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Economy VS Compact Cars: What’s the Biggest Difference? 

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If you're searching for economy vs compact cars, both vehicles come in relatively smaller sizes. However, economy cars are much cheaper, have the minimum added options, and are easier to handle when compared to compact cars. 

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Understanding vehicle terminology and car type is an important skill before purchasing or renting a car. Some of the terminologies haven't been changed since decades ago, while others are totally different now, especially with the change in vehicle sizes and styles over the years.

Many people still use the terms economy and compact for the same type of vehicles, although it's not the case now. Most compact and subcompact vehicles are getting bigger and more expensive, which makes them unsuitable for being called economy cars.

This article provides you with all the details you need to know about the economy VS compact cars. In addition, it highlights the main features and the biggest things to keep in mind when selecting between a compact or an economy vehicle. 

What does the economy car mean? 

The most important feature about economy cars that makes them apart from any other vehicle is price. Having economy vehicles is to provide a more affordable car that does not require a lot of costs when it comes to maintenance.

If you're not clear about what's an economy car, an economy car must satisfy the following:

  • The car should be designed in a small size that provides the maximum interior
  • The vehicle has a good to the acceptable safety rating 
  • The car does not need a lot of high maintenance costs
  • The engine does not require or use a lot of cylinders, and it's usually up to four cylinders only
  • The vehicle provides very good fuel economy and can easily achieve about 30 miles per gallon, if not more 

For manufacturers to qualify their vehicles to be called economy, they usually do not put much effort into adding extra features that are not needed. For example, most manufacturers focus on providing the bare minimum when it comes to vehicle essentials. If you ask for adding some additional features, the price can jump up significantly. 

The manufacturer can successfully generate smaller vehicles with the minimum engine specifications to provide the best power. In addition, they utilized some advanced technologies to help them create enough power to get the vehicle going without needing to use many cylinders requiring a lot of fuel. Thus, most economy cars have the best-rated fuel economy. 

On the other hand, manufacturers and auto designers have many challenges dealing with creating some economy vehicles. This is because they have to create a card that has the maximum space, Leidos ways, and at the same time provides a certain level of safety to the passengers. With that in mind, designers find it extremely challenging to design a car in a lightweight to provide high safety because weight and safety are negatively related. 

What does the compact car mean? 

At first glance, compact cars might seem to be very similar to economy cars. However, that's not the case. Compact cars come in similar sizes to economy vehicles, but they do not follow the same criteria.

For example, you'll see that many of the mini-compact and subcompact cars come with many safety features and other advanced technology, raising their costs significantly and taking them out of the economy vehicles category. 

For a vehicle to be considered compact, only one requirement has to do with size. For example, automotive experts mentioned that if the vehicle has a volume index ranging between 100 and 109 cubic feet, it is considered a compact car as long as it has four passengers fitting in without any problem. 

What are the main differences between economy vs compact cars? 

Now you have a good understanding of the main qualifications and requirements for a vehicle to be considered compact or economy; it's time now to look at some of the biggest differences between the two. 

  • Size 

One of the biggest differences between economy versus compact is size. Usually, economy vehicles come in much smaller sizes than compact cars, and you will notice them immediately by the two doors.

On the other hand, compact cars could come in two doors and have four doors.

When it comes to the interior space, economy cars do not have as much space, and they are usually suitable for seating only two passengers, and you can put some grocery bags in the backspace. However, compact cars allow you to see up to four adults and probably five passengers if you have a child. In addition, compact cars also allow you to store some short time vacation packages if needed, which you cannot find at all in any economy vehicle. 

  • Options 

Both compact and economy vehicles do not have many options because the intent is to save as much on cost as possible. Therefore, you will only notice that these vehicles have the minimum requirements to function as a car. You will not see many additional features like those related to connecting your phone or extra backup camera or other stuff.

Keep in mind that there are some options to add to those vehicles, but they will cost you a significant amount of money to be added. Therefore, before deciding to add some more options to your compact or economy vehicle, you need to evaluate your budgets properly. 

  • Power 

Economy cars are designed to be driven on city roads, which means that they are suitable for reducing as much fuel as possible. In addition, these cars are equipped with start and stop technology, which helps to save on fuel consumption and bad emission reductions.

On the other hand, compact cars have more options. For example, you can easily find some additional compact cars with powerful engines designed to be driven in city roads and areas where you need a lot of acceleration. 

  • Vehicle handling 

When it comes to vehicle handling, economy cars provide you with many features to help you maneuver and drive the vehicle freely without any concern. This is because all economy cars come in smaller sizes and optimized suspension system for smooth rides.

On the other hand, compact cars might not provide you with the same handling experience all the time. Depending on the type of compact vehicle and the size and other features, it might be challenging to smoothly right every compact car. 

  • Fuel economy

You've probably figured by now that economy cars will provide you with a better fuel economy than compact vehicles. In addition, since economy cars are designed to save as much as possible on fuel, you don't have to worry about filling your tank with guests that often.

With economy vehicles, you can achieve between 30 and sometimes 35 MPG easily on city roads. However, we cannot achieve this mileage with compact vehicles considering the larger size and the more powerful engines in some compact cars. 

Which is better, compact or economy car? 

It all depends on your goals, needs, and budget. For example, if you're looking for a cheap car that fits your budget without worrying about any teachers, you can easily go ahead with an economy car.

On the other hand, if you plan for a car with some advanced features, you might need to go with a compact vehicle.

Keep in mind that sizes are a big safety factor, which means that economy vehicles might not be the best if you're worried about your safety when driving the car. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that economy cars are usually designed to be driven on city roads, which means that if you're planning to buy a car and drive it daily on the highways, you might need to go with a compact vehicle instead.

Less thing to keep in mind is size. If you have many family members joining you daily, a compact vehicle might be a better option for you because the economy car only fits two people and barely fits a couple of bags of groceries. 

Therefore, before making your decision about purchasing a compact or an economy car, we recommend that you go through the article and the differences we mentioned in detail in the previous section. Then, you can easily put a checklist about your highest priority factors that you're looking for and make an informed decision based on those. 

Should I rent an economy car? 

If you move to an area by yourself or with one family member, add the economy car is a great option for you. This is because the car does not consume a lot of fuel and is easier to handle without worrying much about maintenance costs.

On the other hand, if you plan to carry a lot of luggage back and forth or have multiple people you want to drive daily, and the economy car might not be the best option for you, and you might need to go with a compact vehicle that can come in a little larger size than this one. 

What is considered a compact car?

As we indicated before, the compact vehicle has only one criterion that has to do with size. Thus, your car is considered compact if it falls within 100 and 109 cubic feet. 

Is mid-size bigger than compact? 

Midsize cars are definitely larger than compact cars, but they are still smaller than any standard vehicle. 

What is the cheapest compact car? 

Depending on which year you're looking for, here are some examples of some of the cheapest compact cars as of 2020: 

  • 2020 Kia Forte
  • 2020 Hyundai Elantra
  • 2020 Volkswagen Jetta
  • 2020 Subaru Impreza Sedan
  • 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan
  • 2020 Subaru Impreza Hatchback
  • 2020 Honda Civic Sedan
  • 2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
  • 2020 Hyundai Elantra GT

Keep in mind that if you decided to go with older model years, the price could drop significantly. The other thing is if you're looking for a cheap small size, you might need to consider the economy cars as well. 

What is the most reliable compact car?

There are plenty of reliable automakers who create great compact vehicles that you might need to consider. Let's take a closer look at this list below:

  • Nissan versa
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Mini Cooper
  • Mazda MX5 Miata
  • Kia soule
  • Lexus ES 
  • Audi A5 

What is the difference between economy compact and midsize? 

The biggest difference between the economy or compact cars and midsize cars is size. Usually, economy and compact vehicles are much smaller than the mid-size car

The other thing to keep in mind is fuel consumption. Not only will compact and economy cars provide you with better fuel consumption. Most economy and compact cars provide a very good to excellent fuel economy compared to any midsize car.  


When it comes to economy vs compact cars, both vehicles are relatively smaller than any other vehicles in the automobile industry. However, economy cars tend to be much smaller and cheaper because these cars intend to save on purchase and maintenance costs as much as possible. 

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