Americans are lining up to buy SUVs. But, in the process, they’re missing out on some of the best vehicles on the market. The sweet spot of value for money might be the compact sedan class. If you haven’t been car shopping in a few years, you might be shocked by how luxurious, fun to drive, and everyday-livable today’s small cars can be.

Two of our favorites are the Mazda3 and Nissan Sentra. Let’s see what each has to offer.

2023 Mazda3

Among small cars, the 2023 Mazda3 is known as the exciting one, with curvaceous good looks, sprightly engines, and handling enhanced by technology developed for luxury cars. High-tech features like Traffic Jam Assist make it more high-tech than you might expect, too. The 2023 Mazda3 starts at $22,550 and is available in sedan or hatchback form.

Mazda3 Highlights

Sporty handling with torque vectoring technology: The magic behind the Mazda3’s reputation as a great driver’s car is Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus system. It can brake each wheel independently to control body roll as the car is pointed into turns. It’s unusual at this price point, and makes the Mazda3 lots of fun to drive.

A little more power or a lot more power: The Nissan Sentra is available with just one engine — a 4-cylinder making 149 horsepower. Mazda buyers have a choice of two engines. One, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, makes 191 horsepower. The other, a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, makes 227, or 250 with premium fuel. For a similar price, you get more ability to close holes in traffic or climb hills with confidence.

Available all-wheel drive (AWD): The Mazda3 is one of just a handful of small cars available with grippy AWD. The added traction makes a big difference if you live in the Snow Belt. But it’s only offered at more expensive trim levels.

Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the Mazda3 models for sale near you.

2023 Nissan Sentra

White 2023 Nissan Sentra profile near brick building.

The 2023 Nissan Sentra is one of the best-looking compact cars, with a cool floating roof effect thanks to available two-tone paint jobs. It offers some of the most comfortable seats available at any price, and it starts at just $20,050.

Nissan Sentra Highlights

Zero Gravity front seats: Nissan makes the most comfortable seats in the automotive business. Developed using NASA research, they’re designed to hold the body in close to neutral posture — the position that causes the least fatigue. Depending on your commute, your driver’s seat may be a place where you spend hours per day. Nissan builds a very good one.

Larger trunk: At 14.3 cubic feet, the Nissan Sentra bests the 13.2 cubic feet of space in the trunk of the Mazda3 sedan, allowing you to carry more cargo.

Lower starting price: The Sentra starts at $2,500 lower than the Mazda3. The top-of-the-line SR Midnight Edition costs over $10,000 less than the highest trim of the Mazda.

Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the Sentra models for sale near you.


Both the Mazda3 and Sentra start under $23,000. They offer similar passenger space, and we think they both look sharp.


The 2023 Mazda3 and the 2023 Nissan Sentra are excellent values starting under $23,000. Either one will serve you well in daily driving. If you love to drive, you might find the Mazda’s handling prowess and more powerful engines worth a little more. If your regular driving means long hours behind the wheel, you might think the Nissan’s long-ride-comfortable seats are more important to you.

2023 Mazda3 2023 Nissan Sentra
Starting Price $22,550 $20,050
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.5-liter 4-cylinder 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 191 hp @ 5,000 rpm 149 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm 146 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 6-spd automatic CVT
Fuel Economy 31 mpg (28 city/36 hwy) 33 mpg (29 city/39 hwy)
Also Available 2.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder; 6-spd manual; AWD N/A
Basic warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating 5 stars N/A
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 107.3 inches 106.6 inches
Overall Length 183.5 inches 182.7 inches
Width 70.7 inches 71.5 inches
Height 56.9 inches 56.9 inches
Turning Diameter 37.3 feet 38.1 feet
Headroom, Front 38.0 inches 38.9 inches
Headroom, Rear 37.3 inches 36.7 inches
Legroom, Front 42.3 inches 44.0 inches
Legroom, Rear 35.1 inches 34.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 55.7 inches 56.4 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 53.5 inches 54.5 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 92.8 cubic feet 96.0 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 13.2 cubic feet 14.3 cubic feet

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