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Summary
  • An economy car is a lightweight vehicle that falls under the mini-compact and subcompact classes. It usually has a small displacement engine with no more than four cylinders.
  • Compact cars are vehicles that have an interior volume index of 100 to 109 cubic feet.
  • Economy cars live up to their name as one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the market. Meanwhile, drivers of compact cars might find it difficult to achieve a range of more than 30 miles per gallon because of the added weight in compact cars.

Vehicle designs have evolved over the years. Today, we’ve got SUVs, sports cars, hatchbacks, coupes, and more.

Each vehicle has its own set of characteristics that sets it apart from the others, but there are times when even dedicated gearheads have a hard time differentiating some of them.

One of the most confusing conversations you might encounter is how an economy car differs from a compact car.

What Is an Economy Car?

An economy car is a lightweight vehicle that falls under the mini-compact and subcompact classes. It usually has a small displacement engine with no more than four cylinders.

This type of vehicle is best known for its affordable price tag and inexpensive maintenance needs.

Most economy cars are equipped with only the essentials. Given their small size, economy cars are generally easy to maneuver around tight spaces.

What Is a Compact Car?

Compact cars are vehicles that have an interior volume index of 100 to 109 cubic feet. Unlike economy cars, most of these vehicles have enough space to seat four passengers comfortably.

Hatchbacks, liftbacks, and small sedans are the most common variations of compact cars.

What Are the Differences Between an Economy and a Compact Car?

It can be a bit confusing to differentiate an economy car from a compact one because they share similarities in terms of size and engine designs.

But if you look closely enough, economy and compact cars are more different than you think. Here are some of the notable differences between an economy and a compact car.

Configuration

A lot of economy cars have a two-door setup, but some can have four doors as well. Meanwhile, compact cars have four doors to make the rear space accessible for additional passengers.

Seating Capacity

Limited seating capacity is to be expected from economy cars. Most of these vehicles can accommodate up to four people.

While the front seats are designed for adults, the rear seats in economy cars are not as spacious, making the area more suitable for small children.

Compact cars, on the other hand, can seat up to five adult passengers more comfortably than economy cars.

Cargo Space

An economy car is designed to carry no more than a few grocery bags or small luggage.

Meanwhile, compact cars have about 12 to 14 cubic feet of cargo space suitable for storing medium to large suitcases and several carry-on bags.

Fuel Economy

Economy cars live up to their name as one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the market. These vehicles have a fuel mileage of up to 30 to 35 miles per gallon (mpg) for city drives.

Meanwhile, drivers of compact cars might find it difficult to achieve a range of more than 30 miles per gallon because of the added weight in compact cars.

Weight

Economy cars are generally smaller than compact cars given that they only have the necessities for utilitarian driving. These vehicles weigh around 2,600 lbs.

Compact cars are approximately 500 pounds heavier than economy cars, weighing about 3,000 lbs or more.

Performance

Economy cars are designed to provide the best fuel mileage possible during city drives and short trips. But don’t expect too much in terms of max speed and acceleration.

Most economy cars also lack the advanced features you’ll typically find in sedans and other compact cars. But they have a short wheelbase, resulting in a quick steering response.

Given the economy car’s light weight, it has a poor unsprung suspension mass to sprung mass ratio, which means driving it can be quite uncomfortable due to poor handling qualities.

Meanwhile, compact cars offer a lot more in terms of engine size options that are suitable for longer drives. The added weight on compact cars also results in better handling and suspension performance than economy cars.

Top Economy Cars

Economy cars remain a popular pick among drivers for many reasons. Here are some of the top models you might want to check out.

Nissan Versa

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The Nissan Versa is a compact sedan that classifies as an economy car. Image credit: Nissan News

The Nissan Versa is a compact sedan that classifies as an economy car. With 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque under its belt, the Versa is a great choice for those looking for a daily driver.

An economy car like the Versa isn’t big on cargo space, but 15 cubic feet of space isn’t bad at all. The 60/40 split fold-down rear seats also let you add more gear if you’re traveling solo.

Mitsubishi Mirage

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The Mitsubishi Mirage is undeniably an industry leader in fuel economy Image credit: Mitsubishi Newsroom

The Mitsubishi Mirage is undeniably an industry leader in fuel economy, with the 2024 model having a combined fuel economy rating of 39 mpg for highway and city drives.

The Mirage boasts 17.1 cubic feet of cargo space that balloons to 47 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Kia Rio

kia rio kia media
The Kia Rio is a subcompact stunner that boasts a whopping 41 mpg highway rating. Image credit: Kia Media

The Kia Rio is a subcompact stunner that boasts a whopping 41 mpg highway rating. It’s not your basic economy car, either, as it comes with a set of advanced tech features that makes daily commute feel like a breeze.

In terms of cargo space, the Rio has about 13.7 cubic feet of trunk space, but the hatchback version raises the value to 17.4. With the rear seats folded, it becomes 32.8 cubic feet of space.

Top Compact Cars

Like economy cars, compact cars have a huge fan base. Here are some of the best models to look out for.

Nissan Sentra

2024 nissan sentra nissan news
The Nissan Sentra has a combined fuel economy rating of 34 mpg, which isn’t all that bad for a compact car. Image credit: Nissan News

The Nissan Sentra has a combined fuel economy rating of 34 mpg, which isn’t all that bad for a compact car. The sedan has an interior cargo volume of 14.3 cubic feet, a front legroom of 43.8 inches, and a rear legroom of 34.9 inches.

Honda Civic

2023 honda civic sedan touring honda news
The Honda Civic has been a favorite for years for good reason. Image credit: Honda News

The Honda Civic has been a favorite for years for good reason. The sedan is capable of a combined fuel economy rating of 35 mpg for highway and city drives.

The model also boasts generous legroom for its front and rear passengers, with 42.3 inches and 37.4 inches of space, respectively. Cargo space for the Civic is also valued at 14.8 cubic feet.

Volkswagen Jetta

2021 volkswagen jetta volkswagen us media site
The Volkswagen Jetta is another compact sedan that drivers have come to love over the years. Image credit: Volkswagen US Media Site

The Volkswagen Jetta is another compact sedan that drivers have come to love over the years. The model has an estimated mpg rating of 29 for city driving and 42 for highway driving.

In terms of cargo space, the Jetta offers a generous trunk capacity of 14.1 cubic feet.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com 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 CarParts.com'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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