Shopper’s Guide to Popular Compact Cars

When searching for a compact sedan or hatchback, most shoppers are looking for a good value, strong fuel-efficiency and a roomy interior. The four top-selling compacts offer those qualities in spades. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze all come in a variety of trim lines ranging from basic to sporty and luxurious. Today’s compacts can be equipped with the latest infotainment and advanced safety features.

Generally compact cars will have a louder and busier ride and narrower interior than larger and more expensive mid-size counterparts, however compact cars will achieve superior gas mileage and fit more easily into parking spots. When shopping for any vehicle, Third Auto recommends test driving multiple vehicles within the class to find the best fit for your individual needs.

We’ve compiled a comprehensive review of America’s most-popular compact cars below. See the pros, cons, best color combination, safety score and more in our full reviews. Sift through the clutter and make shopping for a compact car simple by using our straightforward reviews as a guide to find the best vehicle for you.

2018 Honda Civic

2018 Honda Civic, priced from  $18,840. Read Third Auto’s Full Review.

2018 Toyota Corolla

2018 Toyota Corolla, priced from  $18,550. Read Third Auto’s Full Review

2018 Nissan Sentra

2018 Nissan Sentra, priced from $16,990, Read Third Auto’s Full Review.

2018 Chevrolet Cruze

2018 Chevrolet Cruze, priced from $16,975, Read Third Auto’s Full Review.

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[Images: Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet]

 

2018 Toyota Prius

The 2018 Toyota Prius is a mainstream mid-size four-door hatchback equipped with a hybrid powertrain. Famous for delivering excellent fuel mileage, the Prius is also a practical and comfortable car. Prices start from an MSRP of $23,475. For a more mainstream design and larger interior, check out the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Pros: Excellent Fuel Economy, Roomy Cabin

Cons: Ungainly Styling, Road Noise, Leisurely Acceleration

Looks Best In: Sea Glass exterior/Harvest Beige interior

 

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Competition: Honda Insight, Hyundai Ionic, Chevrolet Volt

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota Prius was awarded the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick distinction.

Summary: Best suited to short urban trips, the Prius can become tiresome as a long-distance cruiser with its narrow tires, loud cabin and weak acceleration.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Sienna

The 2018 Toyota Sienna is a minivan that competes with offerings from Kia, Honda, and Chrysler. With prices starting from an MSRP of $30,750, the Sienna stands out in its segment for being the only minivan that has available all-wheel-drive and for offering the factory installed “Access Seat”, which is a motorized seat that moves outside of the cabin to facilitate entry/exit for passengers with special needs.

Pros: Available All-Wheel-Drive, Available “Access Seat”

Cons: Fuel-Economy Lags Behind Competitors

Looks Best In: Alumina Jade exterior/Ash interior

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Competition: Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Dodge Grand Caravan

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota Sienna received an “Acceptable” rating for the driver small front overlap crash test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was outperformed by some competitors.

Summary: The availability of all-wheel-drive is what sets the Sienna apart from the competition. Although its styling is a bit dull, the 2018 Toyota Sienna is a comfortable and versatile family hauler.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Tundra

The 2018 Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup truck that slots below the mid-size Toyota Tacoma in the brand’s pickup line. Designed to compete with the established best-sellers from Ford, Ram and GM, the Tundra notably features a standard V8 engine at a time when some competitors utilize smaller, albeit more fuel-efficient, base engines. Prices start from an MSRP of $31,120.

Pros: Standard V8, Composed Ride Quality, Multiple Configurations & Trimlines Available

Cons: Bland Styling, Less Fuel-Efficient Than Competitors,

Looks Best In: Cavalry Blue exterior/Graphite interior

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Competition: Ford F-150Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota Tundra was out performed by competitors in crash testing of large pickups by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Summary: The 2018 Toyota Tundra is a bit long in the tooth and lags behind the competition in key areas of safety scores, fuel-efficiency and style. Although the base model may be compelling with its relatively low price point and standard V8, above that level it makes more sense to explore the competition.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota 4Runner

The 2018 Toytoa 4Runner is a mainstream truck-based mid-size SUV. Designed to handle off-road conditions, the 4Runner has a high ride height and extensive hardware to handle low-traction situations off the beaten path. Within Toyota’s SUV lineup, the 4Runner slots above the car-based, and more family-friendly, Toyota Highlander and below the truck-based full-size Sequoia. Prices start at an MSRP of $34,610. If the 4Runner has piqued your interest but you’re not a fan of the bland styling, then consider the Lexus GX, which is more opulent and based on the same platform.

Pros: Capable, Available Third-Row Seat, Offers Commanding Driving Position

Cons: Fuel-Efficiency & Interior Space Lag Behind Car-Based SUVs, Bouncy Ride

Looks Best In: Midnight Black exterior/Sand Beige interior

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Competition: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota 4Runner received a “Marginal” rating for the driver small front overlap crash test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was outperformed by some competitors.

Summary: The 4Runner is refreshingly old-school and provides drivers willing to sacrifice room and efficiency with a unique driving experience and the ability to tackle any terrain. While the available third-row seat can come in handy for occasional use, the car-based Toyota Highlander is much better suited to transporting larger groups.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Highlander

The 2018 Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover style SUV that slots between the compact Toyota RAV4 and truck-based Toyota 4Runner in the brand’s SUV lineup. The Highlander is a mainstream version of the upscale Lexus RX and competes in the hotly contested midsize family SUV segment. With seating capacity for up to seven and an available hybrid variant, the Toyota Highlander has mass appeal for shoppers seeking a practical SUV. Prices start at an MSRP of $31,030.

Pros: Seating For Up To 8, Available Hybrid, Buttery Smooth Ride Quality

Cons: Less Interior Space Than Competitors, Underpowered Base Engine

Looks Best In: Shoreline Blue exterior/Ash interior

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Competition: Volkswagen AtlasHonda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Infiniti QX60

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota Highlander was awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick distinction.

Summary: The 2018 Toyota Highlander is a versatile and practical three-row SUV. If frequent utilization of the third-row seat is anticipated, be sure to try to Highlander on for size, as its accommodations are smaller than some competitors. The available hybrid makes the Highlander significantly more efficient than its conventionally powered competitors.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Tacoma

The 2018 Toyota Tacoma is a mid-size pickup truck, slotted below the full-size Tundra in Toyota’s pickup truck lineup. With a starting MSRP of $25,200, the Tacoma is a capable off-roader and is also offered with a manual transmission, which isn’t available on some competitors. Shoppers who don’t regularly venture off-road who aren’t in need of major towing capabilities would be better served by looking at the Honda Ridgeline, which is car-based and so rides and handles more comfortably, and also has a roomier interior. The Toyota Tacoma is available in multiple trim level and configurations, and has a four-cylinder and available V-6 engines.

Pros: Advanced Safety Features, Rugged, Plethora Of Configurations

Cons: Cumbersome Ride And Handing, Outdated Styling

Looks Best In: Cavalry Blue exterior/Black interior

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Competition: Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline, GMC Canyon,

Summary: The 2018 Toyota Tacoma is a rugged truck that fits the lifestyle of an off-roading enthusiast or truck shoppers looking for something more rugged than a Honda Ridgeline. Although prices can quickly rise, even in basic form the Tacoma comes well equipped.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota C-HR

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is the newest member to the Toyota family and serves as its entry-level sub-compact crossover. For shoppers who do not need the space or amenities featured in the larger Toyota RAV4, the C-HR provides a higher riding position than a sedan, but not much more in the way of utility or capabilities.  Pricing starts at an MSRP of $22,500.

Pros: High Driving Position Versus Ordinary Hatchback, Standard Advanced Safety Tech, Agile Handling

Cons: No AWD Available, Unpleasant Interior, Road Noise, No Available Leather

Looks Best In: Ruby Flare Peal R-Code exterior/Black interior

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Competition: Mazda CX-3, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Rogue Sport, Honda H-RV, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport

Summary: The 2018 Toyota C-HR functions best as a city runabout. Its interior is a letdown and prevalent road noise means the C-HR would not be ideally suited to long road trips. The lack of AWD will be a deal breaker for some shoppers, however the truth is the C-HR, and any front-wheel-drive car for that matter, will function just fine in icy conditions with proper winter tires. The C-HR has a notable 4 MPG advantage in the city over the larger RAV4, however the advantage diminishes to just 1 MPG on the highway. So, if you plan to go on frequent long hauls, it might be worth upgrading to the RAV4 for the added comfort and minimal efficiency loss. A highlight is all the standard safety tech, including radar cruise control and lane keep assist.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota RAV4

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 is the brand’s popular compact SUV. With good passenger and cargo room, along with a suite of standard safety features, the RAV4 has wide appeal. With larger wheel sizes, the ride can be a bit jarring and some newer competitors offer more upscale interiors and more stylish exteriors, however the RAV4 remains a solid choice for shoppers looking for a competent no-frills SUV. Since this is an older design discounts may be available at the dealership. The available hybrid is a standout feature and a rarity for the compact SUV segment. Pricing starts at an MSRP of $24,510.

Pros: Versatile, Spacious, Efficient, Available Hybrid

Cons: Bland Driving Experience, Harsh Ride On Certain Trims, Outdated Styling Inside & Out

Looks Best In: Blizzard Pearl exterior/Cinnamon interior

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Competition: Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Subaru Crosstrek, Hyundai Tucson

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota RAV4 was awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick distinction.

Summary: The RAV4 isn’t the most stylish or engaging compact SUV available, however as a people hauler it does its job well and is a good value, especially considering all of the safety equipment (radar cruise control, lane departure alert, a pre-collision system capable of detecting pedestrians, automatic high beams) that Toyota includes as standard.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla is a popular sedan that competes with the Honda Civic and other compacts. Priced from $18,550, the Corolla is slotted above the subcompact Toyota Yaris and below the midsize Toyota Camry in the brand’s lineup. The Corolla is a basic and reliable choice, but not very engaging. As an efficient commuter car it does its job well, however this might not be the best choice to take on a long road trip.

Pros: Efficient, Low Price, Roomy Interior, Durable, Standard Advanced Safety Features

Cons: Boring Inside & Out, Not Engaging To Drive, Excessive Road Noise

Looks Best In: Blizzard Pearl exterior/Almond interior

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Competition:  Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Forte

Safety Score: The 2018 Toyota Corolla was awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick distinction.

Summary: Basic and reliable, the Toyota Corolla is a safe, if unexciting, choice. Toyota Safety Sense is a standout standard safety feature suite that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and other advanced safety features as standard. These items are either optional or not available on many competitors. For a more engaging driving experience check out the Honda Civic.

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[Images: Toyota]

2018 Toyota Camry

The new for 2018 Toyota Camry is the brand’s bread and butter midsize sedan. For 2018 change comes in the form of more expressive design inside and out. The latest comfort and safety kit has also been added to this top-selling model. Pricing starts at an MSRP of $23,495. No matter which trim level or engine option that’s chosen, one simply cannot go wrong with the 2018 Toyota Camry.

Pros: Roomy, Safe, Good Value, Available V-6, Available Hybrid, More Interesting Looks

Cons: No Stick Shift, Some Odd Styling Details

What You Should Know: The V-6 option is a rarity in this segment, which is rapidly utilizing 4-cylinders only. If you value smooth power delivery and seamless acceleration, it makes a great choice.

Looks Best In: Wind Chill Peal with Midnight Black roof exterior/Cockpit Red interior

2018 Toyota Camry exterior.PNG2018 Toyota Camry interior.png

Coolest Feature: Available 301-hp 3.5-Liter V-6 is more powerful than last year’s V-6 and allows the Camry to hustle.

Competition: Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima

Summary: The 2018 Toyota Camry comes loaded with features and is a smart and sensible choice, as it’s always been. What’s different for 2018 is a focus on design that makes the ubiquitous Camry slightly more exciting.

Did You Know? The Toyota Camry was the number one best-selling car in America last year with sales totaling 355,204.

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[Images: Toyota]

October Sales: Which Midsize Sedan Won?

The Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion are top-sellers in the midsize sedan category, which is intensely competitive. With redesigned versions of the Camry and Accord now on sale, and incentives high for the older Altima and Fusion, major sales volume is at stake for each automaker month in and month out.

In October the Honda Accord won the top spot, but just barely.  The Toyota Camry was hot on its heels with just 488 fewer sales.  An incredibly slim 327 units separated the third place Nissan Altima from the fourth place Ford Fusion. octsales.PNG

This was a very close race, and next month we could see the Camry and Fusion leapfrog from their current positions as incentives heat up and dealers get eager to move any remaining 2017 models.

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[Images: Toyota, Honda, Ford, Nissan]