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A compact car is a term used for a smaller-sized automobile. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies a passenger vehicle with an interior and cargo area of 100-109 cubic feet as a compact car. A compact car is larger than a subcompact vehicle, which has an interior area of 85-99 cubic feet and smaller than a mid-size car, which has an interior of 110-119 cubic feet.
Examples of compact cars include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt. The term compact car is also popularly applied to any smaller sized car, whether or not it is officially classified as such. Therefore vehicles such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are often referred to as compact cars, when they are officially designated by the EPA as subcompacts.
By virtue of its smaller size and weight, compact cars generally receive better gas mileage, are easier to maneuver and park, and are often priced lower than larger-sized vehicles. This has made the compact car attractive to drivers with longer commutes, who live in higher density/higher traffic areas, who are first time car owners, or for those needing a second or alternate vehicle. When gas prices reached record high levels in 2008, many car owners gave up their SUVs, pick-up trucks, and full-size cars, and replaced them with compact cars.
Adding to the appeal of the compact car segment is that it is no longer only synonymous with “bare boned” or “stripped-down” vehicles which offer very little comfort and features for drivers and passengers. Today’s compact cars offer features once found primarily in larger and more expensive vehicles. Features such as anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control, keyless entry, power locks and windows, side-curtain air bags, GPS navigation devices, and premium sound systems are now standard features or options in most small cars.
The interior space of compact cars has also increased, and on many models is now an asset as opposed to a liability. Manufacturers have maximized the size and space of the interior area without enlarging the exterior dimensions. Cars like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda Fit are examples of vehicles with interior spaciousness that rival those of many larger vehicles.
On the flip side, small cars are often not as safe as their larger counterparts due to their smaller size and weight. In addition, the smaller size of these cars can make them less versatile in carrying large amounts of people and/or cargo. While small cars continue to grow in popularity and acceptance, there is an attitude among some that still regard the compact car segment as composed of cheap and cheaply made "econo-boxes". In spite of these views, millions of drivers find the compact car an economical, effective and fuel-efficient alternative to a larger vehicle.