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The 7 best small cars
Compare 7 models based on their MSRP, fuel efficiency, spaciousness and more.
Small cars are popular for a reason. They are economical, reliable and easier to maneuver than their larger counterparts. As the 2022 models start rolling off the assembly line, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider your options when it is time to get a new set of wheels. The best small cars on the road should be reliable, get good mileage and not break the bank when driving off the lot.
These are our picks for the best small cars of 2021.
1. Toyota Corolla — Starting at $19,450 — Best for reliability
Toyota has a reputation among shoppers for great reliability, and the 2022 Corolla is no exception. There are Toyota Corollas that first hit the road in the 90s still running strong to this day. It may not be the fanciest, or the most powerful with only a 139 horsepower engine standard, but the Corolla is built with a 5-star safety rating and is expected to be on the road for years after rolling off the lot.
J.D. Power, a major data and analytics company that focuses heavily on consumer vehicles, gave the 2021 Corolla a consumer reliability rating of 85/100. The Toyota Corolla has ranked in the top 5 spots for J.D. Power’s reliability for the last 8 years.
Since only minor changes have been applied to the Corolla since last year’s model, it is expected that the 2022 Corolla will be just as reliable as the 2021. Toyota’s 2022 model comes with 15-inch wheels, assisted braking, Safety Sense 2.0 and a rear-view camera as standard.
2. Honda Civic — Starting at $24,465 — Best for eco modes
The 2022 Civic comes with 2 features standard for those worried about emissions. Honda’s Eco Assist highlights when the driver is at peak efficiency, and the Idle-stop feature cuts the engine when stopped.
The Civic is one of the best alternatives to the Toyota Corolla as one of the most popular small cars on the road. Better-than-average fuel economy contributes to the eco-friendliness of the Civic, making it an all-around great choice for those looking to keep both carbon emissions and expenses to a minimum.
In previous years, the Civic has won awards for its eco technology, such as the Canadian Green Car Award for best internal combustion engine, winning back-to-back in 2017-18. The latest Civic uses that same award-winning engine. With the standard eco options included, the Civic is a great choice for the green-conscious driver.
3. Hyundai Elantra — Starting at $17,899 — Best for style
The 2021 Elantra was named the North American Car of the Year in 2021 by the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) automotive media jury. Heated seats, an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and 15-inch wheels all come standard on the base model Elantra.
Car lovers who value style first and foremost have been flocking to the Elantra for years. Approximately 17,500 have hit the streets of Canada already in 2021, with more bound to join them. If you want something truly eye-catching that doesn’t break the bank, the Elantra is an award-winning option that stands out on the road.
4. Mazda3 — Starting at $22,481 — Best for standard features
Mazda’s entry into the compact car game comes with some of the best standard features available in an entry-level vehicle. The 2021 Mazda3 comes standard with 16-inch wheels, blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, an 8.8-inch media control screen and rain-sensing wipers as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Standard safety features, including lane assist, high beams and adaptive cruise control, make the Mazda3 an easy choice for those looking for the most features they can get out of the box.
5. Kia Forte — Starting at $17,895 — Best for affordability
The 2021 Forte from Kia comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 2 of the best and most convenient ways to connect your mobile phone to your vehicle. Kia compacts also feature an impressive 147 horsepower produced by its 2-litre 4-cylinder engine.
The Forte also comes with relatively low maintenance fees for the first several years of its life. The average maintenance cost for a Forte in the first 10 years of its life is about $7,446. That is nearly $1,300 lower than the average for similarly sized vehicles. For the driver looking to buy a car and not have to worry about costs down the line, the Forte is a great option.
6. Chevrolet Bolt — Starting at $38,198 — Best small electric
The lone electric entry on the list is a Chevy hatchback – the appropriately named Bolt. This gasless small car can go up to 417km on a single charge and can gain an additional 160km worth of range in just half an hour of charging from a DC Fast Charging station. Plus depending on your province, you may get a rebate for purchasing a new electric car.
Other small electrics, such as the BMW i3, come with both a shorter range and a higher price tag for a similarly sized vehicle, which is why the Bolt is our pick for the best small electric car of the year.
7. Subaru Impreza – Starting at $21,995 — Best for cargo space
Subaru’s sporty Impreza is packed with several safety features that come standard such as EyeSight Driver Assist and a rear-view camera with a dynamic guidance system to help with reversing. The Impreza also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built in to connect your phone to maps and music.
The hatchback version of the Impreza comes with an impressive 55.3 cubic feet of cargo space with folding rear seats. The Impreza regularly tops lists for customers looking to fill their car to the brim, beating out Honda (46.2 cubic feet), Volkswagen (53.7 cubic feet) and Hyundai (55.1 cubic feet).
These are what we consider to be the best small cars of the year. If you are considering picking one up, it is worth asking yourself a few additional questions before heading to a dealership.
Why should I invest in a small car?
Buying a small car comes with several benefits, especially when you take your budget into consideration:
- Less money spent at the pump. When gas prices are low, it may be tempting to get a gas-guzzling truck or SUV. But you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year by opting for a smaller car, even when gas prices are affordable. And when the price of gas eventually increases, you’ll thank yourself for going small and avoiding that huge bill every time you visit the pump.
- Easier to get financing. If you don’t have a great credit score, you may only get approved for a small car loan amount. So if you’re relying on financing to purchase a car, your options might be limited to small cars as opposed to more expensive SUVs or trucks.
- Fewer greenhouse gas emissions. You can check your car’s emissions on Natural Resources Canada search tool, but the concept is simple: The smaller your engine, the less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases your car will produce. This makes driving a small car a good choice for your wallet and your environmental conscience.
- Easier to drive and park. If you live in a crowded city or take frequent road trips, a small car — especially a compact car — makes it that much easier to navigate and park in cramped spaces.
5 tips for buying a small car
Once you’ve decided that buying a small car is right for you, use these tips to help you get a good deal:
- Consider your needs. When you’re comparing small cars, consider cargo space and safety features alongside any trim details and technology you want.
- Get preapproved. Getting preapproved for a car loan from a few banks or third-party lenders can give you more bargaining power when you hit the dealership.
- Check manufacturer incentives. If you decided to buy or lease a new car, check the manufacturer’s website to see if it has any special deals or incentives available. This may include 0% APR financing, no money down or cash back to help offset the price of the car.
- Schedule multiple test-drives. Once you’ve narrowed it down to two or three models, schedule test-drives for each one. This is especially important if you’re buying used, since it gives you a chance to check for any damages or potential issues.
- Prepare to negotiate. When you’re ready to buy, remember to negotiate the price of the car — not the monthly payment. If you plan to finance through the dealership, bring along your most competitive preapproval offer to see if the salesperson is willing to offer a lower rate. You can find more tips for negotiating with a car dealer with our guide.
Compare car loan providers
If you’re thinking about buying a small car, you have plenty of options to choose from that come with spacious interiors, good fuel economy and high safety ratings. And when you’re ready to hit the dealership, our guide to car loans can help you find competitive financing that fits your needs.
Frequently asked questions
- Corolla & Corolla Hybrid 2022 by Toyota Canada
- Civic Sedan 2022 by Honda Canada
- Showroom Elantra 2021 by Hyundai Canada
- Hyundai Elantra Canada Sales Figures by Car Figures 02 September 2021
- Mazda 3 2021 by Mazda Canada
- Forte 2021 by Kia Canada
- KIA Forte Maintenance Costs by Car edge
- Bolt Ev 2022 by Chevrolet Canada
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