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What is a Compact Car?

By R. Anacan
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Sunny27 — On Apr 19, 2011

@Cupcake15 -I agree with you. I think that compact cars are more fuel efficient but I prefer SUV’s. With an SUV you have a lot more room and longer road trips are more comfortable especially if the road conditions are bad.

But with the added comfort and safety you do give up on the gas mileage. My SUV only gets 15 miles to the gallon for city driving and only about 20 miles per gallon on the highway which is almost half of the mpg of the average compact car.

It really depends what is more important, but I rather give up a little on the fuel efficiency in order to have more space.

By cupcake15 — On Apr 16, 2011

I always compare compact cars according to the safety ratings and the fuel efficiency standards. Some compact cars give you a lot of miles to the gallon but they are a little too small for my comfort level.

The Smart Car can get over 30 miles to the gallon in city traffic which is great but I like to have a little more front end room in case I get into an accident.

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