Compact cars are serious business in Canada. Small sedans and hatchbacks are the cars that routinely appear in the top 10 sellers list, which is otherwise dominated by SUVs and pickup trucks. This is quite different from the U.S. marketplace that relies more on the mid-size segment to satisfy its citizens’ appetite for cars.
This category has grown up a lot in the past few years. Many cars still marketed as compacts have moved into mid-size territory in terms of interior space and offer technology, refinement, and performance once limited to more expensive vehicles.
Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts considered every single offering in the compact car segment in Canada and voted to advance these six vehicles to the final round of voting. Our compact car category for the 2020 autoTRADER.ca Awards consisted of a dozen vehicles. While just half made our shortlist, that doesn’t mean the balance are not good cars. In this category, our experts are looking for strong value, technology and features that are easy to use, efficient performance, a practical design, and proof that the car’s designers were concerned about the safety of its occupants.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are the compact car finalists for the 2020 autoTRADER.ca Awards. A winner for Best Compact Car will be announced on January, 20, 2020.
The Honda Civic is a perennial favourite for its combination of smart design and efficient, fun performance. A 2016 redesign introduced a more mature 10th-generation Civic with big interior space, loads of refinement, clever storage cubbies, and a lot of connectivity and safety technology. Honda followed that up in 2017 with the first mainstream Civic hatchback in more than 15 years, and a coupe rounds out the lineup. Sporty Si and Type R variants contribute to the most varied economy car range in the marketplace.
An available turbo 1.5L engine is a highlight for its sprightly performance. While the base 2.0L is less potent, it’s still fun to drive – especially with a standard six-speed manual transmission – thanks to its free-revving nature.
For 2020, Civic pricing starts around $18,000 for a DX sedan, and tops out at $31,390 for a hatchback in Sport Touring trim.
You’d think we’d be used to it by now, but Hyundai keeps surprising us every time it introduces a new design. The Elantra is not a flashy car, but its current generation model, comprised of a sedan and the GT hatchback, boasts fashionable styling regardless of trim and available turbocharged performance variants. The Elantra Sport and Elantra GT N Line are Hyundai’s answer to the Volkswagen GLI and GTI. They don’t quite match the performance of those German juggernauts, but they get close.
Among entry-level variants, we find the Elantra GT hatchback easier to love for its stronger base engine and sportier looks, but it’s hard to argue against any Elantra as sensible transportation.
Mazda redesigned its compact sedan and hatchback for 2019, once again infusing this car with the performance flair that has helped it become a favourite with budget-oriented driving enthusiasts. The new styling is more daring, there’s a redesigned infotainment interface that’s easier to use, and a six-speed manual transmission is available in all three of its trim levels and with both available engines.
The optional 2.5L engine comes with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation technology and can be had with AWD, making it unique in this class. Among the Mazda3’s few faults is its snug interior. Besides the driving dynamics and exterior style, the Mazda3 also feels the most upmarket of its competitors because of its chic interior design and high-quality build and materials.
Mazda3 pricing starts at about $18,000 for a GX sedan and reaches $31,500 in Sport GT trim with AWD.
The Subaru Impreza is Canada’s least-expensive AWD car, and that standard all-weather traction makes this compact sedan and hatchback standout choices in this category. Subaru last redesigned the Impreza in 2017, smoothing out its styling and adding interior space.
If you want a speedy Subaru sedan, go look at the WRX in the Sporty Car Under $50,000 category. The standard Impreza is built for the masses with its 152-hp engine. It’s not particularly quick, but Subaru’s AWD system is a champ in the snow, and an available EyeSight active safety system is an accessibly priced option, though Subaru’s competitors make many of the same features standard at lower prices.
Impreza pricing starts just below $20,000 for a sedan in Convenience trim, and the top-end Sport-tech hatchback is a bit more than $31,000.
Toyota redesigned its Corolla Hatchback in 2019, and a new-generation sedan followed in 2020. Both cars look good and offer a level of driver engagement and style that Corolla buyers have not enjoyed in many years. This helps change the Corolla’s reputation that it was a boring, no-frills budget car – today’s Corolla is stylish and can even be called fun. There are also a ton a big-car features available like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, soft-touch materials, LED lighting, wireless phone charging and more.
Among the mechanical highlights is a new 2.0L engine (standard in Corolla hatchback and the sedan’s SE and XSE trims) whose 169 hp breathes some life into this traditionally ho-hum car. It’s especially interesting with the available six-speed stickshift.
Although it’s more high tech and has more personality than ever, the Corolla is still a hit with people who have reliability and fuel economy on the brain, and those who favour efficiency will appreciate the Corolla sedan’s first-ever hybrid option.
We’d argue the latest Corolla is a better value than ever, but it’s not the least expensive. The sedan starts at $18,990, and fully loaded versions of the sedan and hatchback wind up costing well over $28,000.
Volkswagen last redesigned the Golf in 2015, making it the oldest design in this category, but it still manages to be one of the best and most well-rounded. It’s also the most expensive to start of this bunch, at well over $22,000 for an entry-level Comfortline trim. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are offered as standard. The Golf’s inclusion among our compact car finalists speaks to an upscale look and engaging driving feel that newer models are only just catching up to. We think it also helps that the Golf’s styling, while somewhat conservative, has aged very well, and this small hatchback packs a lot of space into a tidy footprint, including a spacious rear seat and a big cargo area.
The Volkswagen Golf has been celebrated for its practicality, refined interior and driving dynamics, but also for its variety: Besides the base Golf with its 147-hp turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine, the sporty GTI is a perennial enthusiast favourite, powered by VW’s heroic 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder offering 228 hp.
Even in its most basic form, the 147 hp Golf boasts remarkable poise and is fun to drive. Steering feel is arguably the best you’ll find in a compact, which encourages enthusiastic driving. All trims come standard with a six-speed stick-shift, and an optional eight-speed automatic makes good use of the turbocharged engine’s torque.