These are the best small cars in America

It's almost impossible to purchase a bad vehicle these days, but some models are still better than others.

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Craig Cole/Roadshow/Kia/Honda

Aside from a range of major problems facing the world right now, it's a great time to be in the market for a new vehicle. There are so many excellent cars, trucks and SUVs to choose from. You pretty much can't go wrong, well, unless you mistakenly take home a Mitsubishi Mirage, but don't blame us for that.

If you're shopping the more affordable end of the market, here are some of the best small cars available, handpicked by the Roadshow staff.

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Volkswagen Golf

In no particular order, we start with the Volkswagen Golf. Since the mid-1970s and across some eight vehicle generations, this Teutonic breadbox on wheels has delivered the goods. Spacious, efficient, fun to drive and affordable, the Golf is unquestionably an automotive legend. 

Today, it is as practical as ever, offering loads of cabin space, nicely trimmed interiors and efficient powertrains. Of course, all this wholesome goodness is wrapped in clean styling, though some might call it a little boring.

If the standard model is a bit too sleepy for you, with its 147 horsepower, there's always the zippy GTI, which is a certifiable hoot to drive and still plenty versatile. With 228 hp on tap it's much more potent and can be had with either a six-speed manual or a seven-ratio dual-clutch automatic.

Hyundai Veloster

If you're looking for some driving fun, swing by your local Hyundai dealership and check out the Veloster lineup.

This asymmetrical three-door hatchback is a riot to drive, yet it's still perfectly practical. Giving you plenty of options is a broad range of engines. There's a base 2.0-liter four-banger that's good for 147 hp, you can get a 1.6-liter turbo that cranks out 201 hp, and then there's the Veloster N. It features a 2.0-liter turbocharged unit that's good for 250 hp in standard trim, or 275 if you opt for the $2,100 Performance Package. Best of all, it's married to a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.

Fun and functional, stylish and sophisticated, the Hyundai Veloster is a rock-solid choice.

Nissan Sentra

If there's an award for most-improved small car, the 2020 Nissan Sentra would win it. This compact four-door (technically it's a midsizer based on combined interior volume) has been transformed into something that looks and feels like a car you'd actually want to own, not just borrow for $9.99 a day while vacationing in Orlando.

The latest Sentra looks the business, with an attractively aggressive front end, available two-tone paint schemes and a dramatically improved cabin that can even be fitted with upscale diamond-quilted leather.

The Sentra is a little light on body styles and powertrains. It only comes as a four-door sedan and all that's offered under the hood is a 2.0-liter engine with 149 hp. Still, this machine looks great, drives nicely and finally feels like a winner.


Next on our list of all-around excellent small cars is the Mazda3. Available as a four-door family-hauler or hatchback, Hiroshima's little wonder is not only a delight to look at but drive as well. It's dressed in some of the most elegant styling in its segment, plus it rewards drivers with superb road manners.

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-pot engine packing 186 hp. Depending on the model, an automatic or manual transmission, each with six speeds, is on the menu, ditto for front- or all-wheel drive.

Matching its elegant exterior, the Mazda3's cabin is beautifully designed and crafted. Really, it wouldn't look out of place in a luxury car. Too bad that pretty interior is a little on the snug side. Backseat space is pretty restrictive for taller folks.

Kia Soul

What happens when you combine funky styling with a practical interior, lots of technology, oh, and a few hamsters? That's right, you get the Kia Soul, another one of our favorite small cars.

Some of you might consider this South Korean hauler to be a crossover, but really it's a hatchback since it sits low to the ground and is only offered with front-wheel drive.

Since it debuted about a dozen years ago, the Soul has been a blockbuster for Kia, selling by the literal boatload. Now in its third generation, that showroom success is sure to continue because the new model is nicer inside and more feature laden than ever.

As for performance, a base 2.0-liter four-banger serves up 147 hp, just like in the Veloster, but the range-topping model comes with a 1.6-liter turbo delivering 201 under-hood equines and plenty of giddy-up. The Kia Soul is not only fun and functional, it's one mighty fine small car.

Honda Civic

OK, before wrapping things up, we've got one more Roadshow recommendation to cover, the Honda Civic. This has always been one of the finest smaller cars you can buy, and the current, 10th-generation model is the best of this longstanding breed.

So, why do we love the Civic so much? Well, how much time do you have? It's roomy inside and comes with loads of standard equipment including the Honda Sensing suite of driver aids. Its interior is premium, these cars are well built, fuel efficient, reasonably priced and should hold their value like a Fabergé egg.

But if all that hasn't convinced you, the Civic also drives well, even in its most basic form, and Honda offers it in an enormous array of flavors. You can get it as a sedan, hatchback, coupe, a sporty Si model and, of course, the sublime Type R, which may be the best front-wheel drive car ever built. Really, it's hard to go wrong with any version of the Honda Civic. But get the Type R if you can. Seriously…

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