By on December 11, 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, the future of the sedan has never looked dimmer. A number of sedans die with the current model year, with the majority of funerals happening at American brands. For now, let’s pick out some bright spots in our sedan offerings before the herd is thinned considerably in 2020.

Up first this week are the small sedans.

To gather the most complete list of offerings possible, I’m going to use U.S. News, which provides lists of new cars on the market by size. The following sedans fall in the subcompact, compact, or small categories. To keep things grounded in the practical, luxury marques are not on the list. The list contains only sedans with four doors and trunks.

Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet Sonic
Chevrolet Spark
Ford Fiesta
Honda Civic
Honda Insight
Hyundai Accent
Hyundai Elantra
Kia Forte
Kia Rio
Mazda 3
Mitsubishi Mirage G4
Nissan Sentra
Nissan Versa
Subaru Impreza
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Yaris
Volkswagen Jetta

A full 19 competitors vying for the lower end of the sedan market. Today’s the day, dear reader, where you can provide useful advice to the car buyers of 2019 and beyond who are looking for a small sedan. Of this list, here’s my pick:

The Mazda 3 is a very good compact sedan. Available in front- and all-wheel drive, the sedan is a more useful format than its more rounded hatchback sibling (it’s also cheaper). Prices for the sedan range from $21,500 for the Base front-driver to $27,900 for the AWD version in Premium Package trim. I drove a loaded front-drive sedan early this year, then went back and tested the all-wheel drive hatch. The sedan with two driven wheels is the way to go with the 3. Even if you don’t spring for the Premium Package at $26,500 before extras, you’ll have a well-built, solid compact that’s fun to drive and won’t need much attention from your mechanic. And since Mazda’s chosen to avoid the styling flim-flam so common on the above list, the 3 will age well down the road.

What’s your pick for best all-round compact sedan in 2019?

[Images: VW Group, Corey Lewis]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

51 Comments on “QOTD: The Best All-round Small Sedans in 2019?...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I have very limited experiences in this class, but I was really impressed by the 2019 Jetta my wife and I had as a rental. 1.4T engine was responsive at mountain altitudes and the gas mileage, even going up and down, was impressive. I guesstimated ~38mpg for our tank of mostly city and mountain driving.

    Also roomy enough for my 6’2″ height. Would I buy one? Given my experiences in the past with VW, probably not, but it would make a good lease for a few years.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Agree with being impressed with our automatic Jetta rental as well. It wasn’t our first choice but that’s all that was left and ready to go at 9pm.

      The Jetta functions extremely well in dense, high traffic city roads of Eastern Seaboard Mega cities.

      Surprisingly, it took all our luggage in the trunk without overflow.

      Would I buy one? No.

      But we had a good Jetta rental experience. And good rental experiences are few, and far between.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      I had a Jetta 1.4T as a rental recently as well. I liked it, liked driving it, an I prefer smaller cars and sedans. My only objection was the delay in engine throttle response. All is well if you’re not in a hurry but put your foot down quick to pass or merge or get the heck out of the way and there was a pronounced delay in response. Seemed like an eternity. Otherwise it got excellent mileage and was fun to drive. Sensible, straightforward and logical controls as well.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I had a ’17 Jetta, and actually preferred it to the new one. The old model had a personality and loved to be driven hard; the new one is certainly “nicer,” but it’s also duller, more servile.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I really like the Honda Insight. It looks cool and like a normal car, but the unique hybrid transmission scheme is very interesting.
    The MPG numbers are stellar, and if I was in the market for a brand-new car for my 80 mile daily commute, this would be the car. I see hundreds of them for sale in my area priced well below $25k.
    Second prize to the Jetta (with manual transmission, of course).

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      If you want a manual Jetta, it will be either the base S model (no) or any of the GLIs (yes).

    • 0 avatar
      Mark_Miata

      We just bought an Insight as my wife’s commuter car in September, and she loves it. It is very comfortable for her commute, gets pretty close to the EPA rated mileage in actual use (50+ mpg), and it has a host of safety features, including being rated as Top Safety Pick+ (the cheapest car on the market with that rating, IIRC). As long as you don’t mind an automatic transmission, it is a great choice.

  • avatar

    GM – what a disgrace!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Not having any experience with any of these sedans I will defer to those in the know

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If I was going to buy a smallish sedan right now it would be Jetta GLI Anniversary trim with manual trans.

    Another upside is the trunk is as large as many midsizers.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I would go drive both the GLI and the Civic SI sedan. I prefer the VW’s looks but the Civic’s likely reliability. I’m just not sure I can deal with the Civic’s styling. Maybe in black it’s not so bad.

      While I’m up for one more manual car, the GLI’s DSG is a very compelling transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Agreed. The fun, small sedan market is a market of 2. Si and GLI. Passat GT from 2018 and Accord sport as well, but those are bigger cars.

        I’ve not driven the Si yet, but the GLI is great.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I’d add the Elantra Sport and GT N-line to that list – they’re not quite as fast as a GLI or Si, but they’re darn good to drive, they’re very well equipped, and you can score a great deal on either one.

  • avatar
    saturnotaku

    I assume this is limited to mainstream brands and that premium small sedans will be a topic for another post. The torsion beam rear suspension in the new Mazda 3 made it appreciably worse than its predecessor. Hopefully they’ll remedy this for its mid-lifecycle refresh. Among the entries listed, I’d go with a Civic of any body style/drivetrain or a Jetta GLI.

  • avatar
    make_light

    Lately I’ve really been appreciating just how good the Jetta is. And it somehow looks a class above all its competitors. Good fuel economy, decent power, spacious, safe, solid–it’s hard to fault.

    The Civic is good too (and I don’t find it nearly as objectionable looking as others do) but it’s too LOW. I hate how sedans keep getting lower (in terms of both roofline and ground clearance). I’m 6’2 and live in the northeast, I need headroom and space to clear all our nasty potholes. Anyone who spends too much time moaning about the popularity of crossovers clearly doesn’t drive over the same roads I do to get to work every day.

    • 0 avatar
      CannonShot

      You’re right about the Civic. I’m 5’10” and if I sit up really straight my head just brushes the headliner. Anyone with mobility issues will have a hard time getting in and out. It drives really nice, but the front seat is not very comfortable and the infotainment system is mediocre at best.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Corolla SE.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Can you explain why you think the Mazda 3 sedan a more useful format than its more rounded hatchback? That seems counter intuitive.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I would test drive the Honda Civic LX 6-speed 2.0 and whatever the highest trim levels are of the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 that are available with a manual transmission and a naturally aspirated engine. If I had a long commute that involved gridlock, I’d also look at the Honda Insight.

    I’m a big fan of compact sedans. They suit what I use my cars for, including towing the one-design racing sloop I had for about twenty five years. Trunks are secure for city parking, and fixed rear windows and decks make them handle better than hatchbacks even before you factor in the superior weight distribution and lower center of gravity. They’re also quieter than equivalent hatchbacks, making them the discerning driver’s choice. Were I to get a sub-compact, I would make the dynamic sacrifices inherent in the hatchback design for greater utility.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I went through this exercise recently and bought a Accord 2.0t with 10 speed. I have driven a 2019 Jetta Rental and it wasnt bad and not really apples to apples as the Jetta was a basic model.

    I would still have to vote Accord, specifically in the 2.0t guise. The vehicle probably is the poster child for “peak sedan”. The last gasp of volume automakers to keep people from jumping ship to crossovers. It is a compelling package. It can be had well equipped in sport trim for a very reasonable price, it is available with 3 powertrains from the hybrid up to the 2.0t. It has limo like rear seat interior volume, a massive truck, looks great. It has a compliant ride and is extremely buttoned down at high speed.

    The 2.0t can hit 0-60 in 5.5 seconds on regular gasoline and get over 30 mpg on the highway all while schlepping the kids to soccer and school, etc.

    Here in Detroit, it is a borderline exotic. I have received more complements on this vehicle than any new vehicle I have ever owned, mostly things like “Nice, that’s an Accord”, but still. An extremely pragmatic purchase that is actually great to pilot on an everyday basis.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I’ve driven a 2014 Jetta with the 1.8T and a 2017 Jetta with the 1.4T, both automatics. The 1.8 is a little more responsive, as should be expected. However, the 1.4T got much better fuel economy and still had decent power when you mashed the go pedal.

    I wouldn’t buy a 1.4T Jetta due to the fact that it’s a sedan, but I would consider a manual 1.4T Golf just because I prefer hatches. The 1.4 is a nice engine.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, my kid and I ended up shopping most of these when she bought her car last month, so I have two recommendations:

    If price is no object: Mazda 3, by a wide margin. It’s handsome, rewarding to drive, and more refined than anything in this class. I wish it were sportier. But Mazda ain’t dealing much on them (at least they weren’t last month).

    Price-dependent: Hyundai Elantra. I can’t think of a better “cheap wheels” pick than this car. Around here, you can pick up the mid-level SEL, which has Android Auto, all the power accessories, and some nice safety kit, for around fifteen grand, which is an absolute steal. My only question is the CVT, which is new for this year – it behaves nicely enough, but since this is Hyundai’s first such unit, and the brand’s had some issues with transmissions in the recent past, I wonder about reliability. My daughter solved that issue by taking a leftover ’19 GT hatch, which has a good old 6-speed (and a few extra HP).

    Dark horse: Hyundai Accent / Kia Rio, both of which are way nicer to drive than ethey have any right to be with a $17,000 sticker. But H/K pricing is such that the Elantra is a far, far better deal.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      A number of enthusiast magazines with histories of preferring Mazdas over their competitors have served up comparison test losses to the new Mazda 3 on the weakness of the driving experience. They still like the interior, but they all generally concluded that the chassis is as bad in reality as it is on paper. Has Mazda just run out of money to spend on SWAG?

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        It doesn’t cost any more to get the spring and damper rates correct. They proved this in the past. And none of that nonsense about how wonderful multi-link rear susp is for a front-driver; there have been many fun cars that both drove the wrong wheels and had a basic rear suspension.

        Mazda wan’t gaining any ground by trying to be fun, so it switched to trying to be ‘designer’.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I was about to say same thing – Mazda3 is really the best if you don’t care the $$$. But – made in Mex, no MT, rear setup will take it off from my list

    • 0 avatar
      MorrisGray

      ??? 19GT hatch ? Is that a Mazda3 GT or what?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I just took away the ones that have no chance here and whats left is

    Honda Civic
    Honda Insight
    Hyundai Elantra
    Kia Forte
    Mazda 3
    Toyota Corolla
    Volkswagen Jetta

    Out of these Corolla probably is most suitable to me

    Jetta, Mazda3, Forte are made in Mexico
    Civic and Jetta have Turbo

    Corolla has a little less power and cabin space but it has no turo engine and manual gearbox. So, this is a winner to me

    • 0 avatar
      MorrisGray

      Are you talking Corolla hatchback or sedan? or either one?
      Have you driven both with the manual?
      I would prefer a non-turbo motor and I wanted a Mazda3 sedan but not with automatic. And I don’t like the Mazda3 hatchback at all.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    “The Best All-round Small Sedans”

    Trouble is, “Best” in terms of what, exactly?

    Mazda likely provides the “best” in terms of interior design, materials quality and driving pleasure, while Mirage provides the “best” in terms of low price–albeit with a 3 pot noisemaker of an engine. All the other cars are likely somewhere in the middle, in terms of price and quality, each having relative design and performance merits along some endless continuum.

    Even in terms of which car I would buy, it would vary wildly based upon how I would use the car. Would it be used solely as my daily commuter, or would it also serve as a family car–lugging children and sports equipment to practice three nights a week? Will it be used to visit my father (500 miles away) four times a year?

    This why I am very reluctant to offer buying advice to friends/family who ask me. It is virtually impossible to fully appreciate each person’s needs, priorities, aesthetic approach, etc. As such, my advice is usually “Just don’t buy any GM products” and left at that.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    What are you doing with it?

    If you’re commuting through canyons, get a Civic Si.

    If you’re an Uber driver, get an Insight.

    If you keep your car for 20 years, get a Corolla.

    If you want a luxury-like interior, get a Mazda3.

    If you want features for money so you can have fun pushing buttons, get an Elantra.

    If you have bad credit and getting a loan is difficult, get a Sentra or a Forte.

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    The newest Mazda 3 is a downgrade in every way that matters over the previous version. Unfortunate. I never thought I would prefer a Toyota Corolla but there it is.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Adam Tonge: Please search for other outlets to shotgun post coronavirus quotes and information. It is unnecessary...
  • CoastieLenn: It’s amazing the odometer worked… unless it’s been replaced. I LOVE square Volvo’s, especially the...
  • Luke42: > Dr. Fauci has now written, Dr. Fauci is now predicting between 100k and 200k deaths. That’s many...
  • Lie2me: EGSE, thanks for pointing out that the really important goods where quality and service is still a top...
  • Luke42: The President of the United States of America is not currently a credible source of information or analysis...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Timothy Cain
  • Matthew Guy
  • Ronnie Schreiber
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth