Small subcompacts are a dying breed. In the past they were the car of choice for teenagers and new drivers alike, but today the smallest cars can usually be found in the compact segment.
Larger vehicles have become more efficient and affordable, almost eliminating the need for smaller cars, and the car-buying public has spoken with their wallets as demand has virtually dried up. This doesn’t mean there aren’t options, far from it. There are some really good new compact cars out there, all perfect for new drivers who still build confidence behind the wheel.
The used car market is the obvious first choice, but if you are determined to buy new, these are the 10 best options for young gearboxes.
10 Honda Civic
Over the years, the humble Civic has built up a large fan base, and if you ask Honda fans, the latest offering is one of the very best cars the brand has made.
Unfortunately, it’s missing a key ingredient; a manual transmission…unless you’re willing to pay for the sporty Si model (pictured above).
9 Subaru Impreza
The Impreza isn’t trying to be a WRX, but it does make for an engaging, well-rounded package with a very attainable price tag.
It stands out for being the only four-wheel drive car in this price range, and the Flat 4 packs a lot of power too. The icing on the cake is the fact that you can get it with a manual transmission.
8 Kia Soul
Like the Impreza, the Soul offers a manual gearbox in combination with a trendy look and a bargain price.
In so many ways this is such an unusual little car, the square design makes it look a bit like an oversized boulder car, so as much as that makes it a bit polarizing, there’s definitely a market for it.
7 Ford Maverick
For those young gearheads into outdoor sports or dirt bikes, we couldn’t imagine a better vehicle than the new Maverick. It’s just as practical as its much larger pickup truck counterparts and also makes sense for those not looking for a pickup truck.
Unfortunately, the catch for the Maverick is the fact that everyone seems to want one, and the waiting list is quite long.
6 Nissan Versa
While this may not be everyone’s definition of fun, it can be with the bottom-of-the-line guide, especially when you factor in the price.
It certainly won’t set the world on fire in terms of specs, but most gearboxes like the idea of adding a few personal touches and this is kind of like a blank canvas of a car. Whatever you do, don’t buy the CVT version.
5 Mazda CX-30
In the last decade or so since Mazda broke up with Ford, they’ve gotten stronger and stronger, and the CX-30 is just another in a long line of excellent little cars they make.
Their Skyactiv engines are manageable, modern and efficient. They also happen to be virtually bulletproof. Unfortunately, there is no manual option.
4 VW Jetta
In recent years, diesel has become something of a curse word for VW, and their gas engines are also far from perfect with multiple recalls associated with it.
That said, the Jetta is roomier than the competition and offers a lot of driving pleasure. It’s also more economical to boot, especially if you opt for their affordable base model that comes standard with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission.
3 Mini Cooper SE
One thing about the Mini that most people loathe is the fact that it’s a small car with luxury car running costs, but the EV version can get around all that.
It has easily the best chassis of any small car on the market today and is a really engaging car to drive. Unfortunately, the relatively aggressive pricing is down to the medium range, meaning you can only enjoy the great handling in short bursts.
2 Mazda 3
While these may be a little behind in terms of innovation, they are still very safe cars that punch way above their price in terms of build quality.
Like the CX-30, the Mazda 3 offers exceptional driver engagement, and with better weight distribution it will corner faster.
1 VW Golf
What you get with the Golf is all the good stuff of the aforementioned Jetta packed into a stiffer chassis. It has a firmer ride, but the improved handling is certainly a trade-off most would be willing to accept.
The running costs will be slightly higher than the rivals, but if you want this level of sophistication you’ll just have to accept it.