Read Lock 20 Auto's "Best New Sedans of 2021"
Content provided by: CarAndDriver.com
With a starting price around $16,000, the 2021 Hyundai Accent is one of the least expensive new vehicles today, but Hyundai doesn't make any of its three trims a penalty box. All three are powered by an unexciting-but-efficient 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine bolted to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All Accents come with features that only a few years ago would be considered luxuries in the subcompact car segment, including power windows, air conditioning, and a six-way adjustable driver's seat. Moving up to the SEL and Limited trims adds even more modern-day luxuries such as a larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated seats, and push-button start. Best of all, the Accent will never make you feel—or look–cheap thanks to grown-up styling and a no-fuss interior.
The 2021 Kia Rio sedan and hatchback are classified as economical subcompact cars—we used to call such cars "econoboxes"—but they're surprisingly more sophisticated than that. The Kia couple share a cabin design that exudes an elegant simplicity thanks to a smart layout and pleasing materials. On the flip side, both of the Rios' back seats suffer from limited passenger space and neither body style has a particularly accommodating cargo area or trunk. Still, we appreciate that they're one of the few subcompact cars to offer standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We're even willing to forgive their dearth of common driver assists, because the Chevy Spark and Nissan Versa are the only rivals that offer more advanced safety features. The 2021 Rios shine with their refined ride quality and composed handling, which help squash any stereotypes about cheap transportation.
Hyundai is becoming increasingly known for daring designs, and the company's compact sedan, the 2021 Elantra, is the latest to receive a bold new look. The new Elantra sports angular exterior details and an upscale cabin, both of which are intended to pull focus away from the segment's heavy hitters—namely the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra. The standard powertrain is a 147-hp four-cylinder but Hyundai also offers a 201-hp turbocharged N Line model and an available hybrid powertrain. A host of driver-assistance features are standard, with even more advanced tech offered as options.
Once mere basic transportation, the humble Honda Civic has blossomed into a desirable and fun-to-drive compact car. Available as either a sedan or a practical hatchback, the Civic is powered by your choice of a 158-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a turbocharged 1.5-liter that makes 174 or 180 horsepower, depending on the model. Honda loads up its smallest car with plenty of standard driver-assistance features, including automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Oddly, modern infotainment features aren't standard; the base LX model comes with a tiny touchscreen that offers radio tuning and not much else. The base model notwithstanding, the Civic is a compact car that should satisfy most buyers and one we're happy to recommend. If you're seeking something with a spicier flavor, we'd suggest the 306-hp Civic Type R (both reviewed separately).
If a 2021 Mazda 3 shows up when you call your next Uber, we'd forgive you for confusing it with a far more expensive Audi or BMW as you settle into the passenger's seat. Mazda often straddles the line between mainstream and luxury, and it pays off in its bread-and-butter hatchback, particularly in the swanky Premium and Premium Plus trims. A trio of four-cylinder engines are on the menu, as is all-wheel drive. The 3 continues to be one of the most refined and athletic compact cars on sale today, with high-tech infotainment and driver-assistance features that provide a class-above experience. That said, adding those features may drive the 3's price beyond what buyers in this segment are willing to pay, giving mainstream stalwarts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic an edge.
Volkswagen Jetta GLI
The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI has the same amazing driving attributes that make the Golf GTI a smash hit. Although the hatchback has a nicer interior, it's actually the sedan that's more practical, thanks to its roomier back seat and bigger trunk. Both VW's boast a potent 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder that mates to either an engaging manual transmission or a quicker-shifting automatic. The sedan's aesthetic is more sedated than its hot-hatch sibling, but at least it sells at a discounted price, as the GLI costs thousands less than the GTI. Still, these two Vee-Dubs are equally entertaining whether they're looping racetracks or racing down back roads—which made it an easy choice for our 2021 10Best list. Simply put, the 2021 Jetta GLI is compact-sedan greatness.
In the shrinking segment of family sedans there are still some great cars to choose from, but one stands above the rest for its impeccable driving dynamics, practical interior, and value: the 2021 Honda Accord. So impressed are we with the Accord that it's become a nearly permanent fixture on our annual 10Best list and it finds itself there again for 2021. Buyers can choose from two turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains; there's also a fuel-sipping hybrid model available. No matter what engine powers the Accord, its handling is effortlessly balanced, which makes navigating twisty roads a joy and long highway journeys a pleasure. The Accord boasts a spacious trunk that will make grocery runs a snap and a back seat is commodious enough for two adults for long road trips. The roomy interior also easily accommodates multiple child seats for growing families.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata is a really good way to get attention while driving a family sedan. Its dramatic styling includes exaggerated proportions, a prominent grille, and a quirky design cue featuring a spear of bright trim that flows along the front fenders and into the headlights to create what designers call a "lighting signature." Inside, the Sonata flaunts a sophisticated, attractive space loaded with upscale features and plenty of passenger room. While the Sonata isn't quick or engaging to drive, it has a trio of efficient powertrains, including a hybrid option that has higher government fuel-economy ratings than the Toyota Camry hybrid. Still, the Hyundai is less about numbers and more about value, thanks to its affordable pricing and an impressive amount of content.
The 2021 Mazda 6 isn't just the prettiest family sedan, it's also more enjoyable to drive and ride in than most of its peers. While the Mazda isn't as flawless as the Honda Accord or as fresh as the Hyundai Sonata, it definitely delivers a more expensive-feeling experience than either of those top-flight alternatives. Neither its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or the more potent turbo version are particularly compelling, and there's currently no eco-friendly hybrid model, but the 6 drives with a mix of athleticism and refinement that broadens its appeal. We wish Mazda would make the car's fanciest features available across the board, but even the lower end of the lineup has a host of standard driver assists and popular technology. Although the 2021 Mazda 6 isn't perfect, it's one of the classiest entries in this class of family-oriented four-doors.
Even with the dwindling desirability of family sedans, Kia has crafted a compelling example with the all-new 2021 K5. Its daring design evokes sportiness and luxuriousness, and the sleek-looking four-door is a legitimate head-turner. The cabin is elegantly appointed and brimming with high-tech content, such as a digital gauge cluster and cool ambient lighting. While the K5 isn't particularly entertaining to drive, its powertrain and ride provide a refined experience. The 290-hp GT model comes with performance equipment that should give it a more entertaining attitude. A spacious back seat and generous trunk also make it a useful alternative to popular crossover SUVs, especially with its optional all-wheel-drive system. The death of the mid-size sedan may be imminent, but the 2021 K5 aims to be one of the best left.
Distilling a luxury brand's ethos down to a small and affordable entry-level sedan is a tough task wrought with compromise, but the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-class delivers a sophistication similar to its more expensive stablemates. Mercedes equips all A-class models with a host of luxury amenities and offers even more as optional extras. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard and delivers adequate power but easily fades into the background for quiet highway cruising. Tech features abound as well, including a version of Mercedes's dual-screen infotainment/digital gauge display setup with the MBUX infotainment interface. Going up against other compact luxury sedans such as the Cadillac CT4 and the BMW 2-series Gran Coupe puts an even finer point on the Mercedes's luxury experience.