Looking for a little zip in a 4-cylinder car? When buying used, that generally means looking at more compact than midsize or larger, and coupes rather than sedans or SUVs. And there’s a lot to be said for personal taste, since not everyone wants to drive around in a high-performing 4-cylinder car if its other attributes aren’t equally attractive.

This list of Best 4 Cylinder Cars is admittedly subjective, but based on solid reviews from automotive experts. We’ve considered engine performance, fuel economy, vehicle styling, roominess, reliability and other intrinsic elements.

  • Honda Civic Si (2007-2009) – Civic, still in its eighth generation, offers coupe and sedan models in a variety 2009_Honda_Civic_Si_sedan--DCof trim levels. Go for the Civic Si, powered by the high-revving 197-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, mated exclusively to a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, going from zero to 60 in 7.1 seconds. Edmunds calls Civic “comfortable, smartly-designed…sets the bar for the small-car segment.” Si also has a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and special interior trim. U.S. News and World Report says Civic is “one of the most reliable, visually appealing and solidly performing vehicles of the affordable small car class.” Consumer Guide named the 2009 Civic a Best Buy Pick.
  • Mazda 3 s (2007-2009) – Available as a sedan or hatchback, the Mazda 3 s is the better performer, powered by a 156-hp 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a standard 5-speed manual transmission (5-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional). Edmunds says Mazda 3’s performance-oriented chassis tuning means it tends to drive like a much more expensive sports sedan.”  But Edmunds editors knock its small trunk, so-so fuel economy and too firm a ride for some.  Car and Driver opines, “Sportier and more fun to drive than most of its competition, the Mazda 3 is also practical and refined.” Mazda 3 is also a Consumer Guide Recommended Pick.
  • Suzuki SX4 Sport (2008-2009) – Consumer Guide named the Suzuki SX4 crossover (hatchback) as a Best Buy Pick, saying it’s “roomy and solid, has a laudable list of available safety equipment and offers uncommon class features such as AWD and a navigation system.” Car and Driver calls SX4 the “cure for the common Corolla,” for its “smart handling, comfy back seat” and “more abundant fun.”  Motor Trend comments “Suffice it to say, Suzuki is hot, and with its all-new SX4 Sport, it has no plans of cooling down.” Power comes from a 143-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with standard 5-speed manual or optional 4-speed automatic. Edmunds advises Suzuki SX4 might be worth a look “if you’re very tall or in need of an all-weather vehicle,” but doesn’t like “below-average fuel economy, modest cargo capacity.”

Other 4-cylinder cars to take a peek at include Toyota Camry Solara SE, Chevrolet Cobalt, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Kia Forte.

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