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What Is a Compact Car?

A 2020 Toyota Corolla, 2020 Nissan Sentra and 2020 Honda Civic parked in a row 2020 Compact Sedan Challenge | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

As automakers continue scurrying to meet consumers’ apparently insatiable demand for SUVs by cramming more and more of them into their lineups, sedans and hatchbacks are falling out of favor. Despite their uncool status, however, compact cars remain among the most affordable types of vehicle you can buy. But what exactly is a compact car? 

Related: What’s the Best Compact Sedan?

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It depends on who you ask. In general, compact cars are hatchbacks or sedans that sit in between the subcompact and mid-size classes in size and price. After that, the definition varies based on a couple of factors. 

According to the EPA, which tracks and regulates automotive fuel economy, what size class a car fits into is based on its interior volume. The EPA defines a compact car as having an interior volume range of 100-109 cubic feet of space, which is pretty specific and doesn’t take into account how large the car is in terms of exterior dimensions. The 2020 Hyundai Accent, for example, would be classified as a compact car according to the EPA. 

Cars.com does it differently. We look at where the vehicle fits in the automaker’s lineup relative to the brand’s other offerings. So in the case of the Hyundai Accent, it’s considered a subcompact car by Cars.com’s standards because it slots below the compact Elantra sedan in both size and price.

Whatever its size classification, the car you buy should fit the dimensions of your lifestyle. When shopping, be sure to take your unique needs into consideration regarding exterior and interior measurements, number of occupants, child safety seats, storage and cargo space, fuel economy, price and any other factors that are important to you. You can compare compact cars, including sedan and hatchback body styles, on Cars.com.

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