Sedans get a bad rap these days, and I think that’s unfair. For 2020, you can get your people moving fix from a plethora of truly excellent cars. The fact is that truly bad cars are an oddity these days. Small sedans, in particular, offer the perfect blend of practicality, performance, and price affordability.
But there are still some sedans that rise above and stand out from their peers.
This list was hard to write, but numerous test-drives later and I’m ready to round it out. Let’s get on with it.
First introduced in the early 2000s, and most recently redesigned in 2019, the 2020 Mazda 3 is an excellent demonstration of how careful distillation of a recipe yields the perfect result. From the 3’s refined and luxurious exterior to the upscale cabin, Mazda has truly perfected the art of punching above its weight. The Mazda 3 is nearly a luxury car. Many will challenge my assessment, but I stand by it: for most people, the 3 is the perfect small sedan for them.
As with the 2019 model year, the only engine available for the 2020 Mazda 3 is the 2.5L four-cylinder that provides 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Spritely suspension and compliant on-road mannerisms allow for plenty of driver confidence, and with a fuel-sipping engine that returns north of 35 mpg on the highway, you can’t knock the 3 for its economy.
Oh, and if you really want to amp it up, wait until later this year when the 250 hp Mazda3 GT Turbo is released. 250 hp awd, anyone?
Despite what some trendsetters have to say, I believe that the average person will be happiest in a Mazda 3.
The 2020 Mazda 3 starts at $21,500.
2. 2020 Honda Civic
The Honda Civic is a car that has undergone a bit of an identity crisis over the years. It began life is a sensible and practical sedan, turned into a high-revving hot hatchback when it reached middle age, and is now returning to its roots as a sensible and practical sedan. The 10th generation Civic, first released in 2016, feels more athletic to look at, even if it’s sedentary to drive (unless you opt for the Si or Type-R trims). Even in its base trim, the Civic visually stands out from some of its more plain-jane peers.
The Civic comes with your pick of four-cylinder engines – a 2.0L 158hp unit, or a turbocharged 1.5L 175hp four-pot – and three body styles. It’s also loaded to the brim with tech, including remote start, lane-watching sensors, Apple CarPlay, and the like. The base LX comes with Bluetooth hands-free, rearview camera, and Honda Sensing – a suite of sensors and drivers-assist tech, including collision mitigation.
The 2020 Civic Sedan starts at $20,800.
3. 2020 Kia Forte
First released in 2010, the Forte is relative newcomer to the small sedan segment. Completely redesigned in 2019, the latest Forte is a contemporary, and dare I say, handsome car. The big plastic trim and cladding from the outgoing iterations are dialed down somewhat, and large LED headlights help give the face a staunch but polished presentation.
Most 2020 Fortes will come with an acceptable, if lethargic, 147 hp 2.0L four-cylinder. However, for 2020 you can opt for the GT trim, which puts the 1.6L turbo that outputs 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Compared to the Mazda 3, the Forte’s suspension and handling are less sporty, but the engine provides more punch than both the 3 and the Civic (non-Si and Type-R trims, of course).
The 2020 Kia Forte starts at $17,890, making it one of the best values in the segment (in classic Kia fashion).
4. 2020 Toyota Corolla
The big news with the new 2020 Corolla is the option for the model’s first-ever hybrid powertrain. It’s an interesting move in an era with increasingly capable (and affordable) electric cars, but that isn’t to say that the hybrid setup doesn’t have merit – even when gas prices are this low.
The Corolla lacks the svelte appeal of the 3, the musculature of the Civic, and the facade of the Forte. Even with recently updated trim and oversized grille, the Corolla looks like it drives: a no-nonsense and predictable ride. But there is nothing at all wrong with being no-nonsense and no surprises, and you can’t deny the Corolla’s well-earned legacy as a reliable and sensible small car.
If sticking with conventional ICE, whether you opt for the base 1.8L 139 hp four-cylinder or the new 2.0L 169 hp engine, you’ll enjoy great fuel economy in the 32-35 mpg range. Opt for the 121 hp hybrid synergy drive model and you’ll enjoy economy north of 60 mpg.
The 2020 Toyota Corolla starts at $19,825 or $23,400 for the hybrid.
5. 2020 Volkswagen Jetta
Powered by a 1.4L turbo four-cylinder that outputs 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, the 2020 Jetta emulates part of the driving dynamics that made the old pre-scandal VW diesel engines so appealing: gobs of torque that made driving slow feel fast. Like the torque monsters of olde, the new Jetta makes full torque down low – 1,400 rpm to be exact – and produces a city/highway combined 34 mpg.
Like the Mazda 3, the Jetta feels refined and on-trend. Clean lines, a tasteful front-end, and classic five-spoke wheels make for an attractive package that, thankfully, is equally as appealing inside. The base trim includes amenities such as LED headlights, air conditioning, and a Bluetooth Apple CarPlay/Android Auto infotainment system. And, like its peers, the Jetta can be had with a full range of drivers aides and assist packages.
The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta starts at $18,985.
6. 2020 Hyundai Elantra
The 2020 Hyundai Elantra looks like the squat little brother of the all-new Sonata, and I don’t mean that with overt affection. The grill, in particular, is a conversation starter and not because people love it. But, look past its snout and there’s a great car to be had here.
As you can expect from Hyundai, the Elantra is loaded with technology and features. Notable is the inclusion of considerable safety assists, including lane-keeping, and forward collision assist. Available with a 2.0L 147 hp four-cylinder or a 201 hp 1.6L turbo-four, the Elantra returns impressive fuel economy regardless of which engines you choose: 35 mpg for the 2L and 29 mpg for the 1.6L turbo.
However, the Elantra is due for a significant refresh for the 2021 model year that, like the Toyota Corolla, includes an available hybrid powertrain. Also, like Toyota, is the inclusion of an oversized front maw. If you aren’t keen on buying a car right now and you’re leaning toward the Elantra, you may find value in waiting a few months to see how the 2021 model shakes out.
The 2020 Hyundai Elantra starts at $19,300.
7. 2020 Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza: the car Californians buy when they want to pretend to be Canadian. I’m joking, of course, but the Impreza gets the rib because of Subaru’s fierce and unwavering adherence to the AWD revolution. As ca card-carrying Canadian who has trudged his way through his fair share of snow (and is weirded out writing about himself in third person), the Impreza has always been a model that was on my sedan shopping shortlist.
But the 2020 Impreza has made it on to more than one “best-of” list, and it’s not surprising. With standard AWD, sensible, if not subdued, styling, and excellent safety ratings, the Impreza is a compelling choice for anyone that has to deal with snow and ice on an even semi-frequent basis. With 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0 four-cylinder, the Impreza is capable of moving you to where you need to go – just don’t expect much gusto along the way, as even with 152 ponies, the Impreza’s AWD powertrain saps a bit more power from the engine than you’d expect.
Look beyond the powertrain and there’s plenty to appreciate in the Impreza. Its infotainment system stands out because of how responsive and intuitive it is, and the Impreza receives top marks in safety with a five-star NHTSA rating. Like the other entrants on this list, you can get your Impreza tech’d out to the point where it can almost drive itself… almost.