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10 Most Popular Small Cars

By: Jeff Youngs, 6/5/2014
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Modern compact cars are offered with most of the same amenities found on larger and more expensive vehicles, but in a smaller, more fuel-efficient package. This buying guide to the 10 most popular* small cars in America provides a quick overview of each of the best-selling models.

* Popularity based on April 2014 new-vehicle sales


2014 Toyota Corolla
The most popular small car in America is the Toyota Corolla. Redesigned for 2014, the Corolla is sold in L, LE, LE Eco, and S trim levels, with standard, Plus, or Premium feature packages. Depending on the trim level, the 2014 Corolla makes 132-140 horsepower from a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and offers a manual gearbox, automatic transmission, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Base Price--$17,610
Body Styles--Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--Not rated
Predicted Reliability Rating--Better than Most
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Not rated
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--27/42
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--Not a "Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--13.0 cu. ft.


2014 Honda Civic
The second-best-selling small car in the United States is the 2014 Civic, which is available as a 2-door coupe and a 4-door sedan. The Civic Coupe is available in LX, EX, EX-L, and Si trim levels, while the Civic Sedan lineup adds to that the HF (High Fuel), Natural Gas, and Hybrid variants.

All except the Si, Natural Gas, and Hybrid are equipped with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine making 143 horsepower. The gas-electric Civic Hybrid generates a combined 110 horsepower; the Civic Natural Gas makes 110 horsepower; and the performance-tuned Civic Si model makes 205 horsepower from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine.

A manual gearbox is standard for the Civic LX and Civic Si. A CVT is optional for the LX and standard on all other versions of the Civic except the Natural Gas, which has a traditional automatic transmission.

Base Price--$18,980
Body Styles--Coupe and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--Among the Best
Predicted Reliability Rating--Better than Most
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Better than Most
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--22/47
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars (Sedan); 4 stars (Coupe)
IIHS Crash Test Rating--"Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--6.1 cu. ft. to 12.5 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet builds the third most popular compact car in America. For 2014, the Cruze is offered in LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ, Eco, and Diesel trim levels.

The Cruze LS is equipped with a 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. All other versions of the Cruze, except for the Diesel, have a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that also generates 138 horsepower, but which makes more torque and is more fuel-efficient. The Cruze Diesel is equipped with 2.0-liter, turbo-diesel 4-cylinder engine generating 151 horsepower.

A manual gearbox is standard for the LS, 1LT, 2LT, and Eco trim levels, while the LTZ and Diesel get a standard automatic transmission.

Base Price--$18,345
Body Styles--Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--About Average
Predicted Reliability Rating--About Average
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Better than Most
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--22/46
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--Not a "Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--15.0 cu. ft.


2014 Hyundai Elantra
The fourth most popular small car in America, the 2014 Elantra, is sold in coupe, hatchback, and sedan body styles. Coupes come in a single level of specification, while hatchbacks wear a GT designation. Sedans are offered in SE, Sport, and Limited trim levels.

Only the Elantra SE and Limited are equipped with a 145-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Coupes, GTs, and the Sport version have a 173-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. A manual gearbox is standard except for the Elantra Limited, which is equipped with the automatic that is offered as an option on other versions of the car.

Base Price--$18,010
Body Styles--Coupe, Hatchback, and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--About Average
Predicted Reliability Rating--About Average
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--About Average
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--24/38
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars (Sedan and GT; Coupe not tested)
IIHS Crash Test Rating--"Top Safety Pick" (Sedan only; GT and Coupe not tested)
Cargo Volume--14.8 cu. ft. to 51 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Ford Focus
The fifth best-selling small car in America, the Ford Focus, is available as a hatchback or a sedan and in a wide range of trim levels, including S, SE, ST, and Titanium. An electric version of the car, the Focus Electric, is also available.

The Focus Electric has a Lithium-ion battery powering an electric motor and supplies 76 miles of driving range. The Focus ST is a performance-tuned version of the hatchback equipped with a 252-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The S, SE, and Titanium versions get a 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine.

All versions of the Focus except the Electric and Titanium have a standard manual gearbox. The Focus Electric has a single-speed transmission, while the Titanium is equipped with an automated manual transmission that is optional for the S and SE trim levels.

Base Price--$17,635
Body Styles--Hatchback and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--The Rest
Predicted Reliability Rating--About Average
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--The Rest
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--23/40; Electric rated 105 MPGe
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--"Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--13.2 cu. ft. to 44.8 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Nissan Sentra
Four versions of the sixth most popular small car in the United States are for sale in four trim levels:  S, SV, SR, and SL. Buyers seeking maximum mileage from a 2014 Sentra can add an FE package (Fuel Economy) to the S or SV. All versions of the 2014 Sentra have a 130-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, and all except the Sentra S are equipped with a standard CVT. A manual gearbox is included in the least expensive Nissan Sentra S.

Base Price--$16,800
Body Styles--Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--About Average
Predicted Reliability Rating--The Rest
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Better than Most
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--27/39
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--4 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--Not a "Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--15.1 cu. ft.


2014 Volkswagen Jetta
Buyers may choose a 2014 Jetta in sedan or wagon format; collectively, they make this Volkswagen the seventh most popular small car in America. Sedans are sold in S, SE, SEL, GLI, TDI Clean Diesel, and Hybrid model series, while the Jetta SportWagen is available in S, SE, and TDI Clean Diesel specifications.

The least expensive Jetta S model has a 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. The SE and SEL sedans are equipped with a new 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, while the performance-oriented GLI generates 210 horsepower from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine is standard for the Jetta SportWagen. All TDI Clean Diesel models are equipped with a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbo-diesel 4-cylinder engine.

A manual gearbox is standard equipment for each engine listed above, with an automatic transmission or a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automated manual transmission available as an option.

To create the Jetta Hybrid, Volkswagen marries a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine to an electric assist motor and a DSG. Combined, it makes 170 horsepower.

Base Price--$17,715
Body Styles--Sedan and Wagon
Initial Quality Rating--About Average
Predicted Reliability Rating--The Rest
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Better than Most
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--23/48
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars (Sedan; Wagon not tested)
IIHS Crash Test Rating--Not a "Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--11.3 cu. ft. to 66.9 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Nissan Versa
Two different cars wear the Versa nameplate, and together they make this Nissan the eighth most popular car in America. The 5-door hatchback is known as the Versa Note, while the sedan is simply the Versa. They all have a 109-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. Transmission types include manual, automatic, or CVT. The S, S Plus, SV, and SL trim levels are available depending on which style of Versa is selected.

Base Price--$12,800
Body Styles--Hatchback and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--The Rest
Predicted Reliability Rating--The Rest
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--The Rest
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--26/40
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--4 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--Not a "Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--14.9 cu. ft. to 38.3 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Mazda 3
Redesigned for 2014, the Mazda 3 hatchback and sedan are the ninth most popular small cars in the United States. The Mazda 3 is available in SV, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels, and in two different series called Mazda 3i and Mazda 3s.

The Mazda 3i versions get a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, while the Mazda 3s variants are equipped with a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. A manual gearbox is standard for the Mazda 3i, while the Mazda 3s gets an automatic transmission. The automatic is optional for the Mazda 3i.

Base Price--$17,740
Body Styles--Hatchback and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--Not rated
Predicted Reliability Rating--Better than Most
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--Not rated
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--27/40
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--"Top Safety Pick" (models built after October 2013)
Cargo Volume--12.4 cu. ft. to 47.1 cu. ft. (depending on model)


2014 Subaru Impreza
Subaru builds the 10th most popular small car in America: the 2014 Impreza. Equipped with standard all-wheel-drive, the Impreza is available in hatchback and sedan body styles, and all versions are equipped with a 148-horsepower 4-cylinder engine paired with a manual gearbox or a CVT. Sedans come in base, Premium, and Limited trim levels, while the hatchbacks are offered in Sport Premium and Sport Limited trim.

Base Price--$18,690
Body Styles--Hatchback and Sedan
Initial Quality Rating--About Average
Predicted Reliability Rating--The Rest
Overall Vehicle Appeal Rating--The Rest
Fuel Economy Range (city/highway mpg)--25/36
NHTSA Crash Test Rating--5 stars
IIHS Crash Test Rating--"Top Safety Pick"
Cargo Volume--12.0 cu. ft. to 52.4 cu. ft. (depending on model)

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