Sticker shock seems almost inevitable these days. J.D. Power pegged the average transaction price on a new vehicle at $37,165 in January as the fixation on SUVs remains, well, a market fixture. That extra utility and higher ride height doesn’t come cheap: As of late 2020, the median list price for a new SUV on Cars.com was roughly $7,500 more than that of a new car. So what’s a shopper on a budget to do? The answer’s staring you in the face: Shop sedans instead.
Related: What’s the Best Compact Sedan?
Among the most viable options is the humble compact class, a segment thinned by recent departures from GM and Ford. But it still claims ever-popular nameplates like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, both of which we recently compared (in the link above) to the redesigned Nissan Sentra. That got us to thinking: In terms of straight value, which compact sedan gives you the most bang for the buck?
It’s no easy question. We took eight popular small sedans for the 2021 model year — the Civic, Corolla and Sentra, as well as the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza and Volkswagen Jetta — and stacked up the cheapest trim level that accounted for at least 10% of each sedan’s model-year 2021 inventory on Cars.com. Then we compared safety and convenience features, EPA mileage, warranty and free-maintenance programs, and, most critically, price.
All prices include destination and (if it’s optional) the cost of an automatic transmission. Two other caveats: We can’t factor in manufacturer and dealer discounts, which vary considerably based on where and when you shop. And we didn’t consider drivability, quality or projected reliability — factors that could undoubtedly affect your decision. This is strictly about what you get for the dollars.
Here’s what we determined.