More car shoppers than ever are looking for a crossover, SUV, or pickup truck as their next vehicle, but many Canadians still desire a small, efficient compact car. Not only are these vehicles some of the most affordable to buy, but they are also great on gas and easy to manoeuvre, making them perfect for those living in cities and other densely populated areas.

autoTRADER.ca experts have looked at every single vehicle in this segment and voted on five of the best compact hatchbacks and sedans on sale today to make up the finalists for the 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards. Many buyers will be familiar with these small four-door and five-door models, but with this segment becoming increasingly competitive with each passing year, many may be surprised to find out all the great features that are packed into the latest Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra, for example.

Our 20-strong jury of automotive experts considered a wide range of factors when voting on our five compact car finalists, including practicality, technology, safety, quality, value, efficiency, and performance. Only one of these five fine offerings can be victorious, though, so let’s take a look at what makes each of these contestants a potential autoTRADER.ca Awards winner. The winners of the 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards will be announced in February 2021.

2021 Mazda3/3 Sport

The Mazda3 sedan and Mazda3 Sport hatchback have a surprisingly premium and upscale feel, helping to set the pair apart from almost all other offerings in this budget-conscious segment. When we tested this car, our expert noted that it was “surprisingly quiet for such an affordable vehicle,” while still being the same “fun-to-drive commuter car” that many Canadians have come to expect from the Mazda3 nameplate.

The Mazda3 is available with naturally aspirated 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre engines or a turbocharged 2.5-litre engine. A six-speed manual is standard, but a six-speed automatic transmission is also available. Front-wheel drive is standard, though certain models can be equipped with AWD for a premium, making it a bit of a rarity in this segment. The Mazda3 sedan starts at $20,500 in Canada, while the Mazda3 Sport is priced from $21,500. The Mazda3 won this category last year, but the competition has intensified since then.

2021 Toyota Corolla/Corolla Hatchback

The Toyota Corolla is a car that needs no introduction. This Japanese compact is synonymous with budget-friendly, reliable transportation and we’re pleased to confirm that this latest model, available as either a sedan or a hatchback, stays true to form. When we tested this car, our expert said it was “fun to drive, comfortable (in the front seats, at least), fuel-efficient, and practical.”

Power comes from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder and standard six-speed manual transmission, while a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also on offer. There’s also a super-efficient Corolla Hybrid sedan for eco-conscious drivers that pairs a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with a small electric motor and battery. Prices start at $19,150 for the Corolla sedan and $21,250 for the hatchback.

2021 Honda Civic Sedan/Hatchback

The latest version of the Honda Civic was introduced back in 2015, but it’s just as competitive today as it was then. Available as a sedan or hatchback, the Civic is a sort of jack-of-all-trades, offering a lot of different trims and equipment to appeal to a wide range of buyers. When we tested the Civic Hatchback, our expert said the five-door “provides a lot to like in this class,” thanks to its mix of fun, practicality, and sportiness. Looking past the somewhat over-the-top looks, the Honda Civic remains one of the best compact cars on sale today. Prices start at $23,491 for the entry-level trim with a 2.0-litre engine and six-speed manual transmission.

2021 Hyundai Elantra

This South Korean compact car has really come into its own with this latest generation and is now a solid entry into this ultra-competitive segment. This four-door sedan comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, standard six-speed manual transmission or optional CVT. The Elantra is all-new for the 2021 model year, as well, and features a number of updates and revisions. Along with a huge list of features, the overhauled version gets a wild new look to help it stand out even more amongst its somewhat conservative competitors. To make this lineup of compact car even stronger is the addition of an efficient new hybrid model.

Performance enthusiasts may also like the Elantra N Line, which has a sportier suspension setup and a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with 201 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Elantra sedan is priced from $17,899 in Canada.

2021 Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf is an affordable hatchback that has many characteristics of a pricier premium offering thanks to its refined ride, smooth powertrain, and commendable build quality. When we tested the German compact, we said it was a handsome car with timeless styling that is sure to age well. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder, which is paired with a standard six-speed manual or available eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive.

The Golf earns itself some points for the available Golf Alltrack wagon model, which offers buyers some additional space and capability and comes standard with all-wheel drive. This vehicle is a perfect alternative to a crossover, combining the spaciousness of a station wagon and the capability of a crossover in a more efficient and economical package.

The VW Golf also offers solid technology at a good price point, too, with the Highline trim coming standard with a crisp and responsive eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Prices for the 2021 Volkswagen Golf start at $22,570 in Canada.