level” consumer. This is perfect for younger people who are buying their first new car. This Kelley Blue Book video gives a demonstration of the various “fold down” features:
As you can see, you get a lot of temporary storage for long, tall, and oddly-shaped items. You also saw the ample leg room in the back seat of this small, fuel-efficient, economy car.
The best small cars are those that people want to buy again and again. And I don’t mean because theirs is breaking down. I mean because they’ve had such a great experience with it. All the picks above fit this bill. They’re a joy to drive, but also offer practical features such as high gas mileage and performance.
Your turn: which of these small cars do you own and why do you love it?