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If you’re looking for a ride that’s practical, agile, and easy to park, checking out compact cars is a good idea. But what makes a car a compact car? What models fall under this class?

What Is a Compact Car?

A compact car is defined as a North American vehicle that falls between the mid-size and subcompact categories, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. It’s equivalent to a British small family car or a European C-segment car. Many hatchbacks and sedans fall under this category.

Compact Car Size Specifications

A compact car should have enough space for four passengers. The joint internal volume for passengers and freight must be between 100 and 109 cubic feet.

2023 honda civic sedan touring honda newsroom
Many hatchbacks and sedans fall under the compact car category. Image credit: Honda Newsroom.

Compact cars vary in length, but they’re typically 161 to 197 inches long.

Pros of Driving a Compact Car

Driving around with a compact car has many advantages. Here are the top ones:

Superb Fuel Efficiency

Small cars generally consume less fuel compared to large vehicles, like pickup trucks and SUVs. A lot of non-hybrid compact car models can achieve a 40 mpg rating on a highway and a 30 mpg rating in the city. So if you’d like to save up on fuel, you might want to consider getting a compact car.

However, take note that other factors can also affect your ride’s fuel efficiency regardless of its size. For example, your compact car can consume a lot of fuel if you drive aggressively.

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Easy Parking

A small car is an advantage if you frequent places with limited parking space, like grocery stores, restaurants, and malls. Finding a good parking space for a large vehicle can be difficult in such locations.

Buying a compact car is also a good option if you only have a small garage at home.


Buying a compact car is practical. These cars are generally more affordable compared to a lot of SUVs and pickup trucks. For example, you can get a 2022 Subaru Impreza for less than $20,000.

Uncomplicated Maneuvering

A small car is easy to maneuver, as its weight helps make steering response quicker. So if you live in a busy city, and you often face heavy traffic, driving a compact car can make your life easier.

Cons of Driving a Compact Car

Owning a small-sized car also has drawbacks. You might want to consider them before deciding on a make and model to buy:

Limited Space

If you have a large family or you often travel with a lot of friends, you might want to consider getting a van or an SUV. After all, a compact car has limited passenger and cargo space.

Less Horsepower

If speed is an important factor for you, you might want to look for another option. The engines installed in compact cars usually have less horsepower compared to other vehicles, which means accelerating takes time. Also, going through rough and bumpy terrains can be tough.

Safety Concern

Lastly, small cars can be a bit harder to spot on a busy highway compared to large vehicles. So you have to be careful while you’re driving, especially if there are many large trucks around.

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Compact Cars vs. Subcompact Cars

When looking for a small car, you might also encounter subcompact cars. What are they? How do they differ from compact cars?

The main difference between compact and subcompact cars is their size.

Subcompact cars have a volume of 85 to 99 cubic feet between their passenger and cargo areas. Their overall length is between 157 and 169 inches.

Meanwhile, a typical compact car is between 161 and 197 inches long. So it’s safe to say that compact cars are longer and larger compared to subcompact ones.

However, that’s not always the case. For example, the 2015 Honda Fit (subcompact) is just as long as the 1993 Honda Civic hatchback (compact).

Also, although subcompact cars are generally smaller, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re more fuel-efficient. That will still depend on the vehicle.

In terms of pricing, subcompact cars are generally a bit more affordable compared to compact cars. However, you also have to consider other factors like the automaker and the specific model of your vehicle.

Best Compact Cars for 2023

If you’re in the market for your next daily driver and money is no object, here are some of the best compact cars available:

2023 Honda Civic

If you’re looking for a good Honda compact car model, you can never go wrong with the 2023 Honda Civic. It’s loaded with a lot of safety features, so it’s a fun subcompact car to take anywhere.

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The new Civic won the 2023 Best Compact for the Money award. It also won the 2023 Best New Cars for Teens, according to U.S. News.

2023 Mazda 3

The 2023 Mazda 3 is a reliable daily driver. Offered in both sedan and hatchback form, it’s perfect for those looking for an affordable car with athletic handling and peppy acceleration.

The 2023 model is also equipped with a new 191-horsepower base engine, so you can expect this Mazda to have a powerful engine despite being a compact car.

2024 Toyota Corolla

If you’re looking for a versatile Toyota, check out the 2024 Corolla. Although this compact car isn’t as spacious as Toyota SUVs, it’s a perfect car to take you anywhere you need to be.

It also has a suite of top-notch standard features and a simple infotainment system.

Is Buying a Used Compact Car Worth It?

Yes. If you have a limited budget, there’s no shortage of reliable used compact cars to choose from. You can check out known dealerships for budget-friendly deals. Independent lots are also a good place to look for affordable vehicles.

Whatever vehicle you’re planning to buy or rent, it’s crucial to be familiar with it. Aside from knowing what category it falls under, it’s more important to get to know its features, so you can drive safely and confidently.

About The Author
CarParts Research Team
Written By Research Team

Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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