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2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide from Road & Travel Magazine : Written by Martha Hindes

2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide

Who Says Size Doesn't Matter?

by Martha Hindes

So what exactly is a compact car? That's becoming a good question. It used to be a description for a small, rather utilitarian economy car that could provide a new vehicle for someone on a limited budget who didn't want to resort to buying used. They often were looked down on by those who could spring for something more upscale. Some had a tacky look and feel, with doors that didn't shut well and let rain leak inside. And in the some cases reliability and safety were questionable at best. While they probably beat riding a bus, especially in winter, they still had a long way to go to be classy. Those were the basic wheels one might park a block away from an event so as not to be seen arriving in a "bottom feeder," "econo box" or one of the other derogatory terms often used to degrade them.

Boy, have times changed. While budget basics are still around and probably always will be, the compact car category has blossomed in a myriad of different directions, including sizes, amenities and prices. There are autos so small that two together can take up only one parking spot. Some are so environmentally friendly they sip rather than guzzle fuel. Some seem as luxurious as limousines, just on a smaller scale. And some have the driving credentials that could nearly blow the doors off a sports car in a challenge. Even if they didn't win, it would be one heck of a ride.

Because of the scope of what's available in the small car segment, any vehicle listing should have a representation of automotive staples from the trusty tried and true to trendy newcomers, sassy players and those that are just plain fun to drive. Road & Travel Magazine has tested a variety of compacts and sub-compacts so we present the following cross section as a guide for your purchasing consideration when in-market for a fuel-efficient compact car, which may be sooner than you thought with the current rise in gas prices and even higher to come.

A special congralations to Ford Focus for earning RTM's 2012 International Compact Car of the Year - Most Spirited.

2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks

Chevy Sonic


Fiat 500 C

Mini Cooper

Nissan Versa

Honda Civic Si

Hyundai Accent