Rental Car Classifications Explained

Rental Car Classifications Explained

Whether you’re traveling for the holidays, business, or just getting out of the house for a change, understanding the rental car process is important. When you’re choosing a vehicle, like when you’re buying one, you want to choose a vehicle that fits your needs for your trip. 

When you’re booking your rental car, you’ll be asked for important information like where you’ll be renting your vehicle and when you need it. Soon after, you’ll be asked about what kind of vehicle you want to rent, and it’s much easier to answer a question when you understand your options. 

You may not know that rental car companies group vehicles into categories. Let’s explore what kind of vehicle you can expect to get when you pick up your reservation and the different classifications to make it even easier to rent a car for your next trip.

Vehicle Classifications

When you make a reservation for a rental car, you’ll be asked to choose a vehicle classification. It’s important to understand the differences before you book so you can choose the right vehicle to meet your needs and fit your budget.

To make the choice easier, it may help if you understand what to expect in each classification and a good example of the kind of vehicle you would expect to receive when you book your rental vehicle. Here’s an explanation of each classification with a good example of a make and model that falls into each category.

Economy Car

For many rental car companies, this is the smallest type of vehicle you can rent, and it fits certain situations perfectly. Economy cars can usually seat about 4 people, but with its smaller size, it may only be a good option for short trips if you have that many people. If you have less people, it would be a fair option for longer trips. 

Due to its small size, it tends to cost less to rent, and they are usually more cost effective on fuel as well. If you will be travelling alone or in the city a lot, this is a really economical option.

Good Example: Toyota Yaris

Compact Car

Compact cars slightly larger than a typical economy car. Occasionally these cars come with a hatchback, and they are not quite large enough to qualify as an intermediate or standard car. Like the economy car, these vehicles can seat 4 people, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to make everyone sit in a car this size for a long car trip. 

If you have fewer passengers, then this size is more appropriate for slightly longer trips. These are also a cost effective option if you are minding your budget closely because they typically don’t rent for a very high price. You don’t have to pack quite as light either because the trunk is usually a medium-sized trunk.

Good Example: Nissan Versa

Intermediate Car 

These cars are medium-sized cars that don’t quite measure up to the size of a standard car. These vehicles are business trip appropriate because they are small enough to meet the needs of the traveler and still provide a more executive, professional appearance. In other words, these are great for fitting in your budget and making a great impression.

The intermediate car provides more cabin space, more cargo room, and more overall performance than the economy and compact cars. You can also seat about 5 adults in an intermediate car comfortably, relative to the previous options.

Good Example: Toyota Corolla

Standard Car

Standard cars are also medium-sized cars. They are slightly larger than an intermediate car, but to the untrained eye, side-by-side it may be hard to spot the differences. The vehicle is again a larger option over the economy or compact car, and it’s a good choice if you need to transport up to 5 adults in the vehicle. 

The car’s performance should meet all your traveling needs, but it’s larger size may make it difficult to park in more confined urban areas. Because this vehicle is slightly more to handle, it’s not surprising that the minimum age requirements may be higher than on previous car classifications.

Additionally, these vehicles may require more fuel than some of the smaller options, and that can impact your budget on top of the rental cost being slightly higher as well.

Good Example: Volkswagen Jetta

Full Size Car

A full size car is the largest size you can get in a vehicle and it still falls under the classification of a car. These can seat 5 adults comfortably with room for belongings on longer trips. If you plan to travel by highway mostly, a full size car may be the ideal choice for a 5 passenger trip to give you the best fuel economy options. 

Unlike smaller classifications, you may need to be more mindful about your maneuverability because this is quite a bit more vehicle to handle. For this reason, like a standard car, some rental car companies will increase the minimum age requirement because it’s easier to handle a full size car when you have more driving experience

Good Example: Toyota Camry

Intermediate SUV

An intermediate SUV is to a standard SUV as an intermediate car is to a standard car. Their size is close to a standard, but it’s just a bit smaller. The difference in size is slightly more noticeable in SUVs than in cars. 

Their smaller stature make them ideal for travelers who want the interior space of an SUV but the maneuverability of a smaller vehicle within the city. For some drivers, their appeal lies in their height. Because an intermediate SUV sits up higher than even a full size car, they provide an increase in visibility. 

An intermediate SUV can typically seat 5 passengers comfortably and store their belongings needed for the trip. Depending on the vehicle, you may find these vehicles more or less fuel efficient than a full size car, but they are typically better on gas than a standard SUV.

Good Example: Toyota RAV 4

Standard SUV

Like a standard car, the standard SUV is a medium-sized SUV. This is a great option if your rental car is being used for sightseeing and tourism, especially if it includes anything off-road. These are a popular choice for travellers who need to seat several passengers comfortably for a road trip. 

You should consider the terrain of the area you’ll be travelling. The standard SUV may have 4-wheel drive, and that can make dealing with certain road conditions much easier. Just remember that these vehicles can be a lot to handle, and they are not necessarily a good choice for an inexperienced driver.

For some, the cost of the rental and the reduced fuel efficiency is a deterrent from choosing a standard SUV. However, you should take your needs for the entire trip into consideration when choosing a rental car.

The seating capacity runs about the same as the intermediate SUV, but the driver and passenger may have a bit more room to sit comfortably. If more than 5 people need to be in your rental vehicle, you may need to consider a full size SUV or even a minivan for your road trip needs. 

Good Example: Hyundai Santa Fe


Choosing a vehicle for your rental is important. You don’t want too little vehicle features for your money, and it needs to serve your needs effectively. Understanding rental car classifications can help you make an informed decision about what vehicle to pick. 

When choosing your rental, think about how many passengers you will need to accommodate, how much luggage you’ll be bringing, and how long you need to be in the vehicle. After that, consider your budget and the fuel economy of the vehicle you are choosing. That way you can choose the right classification to meet your rental car needs. 

Gas Mileage Tips – Driving More Efficiently |
An Analysis of Crash Likelihood: Age versus Driving Experience | The University of Michigan Transportation Research
What’s the difference between fuel efficiency and fuel economy? | MIT School of Engineering

Recommended Articles