Subcompact Vs Compact Car: Which Is Best For You

To increase efficiency in registration, regulation and description of vehicles, governments and private organizations have developed schemes used to classify cars into various categories. These categories are usually dependent on the body size, mass, number of doors or seating capacity. Based on these, we can easily classify cars into two-seaters, mini-compact, subcompact, compact, mid-size, large, etc.

However, based on the scope of this work, we are going to limit our focus on the subcompact and compact categories.

What Is A Subcompact Car?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a subcompact car is a passenger car with a combined interior and cargo volume of between 2410-2800L (85-99 cubic feet). This category sits in between the mini-compact category and the compact category. Examples of subcompact cars currently in use are the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent.

In the early 1960s, when car manufacturers in the US began to produce smaller cars, the term subcompact was introduced.

The widespread presence of small cars in the United States moved up in the 1960s due to increased imports of cars from Europe and Japan. Eventually, in the late 2000s, sales of subcompact cars made it the fastest market category in the US. This was due to the increasing demand for fuel-efficient cars.

Advantages Of Subcompact Car

1. Small Size: Compact cars are slightly smaller than the standard sedan, but subcompact cars are even smaller than compact cars. Thus makes it really ideal for parking and easy maneuvering especially in high traffic areas.

2. Affordability: Perhaps one of the qualities of a subcompact car that makes it attractive to prospective buyers is its affordability. In fact, subcompacts are often considered the least expensive vehicles. Not only do they have reasonable prices, they also boast of cheap insurance coverage and maintenance costs.

3. Fuel Efficiency: If you are looking for a vehicle that offers low fuel expenses, then a subcompact vehicle is highly recommended. As well as having a great gas mileage subcompacts are known as one of the most economical vehicles fuel-wise.

4. Ideal for commuting: If you are living in the city and have to transport from your home to your office or place of work daily, then you could consider a subcompact vehicle.

Disadvantages of a Subcompact Car

1. Small size: You must have noticed that the size of a subcompact vehicle is an advantage and as well a disadvantage. This is because even though it’s small size makes it easy for maneuvering, its size may not permit space and comfort. In other words, it offers less cargo and passenger space than many other classes.

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So, if you plan on having a lot of people in your car then you may have to rethink using a subcompact. Besides that, its small size makes it difficult for larger vehicles like trailers to spot them on the road.

2. Low Speed: Generally, subcompacts are designed for economical purposes. Perhaps this also is true for its speed. Compared to a compact car, a subcompact takes longer to reach a higher speed, hence it also has a low acceleration. 

What Is A Compact Car?

In the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the downsizing of the United States car industry, larger vehicles which had wheels with a diameter of about 2.79m (110 in) were introduced and they were referred to as compact cars. Compact cars happen to be a little larger than subcompacts but have a smaller size than midsize vehicles.

Advantages of Compact Cars

1. Easy to maneuver: Those who live in cities with smaller streets or heavy traffic will readily agree that it takes a lot of skill and effort to maneuver a large vehicle through traffic. This, however, poses no problem if you own a compact vehicle. With compact cars, it’s very easy to squeeze your way into crowded parking lots and make turns in narrower streets.

2. Fuel Efficiency: Small cars are generally fuel efficient than larger cars. In fact the smaller the car, the more fuel efficient it is. Compact cars being “compact” are better at saving your expenses at the gas station than other larger vehicle class sizes.

3. More Affordable: Compact cars and small cars in general are cheaper to produce since they require less materials than larger vehicles, hence they are also cheaper to acquire. So, unless you are going for a high end sports car, a compact car is much more affordable than larger vehicles. Also, they tend to attract fewer maintenance costs due to their small engines.

Disadvantages of Compact Cars

1. Limited Performance: A lot of people fantasize about owning fast and fancy cars. If you are one of such, then you would probably not consider a compact vehicle. Like subcompacts, compact vehicles have less horsepower which makes it slower for them to achieve high speeds.

2. Limited Space: A compact car may only be suitable for a small family, hence its nickname “small family car”. If you have a large family, you may have some trouble fitting everyone into a compact car.

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3. Hard to Notice: Despite its small size being a great advantage for drivers, very large vehicles may not find it easy to notice small cars in the traffic especially when these vehicles are directly in front of them. These can lead to fatalities on the highways. This can be prevented by avoiding being too close to large vehicles like trailers and also abiding by traffic rules and regulations.

Subcompact Vs Compact Cars

To better understand the subcompact and the compact cars, you need to understand the differences and similarities both cars share.

Similarities between Subcompact and Compact Cars

a. Not Expensive:

When compared to other car sizes like the mid-size and full-size, subcompact and compact cars are not expensive. This includes both cost of purchasing, insurance and maintenance costs.

b. Number of passengers:

Both the subcompact and compact car models can contain between 4 and 5 passengers at a time. Both most subcompact cars can carry just 4 passengers at a time.

c. Size:

When it comes to size, both cars are between mini-compact and mid-size cars.

Differences Between Subcompact Vs Compact Cars

FeaturesSubcompact CarsCompact Cars
Cargo Volume85 to 99 cubic feet100 and 109 cubic feet
Length Measurement157 to 165 inches161 and 187 inches
Fuel EfficientMore Fuel EfficientLess fuel efficient
SafetyNot SafeQuite Safe
CostLess ExpensiveMore Expensive

a. Cargo Volume:

 The subcompact cars have a combined volume of 85 to 99 cubic feet. On the other hand, compact cars have a combined volume of 100 and 109 cubic feet.

b. Length Measurement:

Lengthwise, the subcompact is 157 to 165 inches long while the compact is 161 and 187 inches long

c. Fuel Efficient:

Since subcompact cars are generally smaller than compact cars, they are more fuel efficient. This is because they don’t require much energy to power and that in turn means less amount of fuel.

d. Safety:

Compact cars are generally safer to drive than the subcompact cars. When it comes to size, subcompact cars are smaller and thus will feel the impact of an accident more than compact cars.

e. Cost:

Subcompact cars are less expensive in both cost of purchase, and other costs like insurance and repairs.


When purchasing a vehicle, it is important to take into consideration other factors aside its size. This is very true when the choice is between subcompacts and compacts, because both are of roughly the same size.  Although it can be very difficult to choose between subcompact and compact cars due to the similarities that exist between them, factors such as affordability, gas mileage and interior space. These factors can help taper your search and influence your choice.