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Popular Compact Cars That are Winners and Losers According to Consumer Reports Automotive Experts

Here’s the latest for car buyers looking to buy a small sedan or hatchback with this recommendation to avoid two losers; and instead, choose these recommended better choice compacts or their under-the-radar alternatives you may not be aware about.

In Praise of the Little Car

It’s a fact that not everyone needs or even wants a large SUV or full-size sedan even though both receive a significant amount of attention in reviews and discounted car sale deals advertised by the local dealerships.

So today, it’s the little guy’s turn for those car consumers and enthusiasts who are more concerned about finding a car that is known for its fuel economy; comfort with interior flexibility; and, a small, parking-friendly footprint, over makes and models that are literally honking big.

However, just as some relatively popular models should be avoided per reliability problems, there are a few little brothers and sisters that are problematical as well.

That said, here is a summary of the latest review from Consumer Reports’ automotive analysts who have recently revealed some popular compact cars that turned out to be losers after test driving and offer some better choices and under-the-radar alternatives to help you find a great car for your money.

Compact Car Choice Analysis #1

A Popular Compact Car Choice to Avoid:

2021 Volkswagen Jetta
Price Range: $18,995 - $28,045
CR MPG: Overall 34 mpg / City 21 / Hwy 54 mpg
Rated #17 of 19: Compact cars

While the Jetta is a winner with its clean styling, comfortable interior, good acceleration and handling, and fuel efficiency that makes it competitive among similar compact cars, it fails when it comes to reliability issues that give it a 1 out of 5 rating. In fact, the NHTSA invoked 3 recalls on this model involving its air bags, the seats, and a black or frozen rear view image that reduces the driver's visibility when shifted into reverse.

A Better Choice to Buy:

2021 Toyota Corolla
Price Range: $20,025 - $28,310
CR MPG: Overall 48 mpg / City 37 / Hwy 59 mpg

With a predicted reliability of 5 out of 5 and predicted customer satisfaction of 4 out of 5---and in spite of its rather cramped rear seating and slow acceleration feel---the Toyota Corolla qualifies as a better choice for a good dependable compact car that offers even better fuel economy than the Jetta.

An Under-the-Radar Alternative:

2021 Nissan Sentra
Price Range: $19,460 - $21,800
CR MPG: Overall 32 mpg / City 22 / Hwy 44 mpg
#6 of 19: Compact cars

If you are not a fan of Corollas, then the Sentra is a good alternative that flies under many customers’ radars. According to Consumer Reports its pros and cons include:

Pros: Good ride and handling, easy-to-use controls, roomy rear seat, very good braking performance in our tests, commendable fuel economy, standard active safety features.

Cons: Front seats are short on lower-back support, antiquated foot-operated parking brake, standard headlights lack sufficient forward illumination.

Compact Car Choice Analysis #2

A Popular Luxury Compact Car to Avoid:

2021 Acura TLX
Price Range: $37,500 - $53,100
CR MPG: Overall 23 mpg / City 15 / Hwy 34 mpg
#14 of 15: Luxury compact cars

While a nice looking car with more zip than the models above, its fuel economy is relatively abysmal at only 23 mpg. Multiple interior factors also give this model a low rating; and more importantly, its predicted reliability rating based on Consumer Reports data analysis warns consumers that it measures only a 2 out of 5 rating toward overall reliability.

A Better Choice to Buy:

2021 Audi A4
Price Range: $39,100 - $44,600
CR MPG: Overall 27 mpg / City 18 / Hwy 40 mpg
#1 of 15: Luxury compact cars

Although a bit pricier, the Audi A4 has it all as a, “ Well-rounded sports sedan that does almost everything right, responsive handling, quiet interior, comprehensive and advanced infotainment system, standard all-wheel drives” writes Consumer Reports.

An Under-the-Radar Alternative:

2021 Volkswagen Arteon
Price Range: $36,995 - $46,995
CR MPG: Overall 24 mpg / City 16 / Hwy 36 mpg
#5 of 15: Luxury compact cars

Although noted as an Under-the-Radar Alternative in compact cars, the Arteon has also been designated repeatedly by Consumer Reports as one of the most discounted luxury compact car finds. Despite a louder than usual engine upon acceleration, it is described as an agile handling with good braking performance, an impressive fit and finish with easy-to-use controls and comfortable seating. The hatchback body style adds versatility as well for when hauling larger boxes is a problem with non-hatchback compacts.

And finally…

For more about current car news involving many makes and models, be sure to bookmark our site and stay updated on the latest information on the most discounted cars; the most fuel efficient cars; and, cars you should stay away from.

COMING UP NEXT: The Basics of Installing LED Lighting on Your Car.

Timothy Boyer is Torque News Tesla and EV reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily Tesla and electric vehicle news.