Auto.com logo

Find your perfect car.

What Is a Compact Car?

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Jan 3, 2019

null
Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Cars come in all shapes and sizes, with different classifications to describe them. Are you in the market for a compact car? With just that short descriptor, you are able to get a rough guess to the size of vehicle, and the kind of engine powering it.

This is because different groups need to be able to classify cars based on their size. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needed to be able to classify cars into categories when rating their fuel economy estimates, so they developed a classification system based on volume. Car rental companies found this classification system convenient for giving shoppers an approximate but consistent size estimate that accounts for a frequently changing inventory. Likewise, car makers found it helpful when describing a vehicle to potential buyers.

Unlike terms like Sedan and Coupe, though, vehicle size classifications actually have a hard definition. Take the compact car. You could describe a compact car as being “like” something else: like a Volkswagen GTI, or being like a Ford Focus, or even being like a Nissan Sentra. This is often how rental car companies describe their inventory: “Ford Focus or Similar.” It turns out that the compact classification says a lot about the size of the car and the size of the engine powering it.

But a compact vehicle is really any vehicle with an interior volume of 100 to 109.9 cubic feet. Anything under 100 cubic feet is a subcompact, like a Ford Fiesta. Anything with a volume greater that 110 cubic feet would get into bigger categories, like the mid-size Volkswagen Passat, or full-size Nissan Maxima. Because the classification is defined by internal volume, it doesn’t matter if the car is described as a hatchback or a sedan. You can even have compact SUVs and subcompact SUVs.

So if you are out shopping for a new car, don't dismiss a car simply because of the compact classification. You may be surprised at how roomy a compact hatchback or sedan can be. Because they are lighter, and often have smaller engines, compact cars often get good fuel economy ratings. And modern compact cars often come with many of the same advanced safety features and options as their larger counterparts. While it may not be the first choice for a large family, there are plenty of people who can get everything they need in a compact car, with ample cargo space to boot.