For those of us who don’t want to drive around town in a vehicle the size of a train, there have always been small cars to keep us happy. They have gone through many changes since they first became popular during the gas crisis. No longer is it acceptable to just be small and fuel efficient, as the automotive buying public demands much more out of these tiny vehicles.
Today’s modern small car has to be quick and fun to drive, while also having plenty of room inside the cabin. If the car doesn’t manage over 30 miles per gallon then it’s a big disappointment. Not to mention looks. A small car needs to look good as well as not be completely boring to look at everyday.
We have compiled a list of the top ten best small cars on the market in the United States and, like always, we have one rule; the price needs to be under $20,000. That should give us plenty to choose from.
Hit the jump to see the list.
10) Subaru Impreza
Starting at $17,495, the smallest model in the Subaru lineup offers plenty for the money. It has all-wheel drive, a great four-cylinder motor that puts out 170 horsepower, and good looks that are sure to get you noticed. While everybody is buying up Toyotas and Hondas, you will be the lone stand out in your new Subaru. The Impreza 2.5i comes with full power accessories, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, and a four-speaker stereo with CD player. Opting for the Premium trim adds alloy wheels and an upgraded audio. In our tests, we have found that the little car is fun to drive and has plenty of traction around the bends. If this were an under the radar car list, the Impreza would be at the front.
9) Toyota Corolla
Nothing says popularity like the Corolla . This refrigerator on wheels has sold well every year since it was created. This isn’t our favorite car at TopSpeed due to its uninspired looks inside and out and the blandness of how it drives. That being said, it gets the job done, but unlike Motor Trend, that isn’t enough for us to rank this Toyota up front. Prices start at $15,450 and for that you get great mileage and a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with either a five-speed manual or an outdated four-speed auto. If we were to buy one of these we would get the S model. The engine stays the same, but the looks get a little better. You also get a few more toys thrown in and, at $16,520, it doesn’t cost that much more.
8) Ford Focus
Until the new Focus is launched here in the United States, the old Focus will have to settle for eighth on our ten car list. It’s not that the Focus is a bad car, far from it, it’s just a bit dull to be honest. The car has never really grown on us like the old Ford did. The looks are plain and the interior is average at best. Prices for the little Ford start at $16,290 and for that you get a little more than you got with the Toyota . Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is connected to a five-speed manual box. For our money we would get the SEL because it comes with satellite radio and the SYNC system for around $18,780. Actually, we wouldn’t buy it at all.
7) Honda Civic
We tested a Civic a while back and it was good, nothing special, but just good. The looks of the sedan are a bit disappointing and Honda needs to get a refresh out soon before Mazda and the rest of the gang take its sales. The coupe looks good and, if we were in the market for a Civic, the coupe would be the best choice. It comes with a 140 horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder that is very fuel efficient. The Civic gets 26 miles gallon city and 34 on the highway, which is very good. There is nothing wrong with the Civic, but there is nothing great about it either.
6) Volkswagen Jetta
We love the Jetta a lot because of its German engineering and it’s amazing looks. The one thing that is keeping it at number six is the price. At $17,000 for the base model, the Jetta isn’t a cheap small car. That being said, you do get a lot for your money. The Jetta comes with a 2.5-liter 170 horsepower four-cylinder motor that is connected to a five-speed manual gearbox. If you go for the automatic the price jumps to $18,835, so you really only have two options if you are looking to stay below the $20k mark. The VW also doesn’t get the best mileage, only 30 miles per gallon in the highway. Still, we love it and it would be a smart buy.
5) Volkswagen Golf
The only thing better than a VW sedan is a VW hatch. The Golf gets the same 2.5-liter motor as the Jetta, but with less weight to lug around, the Golf feels quicker. The car will hit 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, while managing to get 22 miles per gallon city and 30 highway. The reason we love the Golf more than the Jetta is because it’s a hatchback and some of us here at TopSpeed love hatchbacks. There is plenty of room for storage in the rear and plenty of room for people in the back. There is nothing that these things can’t do. If it were our money, we would work harder and buy the GTI, but there is nothing wrong with the base Golf. It would a good buy for the budget minded consumer.
4) Kia Soul
We love the Soul for it’s unique design and low price. If you want to stand out, the Soul is the way to go. The badge on the front might not be as reputable as the badges on the others, but who cares. It’s just like buying off-brand cereal. The price is lower, but the taste is just as good. The Soul comes with a 2.0-liter 142 horsepower motor that can achieve 24 miles gallon city and 30 highway. That last number is a bit upsetting, as the motor is the same size and power as the Civic, but the mpg is four less. The Soul is fun to drive and comes with neat toys that would make your teenage son very happy. Prices start at under $14,000, so this Kia really is a smart bargain buy.
3) 2011 Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta isn’t on sale yet in the United States, but it won’t be long. Ford has confirmed that the little Fiat will be here by the end of the year. The engine is a 1.6-liter 120 horsepower four-cylinder that might sound pretty pathetic, but as the European will tell you, horsepower isn’t everything. This car is fun to drive because it’s so small and can zip in and out of parking lots, corners, and even your driveway. The motor will be connected to a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. Frankly, Americans need to learn how to drive manuals because the five-speed in this Fiesta is amazingly good and it makes the car that much better. Let’s not forget that this little car should be able to get around 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 in the city. Prices start at $13,320, so this little Fiesta is a fantastic buy.
2) Mazda 3
We love the Mazda because it’s so different compared to the washing machines the other Japanese companies are making. The grin on the front fascia looks like a clown smiling at you in that creepy kind of way. The interior is the best among the Japanese inexpensive cars and the way it handles and drives is brilliant. The 3 gets a 2.0-liter, 148 horsepower motor that can achieve around 33 miles per gallon on the highway. Prices start at just $15,345 and that is one great price for a car that is this much fun. Zoom Zoom culture lives on at Mazda.
1) Mini Cooper
There is something about theMini that makes us happy. It’s easy to tell what makes us feel the way we do, as it’s all down to the Mini’s personality. The old school looks, the massive speedometer in the center of the car, the neat toggles and buttons in the dash, everything about this car is so cool and it does it all without trying too hard. The Cooper comes with a 1.6-liter motor that puts out around 118 horsepower. You can easily thrash that motor around to have barrels of fun and then, when it all settles down, the Cooper can get 28 miles per gallon city and 37 on the highway. Prices start at $19,500, so the Mini is the most expensive car here, but it’s the best too. The back seats are cramped and the trunk isn’t that big, but the Mini has that certain something that makes a great car brilliant. If you haven’t driven one, please do.
The top ten small cars was a tough list to compile. There are so many choices. It all depends on which car you love the most and what fits your needs. There is a reason why the Corolla sells as well as it does, but the Mini would be our first pick, as we just love it.
Stay tuned for the top ten best midsize sedans coming very soon.