Although efficiency has been the buzz word in the auto world these past few years, there’s simply never enough when it comes to saving. Compact cars are still most people’s best bet for that. Electric cars haven’t peaked in their development yet, and they’re often more expensive to begin with. There’s also always seemingly a problem with the charging infrastructure for plug-ins. Even hybrids are often the wrong answer, so which compacts are the best deals? More specifically, what are the best compact cars 2018 will have to offer?
It’s never easy to answer this type of a question. Especially since most 2018 year models are yet to be evaluated. However, considering their predecessors’ reputation and reliability, overall value for money, and build quality – we’re able to at least give you some suggestions on the matter. Consider it a point in the right direction of sorts. So, without further ado – here are some of our picks for the best compact cars we’ll see in 2018. We’ll also include a few subcompacts. Why not go all the way when we’re already going small, right? Bear in mind that we haven’t included any crossovers, though – compact or not.
If you’re arriving here late, you can always jump ahead to our list of Best 2020 Compact Cars.
The Best 2018 Compact Cars You Can Buy
After receiving a substantial mid-cycle facelift in 2016 and new hatchback and turbo diesel options in 2017, the Chevrolet Cruze carries over into 2018 without any major changes. The Bow Tie brand’s compact is a decent car with one of the best fuel economy ratings in its class. The standard 153-horsepower 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder is slow to accelerate but returns 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway if paired with the automatic transmission. The manual transmission lowers combined ratings by two points (29/38 mpg). Although pricey, the 137-horsepower 1.6L turbodiesel further increases the Cruze’s fuel efficiency. Manual diesel sedans are good for as much as 37 mpg in the city and 52 mpg on the highway. Moreover, hatchbacks too can now be had with the oil burner – a feat new for 2018.
Apart from saving on fuel, the Chevy Cruze falls into that sweet affordable compact price range. Depending on the build and options, it costs between $17,000 and $26,000. It also offers a host of available tech features which its competitors usually lack. Goodies such as a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Not to mention, the 24 cubic feet of boot space (47 cubes with the rear seat folded). All in all, the Chevrolet Cruze is always a fine choice for a prospective compact car buyer. Especially if they tend to spend more time on highways.
Ever since the sixth generation Elantra debuted in 2015, Hyundai’s compact has been among the best choices the segment has to offer. Elantra won’t be winning any trophies, but it’s right there with the best of them in almost every category there is. For starters, it’s rather spacious for a compact – especially the hatchback Elantra GT which offers 24.9 cubic feet of cargo space or 55.4 cubes with the rear seat folded down. Then, there is the vast array of available amenities to consider, though base models are rather spartan. Finally, the Elantra offers a choice between performance and economy thanks to its trio of engines.
You won’t get much out of the base 2.0L 4-cylinder, at least in terms of performance. The 147-horsepower mill, however, returns as much as 29/38 mpg with the auto transmission. Eco models benefit from a 128-horsepower 1.4L turbo four engine which is rated at 32/40 mpg. It’s only available with the dual-clutch transmission. Finally, for those who don’t put the emphasis on efficiency, there’s a more powerful 1.6L turbocharged four-banger available for the Sport trim package. It develops 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, and returns 26/33 mpg. The good news for 2018 is that the Elantra GT hatchback has been fully redesigned.
Ford Focus ST
Although a fine car by an established manufacturer, the Ford Focus fails to beat its competitors in pretty much every segment there is. Furthermore, the Focus suffers from extremely cramped rear seat space and mediocre reliability scores at best. The Ford Focus ST, on the other hand, counters conventional models’ shortcomings with plenty of power under the hood and fun driving dynamics. Although it’s only available in hatchback form and starts from $25,000, the Focus ST is well-worth the extra cost – especially considering all the extras that come with it.
The Focus ST’s huge plus over its competitors comes courtesy of its 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, which delivers as much as 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. With 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, the EcoBoost is rather thirsty for a family compact, however. Still, the Focus ST’s lightning quick reflexes, fun ride, and a host of tech features fitting for a top tier car are what tips the scales in the Blue Oval’s favor. The Ford Focus ST can be a great choice for those in need of a nimble and quick-accelerating city car. Moreover, with all the extra power it possesses, highway cruising will never pose a problem.
Honda has had a reputation for reliability for a long time now, so it’s only fitting that their compact with a fitting name makes the list of best compact cars of 2018. Technically speaking, the Honda Fit isn’t even a compact – it’s a B-segment subcompact car. Regardless of its small size, the Fit still manages to create ample room for cargo thanks to its magic seat folding capability. Even rear passengers will be able to relax without worrying about cramped legroom.
The Honda Fit fails to impress in the performance category, however. The 1.5L 4-cylinder is only good for 130 hp with the 6-speed manual and 128 hp with the CVT. The automatic is especially slow to accelerate, but it compensates with fuel economy ratings of 31/36 mpg (33/40 mpg with base LX models). Then again, the manual isn’t that far off either, being rated at 29/36 mpg. Speaking of base LX models, for $16,000 they’re practically a steal. Apart from better fuel economy, they come with standard hill-start assist and a rearview camera. The sport trim starting from $17,500 is all new for 2018, while the EX and EX-L continue where they’ve left off.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Just like the Ford Focus, the Volkswagen Golf, too, suffers from inadequate reliability scores. While the conventional Golf lineup still packs a healthy punch, it’s the $25,000 performance version that wins the day. The top of the line Golf R is also there – but like the Focus RS – it’s way too pricey. The GTI’s 2.0L turbo four develops 227 horsepower in its base S trim and returns fuel economy ratings of 25/34 mpg. For $28,000, $31,000 and $34,000 you can also get the Sport, SE and Autobahn trims, respectively. These will generate between 230 and 245 ponies.
Another plus for the German is its first class cargo volume. There’s room for 23 cubes of cargo in the trunk alone, while folding of the rear seat frees up as much as 53 cubic feet. Athletic handling comes in pair with grippier seats that can hold their own in sharp corners. As it’s usually the case with German cars, advanced safety equipment comes at a premium. However, the Golf earns a five-star safety rating in its base form according to NHTSA. Even in its base form, the Volkswagen Golf stands out as one of the most fun hatchbacks out there. The hot-hatch GTI version only serves to add more fun to the mix.
The best-selling car of all time wouldn’t have made the reputation that it now has by being mediocre. Throughout its life, the Toyota Corolla has always been reliable and offered good value for money. Truth be told – the 2018 Toyota Corolla probably isn’t in the top ten of all time Corollas, but it’s still one of the best compact cars 2018 has to offer. Great reliability rating, very good gas mileage and spot on pricing are Corolla’s advantages. Moreover, Toyota also sells the iM hatchback Corolla which has more premium feel about it and sports a more sophisticated suspension underneath.
The Corolla’s biggest issue is likely its anemic powertrain with a basically mandatory CVT gearbox. The 1.8L 4-cylinder gets 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque throughout most of the lineup. Eco models add 8 horsepower, while the iM hatchback adds 5 ponies – both at the expense of 2 lb-ft of torque. Only the hatch and equivalent SE trim sedan offer the optional 6-speed manual transmission that lowers CVT’s 28/36 mpg by a single point in both categories. Other than that, the Corolla perfectly fits that distinctive compact family car description. It’s nimble, affordable, efficient, has surprisingly good safety ratings and just enough tech features to make you feel comfortable.
The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the most pleasant surprises in the compact car world. Its 238 miles of electric range have helped it win the coveted 2017 North American Car of the Year award along the way. Although having to hide its large 60 kWh lithium-ion battery and 200-horsepower electric motor, the Bolt still manages to offer surprisingly adequate interior space. It’s definitely larger than it looks like and offers an abundance of tech gear. But that was to be expected from a car that starts from $37,500 before the Federal tax rebate (around $30,000 after refunds). It’s still pricier than its competitors but should return on investment rather quickly with all the fuel savings.
The Bolt’s main issues are poor interior material quality and slow charging times. The Bolt requires around 9 hours for a full charge via 240-volt Level 2 charging stations. Rapid charging, of course, costs extra, but even that takes a while. Yet, 30 minutes for 90 miles of range is more than adequate for everyday needs around the city. As an all-electric car, Chevrolet Bolt is still a niche choice, despite all of its plus sides. One day, when GM, Tesla and other automakers decide to address the issue of horrendous fast-charging infrastructure, future Chevy Bolts will likely sit at the top of their class.
The Honda Civic has consistently been ranked as one of the best compacts for years now. Tenth generation models debuted in 2016 while the hatchback arrived a year later, and the 2018 model year examples are finally complete without any updates. What stands out as their defining attribute is likely the best ride quality in the class. The base 158-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder does the job for everyday commuters, but an optional 174-horsepower 1.5L turbo four fares even better. Plus it’s more efficient – 32/42 mpg compared to the larger engine’s 31/40 mpg with the CVT gearbox. In fact, the 2.0L engine’s only advantage is its lower cost.
Apart from a perky four-cylinder which significantly upgrades the Civic’s ride, Honda’s compact offers an above-average safety record with advanced tech like the adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision warning now available on all trim levels including the base LX. Furthermore, there’s also plenty of space in the cabin. The Civic beats most of its rivals by offering 112.9 cubic feet of space. The hatchback builds on that by adding 25.7 cubes of cargo space behind the rear seat. With the seat folded, free space increases to 46.2 cubic feet. All in all, the Honda Civic is rightfully among the best compact cars 2018 is bringing our way.
Although technically a subcompact crossover, the Kia Soul is hatchback-y and petite enough to make our list. There just aren’t that many differences between other compact cars and the slightly more elevated Kia – a statement that’s valid for most of the Soul’s defining segments. For starters, the Soul gets two engines in three tunes and trim levels. A 2.0L 4-cylinder with 161 horsepower sits in the mid-range, while a 1.6L four-banger flanks it from both sides. Entry-level models get a naturally aspirated version good for 130 horsepower while top-tier models benefit from a turbocharger which raises the output to 201 horsepower. All trims also get a gearbox of their own. Base models start with a 6-speed manual, mid-range Plus models get the 6-speed auto and finally, the top-tier Exclaim gets the 7-speed dual-clutch.
The Soul’s boxy body and ride height have a detrimental impact on the compact’s fuel economy, however. Most models get 25/30 mpg with the exception of top models which get an additional point in both city and highway categories. The Kia Soul’s exquisite styling doesn’t negatively impact available cargo space, though. A 24.2 cubic-foot trunk doesn’t sound like much, but fold the rear seat down and watch that figure soar to 61.3 cubes. On the minus side, the Kia Soul has yet to offer any advanced safety feature as standard with even a rearview camera being an expensive upgrade.
One can argue that it’s a matter of preference and taste, but there certainly aren’t that many better-looking compacts than the Mazda 3. What’s more, this Japanese compact beats most of its competitors with interior styling and refinement as well. 20.2 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seat raised and 47.1 cubes with it lowered (for hatchbacks), aren’t exactly segment-leading figures, though. Still, the comfortable and refined interior is further complemented by the Mazda 3’s great safety ratings and abundance of available advanced active safety tech.
The 155-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder found in base models is a fine option already. Especially since it can be ordered with both the 6-speed manual and auto. Yet, its fuel economy of 28/37 mpg isn’t exactly the best. A more athletic 184-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder drops the figures to as low as 25/29 mpg with the manual. However, it simultaneously raises the fun level, although we don’t have the figures to prove that – you’ll just have to believe us. As of the 2018 model year, a 2.5L Skyactiv engine is standard with all but the base model. For between $18,000 and $24,000, the Mazda 3 isn’t only one of the best compact cars 2018 has to offer, it’s one of the best choices on the market – period.