Volkswagen’s Best Compact Cars

The Volkswagen Golf takes the cake when it comes to the smallest Volkswagen cars—but it’s not your only option.
Written by Macy Fouse
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
The Volkswagen Golf is a legendary hatchback that packs a punch on the road—and it’s also the smallest car in the current Volkswagen lineup. It’s not the only compact option you have, though!
Now that we’ve collectively mourned the loss of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, you may be searching for a new VW model that can fill that bug-shaped hole in your heart. Luckily, our favorite affordable German car brand has a few compact options to pick from. 
Here to go over Volkswagen’s current compact car offerings is
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2023 Volkswagen compact and subcompact car models

Volkswagen currently offers four different compact cars—or two with two variations each, depending on how you look at it. 

2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI ($31,275 MSRP)

After decades of topping the “hot-hatch” genre, the
Volkswagen Golf
GTI shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Car and Driver scored the 2023 model a perfect 10/10 and gave it the #1 spot in the compact car rankings
The 2022 model received an 8.2/10 score from Edmunds, too. So what makes the Golf GTI so great? 
Between the Golf GTI’s agility, comfort, practicality, safety, and fun-to-drive nature, it has very few objective shortcomings. A turbocharged 241-horsepower four-cylinder engine sits under the hood, enabling the GTI to sprint to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.
Here are some of the Golf GTI’s best perks:
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2022
  • 34.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space 
  • Standard 10-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
  • Standard lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking
  • Standard six-speed manual transmission 
Weaknesses include
  • Unrefined interior
  • Higher average ownership costs

2023 Volkswagen Golf R ($45,385 MSRP)

If you’re looking for a little more thrill than the GTI, the
Volkswagen Golf R
certainly fits the bill. The Golf R sports a turbocharged four-cylinder, too—but it cranks out 315 horsepower. Car and Driver gave the 2023 model a 9/10 rating due to its graceful yet exhilarating handling. 
The Golf R also adds all-wheel drive and better fuel economy to the GTI’s specs. Plus, it’s faster. 
Some highlights of the 2023 Golf R include: 
  • 23/30 EPA-estimated mpg (city/highway)
  • Drift mode 
  • Optional manual transmission
  • Standard active safety features like forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving mode
Weaknesses include
  • High starting price
  • Higher average repair costs

2023 Volkswagen Jetta ($21,510 MSRP)

Despite being overshadowed by the competition, the
Volkswagen Jetta
is one of the best compact sedans on the market—and one of the most affordable. That, paired with its all-around practicality, put the Jetta near the top in its segment.
After decades of success, the Jetta is still going strong. With its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it makes 158 horsepower—which is surprisingly lively. On top of that, the 2023 Jetta’s fuel economy is nearly irresistible. Volkswagen sets the Jetta up nicely with standard safety and infotainment tech, too. 
Highlights of the Jetta include: 
  • 31/41 EPA-estimated mpg (city/highway)
  • 4 different trims (S, Sport, SE, and SEL)
  • Standard manual transmission (8-speed automatic optional)
  • Spacious trunk area
  • Standard driver assistance, like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts
Weaknesses include: 
  • Chintzy interior
  • Sensitive steering controls

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI ($32,440 MSRP)

Just like the Golf R, the
Volkswagen Jetta GLI
is the sporty, performance-oriented version of the Jetta—and the price tag reflects that. In fact, the Jetta GLI is often thought of as a Golf GTI with a trunk. 
The GLI features an upgraded engine producing 228 horsepower along with more premium-level features that don’t require upgrades to enjoy—because the 2023 Jetta GLI only comes in one trim. Like Volkswagen’s other compact cars, this one is equipped with a standard six-speed manual transmission—but you can opt for an automatic instead. 
Highlights of the Jetta GLI include: 
  • Smooth handling 
  • Strong brakes
  • 26/37 mpg (city/highway)
  • User-friendly infotainment system
  • 5-star NHTSA safety rating (2022 model)
  • Generous standard driver-assistance tech
Weaknesses include: 
  • Sub-par cabin materials
  • Underwhelming exterior styling
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Other small Volkswagen models

While these four vehicles are Volkswagen’s only official compact cars, VW has a few more models on the smaller side worth checking out: 
  • Volkswagen Taos
    ($25,450 MSRP): This subcompact crossover is
    Volkswagen's smallest SUV
    yet has a surprising amount of space inside.
  • Volkswagen Tiguan
    ($26,590 MSRP): One of VW’s top-selling models, the Tiguan crossover is compact yet versatile with an optional third row of seats. 
  • Volkswagen ID.4
    ($38,790 MSRP): As Volkswagen’s only fully-electric model, the ID.4 compact SUV is one of the cheapest electric SUVs on the market. 
Volkswagen also offers the full-size
Arteon sedan
and the three-row
Atlas SUV
—and watch out for more electric options coming in 2024. 

What is Volkswagen’s smallest car? 

Worldwide, Volkswagen’s tiniest car is the bite-size Up!—but it’s not sold in America. With a wheelbase of just 94.5 inches, the early models of the Type 1 Beetle were the smallest VWs ever sold in America. 

What is Volkswagen’s cheapest car?

The cheapest Volkswagen car on the market today is the Jetta, with the 2023 model starting at just $21,510.

How to save on Volkswagen insurance

Now that you’ve found the smallest Volkswagen model to drive, it’s time to find the Volkswagen
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