Economy Vs. Compact Car Differences (& Which is better?)

Learn the key differences between economy and compact cars, along with other important factors to consider when choosing a car.

Compact Car Vs Economy Car Differences

If you are about to rent a car, you’ve probably noticed that there are two smaller classes of car available, the compact and economy car. While they are both small cars, there are quite a few differences between the classes. Understanding the compact car vs. economy car is essential if you want to pick the right choice for your travels. 

Most obvious is the size difference. The economy lineup is going to be smaller than the compact car. It usually has fewer seats and less room for luggage. However, the economy car won’t just cost less, but it can also be more fuel-efficient, for savings on the road as well. 

In this guide, we will evaluate the differences in-depth. We will also help you determine which option is best for your next trip. Our guide also lists a few of the cars you might have to choose from. 

Compact Car vs. Economy Car

1. Number of Doors

Some economy cars will have two doors, but there are some models with four. However, the compact car almost always has four doors.

While the compact car is often a sedan, there’s also the chance of getting a hatchback or smaller wagon-type model. Side-by-side, the economy car will measure shorter overall. 

2. Seating

Inside the economy car, you typically have room to hold four people. Generally, the adults aren’t going to fit well in the back seat unless they are quite small.

However, the compact car can hold up to five people. Additionally, while there are some models where the adults should stick to the front seat, you can find some with a more spacious second row. 

3. Cargo Capacity

There’s no question that you will have less cargo space in the economy car versus the compact car. In the trunk of your economy rental, you might have room for a few small bags or a medium-sized suitcase. If you aren’t using the small back seat, you may be able to put another bag or two there. 

The compact car should feature a trunk space that holds at least a large suitcase and several smaller bags. However, if you choose a hatchback model, you might be able to put down the back seats for more space. 

4. Fuel Economy

The fuel mileage can vary greatly depending on the model itself and what engine it uses. However, most economy cars get slightly better fuel economy than the compact segment.

For example, the Chevy Spark gets 30/38 mpg and is considered an economy rental. On the other hand, the Fiat 500L is considered a compact car and is rated at 22/30 mpg. 

5. Price

When you examine car rental prices, you see economy cars listed at the top because they are the cheapest. You will have trouble finding a rental car for less money than the economy segment.

Still, the compact car is priced reasonably. It offers a good balance of economy with practicality, especially when traveling with other people or gear. 

Choosing Between Compact vs. Economy Car for rental

Which car should I rent? It’s totally your decision, but there are a few factors to consider when making this choice. Here’re a few things:

1. Number of People

If you are traveling alone, you won’t have any issues driving an economy car. With only the need to hold the driver, you can choose from any car at the rental lot.

However, if you are taking others with you, it’s important to think about their comfort level. While you might be able to fit kids comfortably in the back of an economy car, adults aren’t going to want to be cramped behind you. The compact car is a better option if other people are traveling with you. 

Of course, if you are traveling with the entire family, you might avoid both the economy and compact cars, since you won’t have much say about which car you get. Instead, you want to spend a little more on an intermediate or large car.

2. Length of Trip

If you simply need a car for a day of travel into the city for a meeting, there’s no reason to upgrade to another type. The economy car will provide reliable transportation that’s easy to navigate in the city.

However, if you are planning on taking a longer trip or doing some sightseeing, you might prefer the compact car. It provides more comfort and can help to make the trip more enjoyable. 

3. Amount of Luggage

If you are throwing your briefcase or overnight bag in the car, you don’t need a big cargo hold. In this case, the economy car should work just fine for you.

However, if you have a suitcase or need to take some family gear with you, the larger cargo space will be important. Check the available compact cars to determine which one will accommodate your luggage the best. You might find that you need something even larger. 

4. Budget

If you are tight on money, you want an economy car. These are the cheapest options at most car rental companies.

However, you aren’t going to pay much more for the compact car. If you are renting by the week, it might even be a similar price overall. 

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Popular Economy Cars

While the selection varies at most car rental companies, here are a few of the top economy cars you might have to choose from.

  • Ford Fiesta
  • Chevy Spark
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Kia Rio
  • Volkswagen Golf
  • Volkswagen Beetle
  • Smart Car
  • Mitsubishi Mirage

All of these cars are small and easy to maneuver in tight spaces, making them ideal for urban commuting and navigation.

Popular Compact Cars

There’s typically a larger selection of compact cars at rental agencies. Here are a few you might get to drive.

  • Nissan Versa
  • Ford Focus
  • Audi A3
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Fiat 500L
  • Mercedes-Benz A-Class

There’s also a compact SUV segment offered by most car rental companies. This segment provides the smallest size of these models and is the cheapest way to get behind the wheel of an SUV during your trip.