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The Best Compact Car of 2021 Might Not Be What You Think

Thinking of buying a compact car this year or next? The cars listed below ranked well in safety features, fuel economy, and added infotainment systems. Prices below $29,000, there are some affordable small car options out there by Honda, Volkswagen, and Subaru.

What is the best small car to buy in 2021?

Some of the best subcompact cars include Honda, Volkswagen, and Mazda
A Volkswagen GTI Golf car on display at the Volkswagen factory, one of the best subcompact cars for 2021 | Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

The bottom of the list compiled by U.S. News is made up of a variety of cars. The 2020 Nissan Sentra came in last with a score of 7.0/10. The Sentra is priced at $19,410, which still makes it a solid choice.

The 2020 Subaru WRX scored a 7.2 and was closely followed by the 2021 Impreza. The WRX was priced much higher at $27,495 than $18,795, which is interesting because the Impreza is a year newer.

The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta slid into the sixth spot with a 7.5. Just behind the 2021 Golf, the Jetta was about $4,000 cheaper at $18,995. The Golf came in at $23,195.

Small cars are having a moment

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The 2020 Hyundai Elantra, 2021 Toyota Corolla, and 2021 Hyundai Veloster all tied for fourth place with a score of 8.1. Priced fairly similarly, these three picks can be yours for under $20,000. In third place is the 2021 Kia Forte, with a score of 8.2.

The 2020 Elantra is predictable and reliable. It offers excellent fuel economy and has plenty of room for passengers. While the touch screen is slightly small at only five inches, the menu is easy to navigate. You can get Apple CarePlay and Android Auto, but you have to upgrade to the SEL trim for that.

The Toyota Corolla is about as reliable as it gets. A 7-inch touchscreen paired with standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa set it apart. It also offers a ton of standard safety features. The 1.8L base engine isn’t inspiring, but no one expects it to be.

The Veloster offers a 201 hp turbo-four option for an extra $4,550. U.S. News notes that the base option is just fine for everyday driving, though.

Honda, Mazda, and Volkswagen lead the way

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The 2020 Mazda3 received a score of 8.5/10 based on various criteria. One of those criteria is safety. U.S. News gave the 3 a perfect safety score and noted that for 2020, the car had more standard safety features. That means you get a safe car without having to spend extra, only $21,500 to be exact.

The 2021 Volkswagen GTI tied for second with the Honda Civic. The biggest downfall for this hatchback was the fuel economy. While others in its class are getting solid mileage, the GTI is lagging. For $28,695, the GTI had a 9.2 safety rating.

With a score of 8.4/10, the 2021 Honda Civic was priced at $21,050. With a four-cylinder getting 158 hp on the base model, it can keep up. There is also the option of the turbo-four engine getting 174 hp, which comes standard in the hatchback.

The safety rating for the Civic was 9.7. It also has a few different engine options and body styles. The Civic Type R is a favorite trim for enthusiasts.