The Best Compact Cars of the Year (and How to Get One)

Maybe you’ve always been a fan of small cars and you are in the market for a new one. Or perhaps you have driven a behemoth for years — you know, the kind of massive vehicle that could seat your daughter and her entire soccer team — and you are more than ready to downsize. No matter the reason, it's time to check out smaller makes and models.

Buying a small car can be a wise choice, especially if you're concerned about fuel economy and you don't have a large family (or your kids won't typically ride in this vehicle). Compact cars tend to be more economical, get better gas mileage and are often darn cute to boot!

Before you buy, you'll want to make sure to do your research. Luckily, we've provided a few guidelines to get you started. Read on for some more reasons to "go tiny," and to find out which cars the experts stand behind.

The Top Reasons Why a Small Car Is a Smart Buy

Purchasing a more petite ride is a great idea when you consider the following points:

1. They’re more affordable.

New cars are not exactly cheap. But there is definitely a difference in price points, and small cars tend to be more affordable. This is due in large part to the fact that fewer materials are needed to manufacture them.

Don't forget that you'll save even more cash if you're willing and able to drive a car with a manual transmission; that is, a "stick shift." Compacts also tend to forgo pricier options like the rear seat infotainment system you'll find in larger SUVs.

2. They may need less maintenance.

Smaller cars have smaller engines; four cylinder is the most common engine type for these vehicles. Like the cars, their more compact engines are usually made with fewer parts, which translates into an engine requiring less maintenance. Of course, how much of your maintenance and repairs is covered depends on the model year and make you choose, and what's included with the manufacturer warranty.

3. You’ll save on gas.

Because compact cars are lighter than SUVs or pickup trucks, they tend to be much more fuel efficient. But that efficiency doesn't have to equal an uncomfortable ride. Even in a small car, you can still add tech options like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you'll still find a broad range of upscale features such as lane keep assist on nicer models. Plus, many of the autos listed below have a surprising amount of cargo space, trim levels and wheel drive options.

4. Parking is a breeze.

Smaller cars are easier to maneuver and can fit into tighter parking spaces, which is a major bonus if you live in a large and heavily populated area like the Valley of the Sun, where huge parking lots are often crammed with miniscule spaces. While SUV and truck drivers sweat bullets trying to parallel park, as a compact car driver you'll often be able to deftly squeeze over into an available spot without having to back in.

The Best Compact Cars of the Year

While there is no shortage of compact cars to choose from, if you want a ride that looks great and gives you all the perks of driving small, it’s best to consult the experts. The Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze are consistently popular with compact buyers, but these models didn't make the top motoring trend lists. According to US News and World Report, five cars in particular stand out among the competition this year.

  1. Volkswagen GTI
  2. Kia Forte
  3. Mazda3
  4. Honda Civic
  5. Hyundai Veloster

This quintet of compacts share a number of key points in common: They have great safety ratings, are energy efficient, handle well on the road, are fun to drive and are relatively easy on the eyes. Interestingly, though it didn't appear on the Best Compact Cars list, the Kia Soul was named the magazine's best compact car for the money. The Honda Fit captured similar honors in the subcompact category this year.

If you're wondering, cars in the subcompact category have less cargo space and passenger carrying capacity. The upside is that subcompacts are traditionally more inexpensive to buy, even if they don't necessarily get improved gas mileage.

Should You Lease or Buy?

As is the case with many things in life, there are pros and cons to both buying and leasing. Leased vehicles typically offer a lower monthly payment, which can be especially desirable if your budget has been restricted by your cash flow lately. However, leasing comes with a laundry list of rules and restrictions detailing what you can do with the car.

For example, leased vehicles are typically allowed a certain number of miles per year or over the course of the lease; if you exceed the allowed mileage, you must pay penalty fees. In a large area like the Valley, it is common to drive long distances to work, school, the mall and other attractions, so racking up those costly extra miles is pretty easy to do. Summertime road trips may also overextend your mileage use, especially if you regularly visit Las Vegas or the California coast.

Financing Your Purchase

Even if you get escorted straight to the dealership’s financing department, that doesn’t mean you’re limited to the first lender they mention. You can specifically request to get your loan with a local lender you trust, like Desert Financial Credit Union. Alternatively, you can go into a dealer already prepared with a pre-approval letter from your lender so that there’s no question who you want to get your loan with.

Here are a few of the auto loan basics that you can expect:

  • Most car loans have a term of 5-6 years.
  • Expect regular, set monthly payments for 60-72 months.
  • You’ll pay less interest with a 4-year loan if you can swing the payments.
  • Try to keep your car payment to less than 10 percent of your disposable income.

Keep in mind that if you finance your new ride through Desert Financial, you’ll get both great perks and a payment amount that works for you. Purchasing your vehicle may cost more than leasing in terms of monthly payments, but remember that when the car is paid off, it’s yours to keep.

You also have all the freedom you want to put as many miles on the car as you need, and you can choose the type of insurance that best fits your budget. Plus, after you’ve paid off your auto loan, you can sell the car outright and make some cash or trade it in and apply the vehicle's estimated value to a new auto loan.

Final Considerations

From spending less at the gas pump to having fewer parking worries, buying a small car comes with some serious benefits. Even after you're made the decision to consider a compact, you'll want to test drive recommended vehicles to see which one best suits your style and performance needs. Also, look for extended warranty options if you don't want to worry about repairs down the road.

No matter which trendy small ride you choose, with help from our friendly team at Desert Financial you’ll be enjoying that new car smell — and a wallet-friendly deal — in no time!

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The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.