9 Steps to Help You Compare Compact Cars

(And how you can easily get started today)
Ryan Hanley headshot photo. Written by Ryan Hanley
Ryan Hanley headshot photo.
Written by Ryan Hanley

Ryan Hanley is a public speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, “Content Warfare.” Ryan has over 15 years of insurance expertise.

A small red car parked between two large black SUVs.

It can be both fun and frustrating to compare small cars. This year's offerings include roomy interiors, superior gas mileage and compact sedans with turbo-charged engines. If you find yourself overwhelmed when you compare compact cars, read on. This handy small car evaluation guide will help you make your decision with confidence. Just make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy.

The Compact Car Comparison Checklist


The first way to pare down your list of candidates is with your budget. According to U.S. news, the top small sedans this year range between $13,000 and $35,000. That's quite an array of choices. Calculate how much you can afford to pay, with interest and a down payment, and then look for small cars that fit your price range. 

An Internet search can show you how much people tend to pay for each model in your area. After wrangling invoice prices down, aim for cars you can afford.

Fuel Economy

Each automaker and several consumer information sites can show you the estimated fuel efficiency of the models on your affordable car list. If you plan to drive a long commute each day, fuel economy may need to be near the top of your criteria. If you only drive short distances, you can afford to place other considerations, like comfort and tech-friendly extras, higher among your priorities.

Headroom and Legroom

Space is always a consideration when you're dealing with a small car. If you are tall, this is an important part when you compare small cars. Take a look at these measurements before heading out for test drives to find the cars most likely to fit your build. For example, Edmunds notes that the Ford Focus sedan has a full inch more headroom than its competitor, the Honda Civic does. 

The Civic, on the other hand, boasts 3 inches more legroom. If you have long legs, you already know that the Civic is likely to feel more comfortable to you.

Passenger Space

Some compact cars only seat two people, while others can hold up to five. If you carry a third passenger only once or twice a year, you can safely opt for the smaller option. However, this will probably not save you money on the overall price, so it may be better to opt for something with a backseat if you plan to carry passengers now and then. 

If you have small children, be sure to bring a child's car seat with you for the test drive. Some compact cars make safety seat installation a hassle, while others make it relatively easy.


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Cargo Space

This varies greatly from vehicle to vehicle, even on compact cars. It is one more detail you can check before you ever set foot on the car lot. Make sure you consider not only the groceries you pick up from week to week but also the occasional road trips and big supply runs, if necessary.

Hatchback or Trunk

Depending on the types and amounts of cargo you haul around in your small car, you may need a hatchback, with its higher headspace and overall greater cubic footage. Don't forget that most models feature a folding back seat, so even if you opt for a compact car with a trunk, you might still be able to carry more gear than you might expect.


Once you've narrowed down your prices, passenger space and cargo space issues, it's time to get a feel for the small cars on your short list. Comparison of comfort is entirely subjective. You'll have to sit down, move the seats around and take a long test drive to see which car is most comfortable for your body and driving style.


The Internet is full of consumer information that you can access at any time. Take advantage of the experiences of those who have gone before you. Read thoroughly through the online reviews of your top choices and compare notes on what others say about each sedan.

Best Value

Once you've narrowed your choices down to two, ask yourself which of these gives you the best value for the money? A large part of this is a comparison of resale values. It's impossible to say exactly what a new car will be worth three to five years from now, but some brands definitely display an advantage over others in this department. 

If the difference in resale values between your two choices is too close to call, you can go on to consider the little extras, like sound system, tech integration and visual appeal.

Don't Forget to Count the Hidden Costs

There are other expenses to consider in your car buying decision, such as registration fees, maintenance and insurance. Car insurance can vary greatly from vehicle to vehicle, so find out from an independent agent which of the cars on your short list would be easiest to insure. You might also find a free car maintenance program to sweeten the deal and sway you from one great option to another.

And of course, the final factor in your decision might be the dealer. You'll need someone who is willing to come down to your best offer and get you into the car you want at a price you feel is fair. Once you've negotiated a great deal and signed on the dotted line, take your new compact car home and pat yourself on the back for a decision well made.

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