What Exactly Is a Compact Car?

What Exactly Is a Compact Car?

Whether you need to buy or rent a new vehicle, it’s crucial that you understand the different car types. After all, car sizes, amenities, and power and performance levels can all impact which vehicle is right for your needs.

For many drivers, however, it’s tough to know what exactly makes a vehicle a compact car. This guide will tell you everything you need to know — so read on!

Compact Car Definitions

Depending on who you ask, compact cars may have different definitions. Let’s take a look at the two most common definitions so you can see how different organizations classify compact cars.

The “Official” Definition of Compact Car

A compact car, in a nutshell, is a car-size in between midsize and subcompact vehicles. According to the US Code of Federal Regulations and the EPA, a compact car:

  • Must be able to comfortably seat up to four passengers.
  • Has a combined passenger and cargo interior volume of between 100 ft.³ and 109 ft.³
  • Is between 161 inches and 187 inches long.

If a car meets each of these three qualifications, it can be classified as “compact.”

Outside of this category, we have midsized cars. These cars are a little larger, have a little more passenger and cargo interior volume, and may be able to sit more than four people.

Subcompact cars are the opposite. They are smaller, have less passenger and cargo space, and may only be able to fit two to three people.

Because of these definitions, some quirks occasionally arise when classifying cars. For example, is a luxury Corvette a compact car?

Generally, yes. But many people don’t consider Corvettes or other high-end sports cars to be compact cars. Instead, most folks think of compact cars as more common models of sedans, hatchbacks, or SUVs.

Other Definitions of Compact Cars

Although the EPA has its own official definition for what constitutes a compact car, rental agencies, car dealerships, and other organizations may not abide by that definition.

Specifically, car manufacturers or dealerships may classify compact cars by comparing them to other offerings from a brand. For example, many dealerships classify the Hyundai Accent as a subcompact car since it’s a little smaller in size than the compact Hyundai Elantra.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to research your car dealership’s or car rental agency’s classification standards when researching different vehicles. When in doubt, simply ask the dealer or rental agent whether a particular model of car counts as compact or not.

Note that the compact car class is the same class of vehicle as the British small family car and the European C-Segment car. If you ever travel abroad and need to rent a vehicle, you can equate those car classes with American compact cars to make your selection easier.

Examples of Compact Cars

For many, the best way to understand what counts as a compact car is to look at examples. As noted above, the Hyundai Accent is technically a compact car, according to the EPA. Other types of compact cars include:

  • Toyota Corolla
  • Honda Civic
  • Nissan Versa
  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Mazda 3
  • Ford Fusion
  • Volkswagen Golf
  • Fiat Qubo

Remember, not everyone is in agreement about exactly what makes a compact car, and different organizations may classify different types of vehicles as compact cars.

Other Types of Cars

It may also be easier to grasp compact cars if you compare them to other car types. These car types include:

  • Subcompact cars have between 85 ft.³ and 89 ft.³ of interior passenger and cargo space and are typically between 157 inches and 165 inches long. Notably, some subcompact cars can fit up to four or five people. They’re great first cars for 20-year-olds and younger.
  • Midsize vehicles are, as the name suggests, neither big nor small. They have between 110 ft.³ and 120 ft.³ of interior passenger and cargo space. They also are up to 196.8 inches long. Midsize vehicles can usually fit up to five people and have extra head space and legroom.
  • Full-size cars, also called large cars, have over 120 ft.³ of interior space. Station wagons may have even more, up to 160 ft.³ of interior space. Full-size cars can seat up to five people in most cases. They also have ample cargo room for carrying accessories, camping gear, and much more.
  • Vans are any vehicles that can seat six people or more. They may not have as much cargo space as a midsize car or full-size car, but they do have much more legroom and extra seats for more passengers. Vans are, however, harder to maneuver and are not as fun to drive.
  • Trucks, of course, are vehicles that can seat between two and five people and that have a truck bed in the back.

Is a Compact Car Right for You?

That depends on what your needs are. Compact cars aren’t right for everyone, but sometimes they can fit your situation perfectly.

Compact cars are best for:

  • Relatively short journeys if you’re traveling with no more than three other people. Although compact cars are supposed to be able to fit four other people comfortably, it’s usually a very tight squeeze.
  • People who need fuel-efficient vehicles with excellent gas mileage and enough space to comfortably carry the accessories of one or two people. Good fuel economy is more common in small cars since those vehicles have less mass to move.
  • Those who need excellent commuter vehicles that can double as excursion vehicles to destinations a short drive from the city.
  • Drivers who like vehicles that handle responsively and that are “fun” to drive without being a luxury car.

When To Find An Alternative to a Compact Car

However, compact cars are not the best choice for everyone. You might well need to swap out a compact car for a different rental depending on your needs. It’s a good idea to find another car if:

  • You need to transport more than four people — and especially when you’re traveling long distances. It can be tough to take cross-country road trips with a compact car, for example.
  • You have multiple children with lots of supplies for school, extracurricular activities, and hobbies. (Think lacrosse gear and a trombone case.) Many compact cars don’t have enough cargo space to comfortably haul that much gear.
  • You want to be able to go on road trips or camping trips regularly without having to rent a car over and over. Ample trunk space for camping gear and long journeys isn’t something that you’ll get with a compact sedan.

Contact Advantage Rent-a-Car Today

Ultimately, whether you need to buy one or rent one for short-term transportation needs, compact cars are convenient and affordable vehicles. If you’re looking for a rental, Advantage Rent-a-Car can help.

With a diverse rental fleet and many convenient locations throughout the country, we’re the perfect people to call when you need a compact set of wheels — for wherever life takes you.

Contact us today for more information!



Search by EPA Size Class | Fueleconomy.gov
11 Best Compact Cars for 2022 | US News
What Types of Cars Are There? | Kia British Dominica

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