After calculating how many miles I drive a year (which is over 25,000+ miles), I started to realize that maybe a Fiat 500 is not the most comfortable small car for long-distance driving. In my next car purchase, I wanted to check off all those boxes: small, most comfortable, and the best suited for long-distance driving.
I started doing a bit of research to see what my next compact car purchase should be, and I found that the most important factors in finding the most comfortable small car for long-distance driving are:
- Seating – Plushier seats offer the best comfort
- Interior Space – The more legroom and headroom you have, the more comfortable you’ll be
- Ride Quality – Influenced by the suspension and tire setup of the vehicle
- Noise Insulation – Quieter interiors can offer a better driving experience
- Features to Improve Your Driving Experience – Includes heated/cooled seats, driving assistance, and other features
In my search, I was able to identify and rank the best cars in each of the categories listed above using Edmund’s most popular spec for each vehicle, which is categorized by the average monthly visits on the pages for each vehicle (and likely the most common spec found on dealer’s lots).
From a combination of these factors, I chose the best overall winner, and that was the 2022 Hyundai Elantra. If you're interested in how I came to this conclusion, read through the end.
In this article (Skip to…)
- Best Seating
- Best Interior Space
- Best Ride Quality
- Best Noise Insulation
- Best Features To Improve Your Driving Experience
- Overall Winners
In the compact small car segment, the car with the most comfortable seating according to the type of seat used, material and adjustability is the Audi A3.
I came up with this figure by charting all the cars in the compact small car segment on three factors: Type of seat used, material of the seat, and adjustability.
Type of Seat
- The most comfortable type of seat found in car’s today is probably a captain-style seat, which is found in most larger vehicles.
- Unfortunately, captain-style seating is not found in this segment, so the next most comfortable available seating is a bucket seat, which most cars in this segment offer—So there is no clear winner in this category.
- Sport-style seating is not recommended for comfortability since it offers less adjustability due to their design.
Material of Seat
- Although cloth, leather and leatherette seats can all offer the same comfort, I gave the edge to any car in this segment that offers leather.
- Nowadays, leather is most often associated with luxury and a good leather can contribute to a better ride.
- In this segment, there were only two vehicles that offered this, which was the 2022 Audi A3 and the 2022 Nissan Leaf.
- Having a seat with lots of adjustability is important when driving long distances. You want to make sure you’re in a comfortable position for longer periods of time.
- Most cars in this segment offer at minimum a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, however, there were some that offered up to 8-way adjustability with lumbar support included.
Best Interior Space
In the compact small car segment, the car with the most interior space according to the legroom and headroom is the Hyundai Elantra (39.6-inch average).
I took some time to compile all the relevant data and charted it on the table below so you can browse through the stats.
If you’ll be carrying front and rear passengers, then the 2022 Hyundai Elantra is your best bet, however, if you usually drive solo and maximum space is your priority, then you’ll want to go for the 2022 Nissan Versa.
The 2022 Nissan Versa offers the best driver’s legroom and headroom at an average of 42-inches.
Also, although the 2022 Audi A3 won in the seating category, it offered the worst overall legroom and headroom at a total average of 36.8-inches.
Best Ride Quality
In the compact small car segment, the car with the best ride quality according to their tire size is a tie between eight different vehicles:
- 2022 Nissan Versa
- 2022 Mitsubishi Mirage
- 2022 Hyundai Elantra
- 2022 Toyota Prius
- 2022 Hyundai Accent
- 2022 Toyota Corolla
- 2022 MINI Cooper
I came to this conclusion by identifying the key items that contribute to ride quality: wheel size, tire size, type of tire compound and suspension setup.
Unfortunately, I am not able to test drive each vehicle to check off all the ride quality contributing factors, so I had to divert to information that was easily accessible—the tire size.
I learned that the larger the tire sidewall is, the more cushion it has in terms of transmitting impacts from the road.
The eight vehicles listed above have tire sidewalls of 65. The larger the number of the sidewall, the more potential cushion it has.
Of course, there are other things that contribute to ride quality, but this should be a good indicator of how the car was engineered—and that’s with comfort in mind.
As an example, a poor choice from this list would be the 2022 Hyundai Veloster. It has one of the smallest tire sidewalls at 35, which is better geared for performance and road feel.
Best Noise Insulation
Unfortunately, without individually testing the cabin noise of each vehicle while driving, it’s impossible to give an exact winner in this category.
The compact car segment is usually one of the cheapest in each car brands lineup, which likely means they are cutting corners on more premium aspects, such as noise insulation.
Take for example Mercedes-Benz with the S-Class and A-Class. The S-Class offers active noise insulation as one of its premium features, whereas this is absent from the A-Class.
Dual-plane windows are also a premium noise insulation feature found in the S-Class, however, that is not something offered in the A-Class (or any car in this segment).
It’s safe to say that no matter the car you get in the compact segment, you’ll likely experience a similar level of noise while driving, so it’s best to make a choice from the other factors listed in this article.
There are, however, a few options on this list that come as hybrids, which are known for being much quieter than their combustion-engine counterparts.
Although not a definitive winner, since a lot of the long-distance driving is done when the combustion engine is on in a hybrid, the 2022 Toyota Prius should not be overlooked in this category.
Best Features to Improve Your Driving Experience
Since you’re driving long distances, you want to make sure you have some form of driver’s assistances and unique temperature controls.
I narrowed these important features to the following: driver assistance packages, dual-zone climate, and heated/cooled options.
Based off those factors, the cars with the best features to improve your long-distance driving experience (as a driver) are the 2022 Toyota Prius and the 2022 Hyundai Elantra and the 2022 Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
To figure out these details, I once again used Edmund’s to figure out the available features.
Nowadays, most cars have built in or optional driver’s assistance packages that offer things such as lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring or active cruise control.
Most of these compact vehicles offer a combination of driver's assistances.
Dual-climate zones are also very important if you’re driving long distances with other passengers, that way you can control what temperature you want to have.
Edmund’s sometimes did not contain any dual-climate zone information, so I marked them down as a “no”—but do your due diligence in case this information was omitted from their data at the time of me pulling.
Features such as heated seats and steering wheels plus cooled seats are a plus, especially if driving through cold or hot weather conditions.
They allow you to keep your hands and butt warm (or cooled) in case of extreme temperatures.
Although I listed those three vehicles as the winners, if you’re driving with passengers, you should look for the 2022 Nissan Sentra or the 2022 Mazda 3 due to their dual-climate zone offerings (along with heated options).
2022 Hyundai Elantra
The most comfortable small car for long-distance driving is the 2022 Hyundai Elantra.
It has the most driver-oriented legroom and headroom (and the best total overall), while also incorporating the thickest sidewall tire for ride quality, and has both heated and cooled interior features.
2022 Toyota Prius
The runner-up most comfortable small car for long-distance driving is the 2022 Toyota Prius.
While it’s not the outright best in any category, it is a jack of all trades. It is commendable in the interior space area while offering much of the same features as the 2022 Hyundai Elantra.
The 2022 Toyota Prius is the runner up because it lacks in the average interior space department, but it also is a hybrid, which gives it an edge in noise insulation depending on your speed.
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