Compact vs Economy: Which One IS Best For You?

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Deciding between compact and economy cars is confusing. Information online can give you conflicting information and to make matters worse they are very similar. 

Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Whether your buying or renting a car, in this article, I will go over the differences and similarities between compact cars so you can decide which is best for you.

Let’s get started.  

What's the difference between Compact and Economy Cars?

The main difference between economy and compact cars is the size, price, and types of cars available.

Economy vehicles are the smallest and cheapest cars you can rent. Compact cars are slightly larger and offer a bit more space.

Compact cars also tend to be more expensive when renting compared to economy cars.

Since they are a bit larger, you also have a larger selection of vehicles when using a compact car.

Compacts Vs Economy

When deciding between a compact and economy car there are several key features of a car that you can look at to help you decide. 

These include:

  • The number of doors 
  • Number of Seats 
  • Size 
  • Luggage Capacity 
  • Fuel Economy
  • Rental Cost
  • Safety



The main difference between economy and compact cars is their price and the types of vehicles available.

Economy vehicles are the smallest and cheapest cars you can rent. Economy vehicles are great for individuals, small groups, low fuel consumption, and for cheaper prices.

In most cases, if people rent an economy car they are alone or on a budget. Economy cars cost less to rent and require less gas.

1. Number of Doors

Economy cars are smaller vehicles. They are available in two-door and four-doors. Many economy cars are two doors and four-door vehicles tend to be small.

For example, it’s typically a snug fit trying to accommodate 4-5 people in a four-door economy car. Likewise, economy cars are not ideal if you travel with large luggage, especially if you have a family.

2. Number of Seats

Economy cars typically have four seats. In some cases, they can have five seats, and this is typically sufficient room to fit five people, but for most more room would offer more comfort.

Economy vehicles can also have two seats. Economic cars are typically larger two-door vehicles with plenty of trunk space than those that are shorter and have less space.

3. Size

Economy size vehicles are 140-161 in length enabling the vehicle to get great fuel economy due. 

This Decreases the amount of money needed for gas during your trip. The small size allows you to park the vehicle in tight locals like the city and mall parking lots. 

4. Rental Cost

You can expect to spend anywhere from $48 – $110 dollars per day for economy cars. This price can vary on the make and model as well as the rental company you are using. These figures were gathered using the largest and most popular rental car companies, including Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz.

Other situations that might increase the price of your economy rental include the location, holidays, events, and weekends.

During high-demand areas or situations, the rates will be on the higher end due to a limited supply. Likewise, the rental price will be on the lower side during low demand situations due to the higher supply.

5. Safety

Economy vehicles are safer than ever due to the evolving airbags technology. In the modern age of vehicles, airbags save people’s lives daily. The National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NHTSA) estimates over 50,000 lives have been saved in the 2017 study.

Heavier vehicles are going to be safer than economy vehicles since they are heavier and larger.

Insurance Institute For Highway Safety ( IIHS) studies indicate heavier vehicles with more mass typically will push smaller vehicles into accidents. They transfer more force to the smaller vehicle. The force can cause more damage to the small vehicle and the people inside than the larger vehicle in an accident situation.

Examples of Economy Cars

Some of the most common and popular economy cars include:

  • Toyota Yaris
  • Wagon Bug
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Honda Accord 
  • Toyota Prius 
  • Nissan Versa
  • Kia Forte
  • Hyundai Elantra



Compact vehicles are slightly larger than economy cars. However, they both share many of the same characteristics, although it’s common for one to have a slight edge.

The main difference is the roominess and rental prices when comparison compact and economy cars.

1. Number of Doors

Compact cars typically have four doors. While there are some compact cars with two doors, they are typically larger than those economy cars.

Compact cars typically have more space and room than economy cars. You can typically seat 4-5 people in a compact car more comfortably than you would in an economy car.

2. Number of Seats

Most compact cars can fit four to five people, similar to economy cars. The fifth seat for most compact cars is the middle seat. The biggest difference with compact and economy cars is not the number of seats but the seats’ size and space. Compact cars offer larger seats with more room than compact cars.

3. Size

The USA (EPA) defines compact/ small vehicles as 161-187 inches long. Under this definition, sports cars, convertibles, and hatchback vehicles are considered compact cars. But, rental companies typically exclude these vehicles from their compact listing and place them in their own category.

For example, the Mini Cooper is a small compact vehicle that would fit the EPA definition. But in the rental car world, a Mini Cooper is a high-end compact vehicle that is typically on the higher end for compact car rental prices.

The more desirable a car, such as a sports car, the higher the rental rate for compact cars.

4. Fuel Economy

Compact cars typically get between 23-27 MPG in the city and 27-35 MPG on the highway, depending on the make and model of the vehicle.

Economy and Compact size vehicles are lightweight, requiring less energy to move the vehicle providing better gas mileage.

Both have very similar fuel ranges in the city or the highway. Economy vehicles will typically be a little cheaper to refill with gas due to the smaller tank size vs the compact size vehicle.

5. Rental Cost

You can expect to pay between $50-$112 dollars per day for compact vehicles. This can vary depending on the make and model of your car. Rental prices may also vary depending on where you rent your vehicle from. These rates were gathered using the largest and most popular rental companies, including Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz.

Examples of Compact Vehicles

Some of the most common and popular compact vehicles include:

  • Ford Focus
  • Chevy Spark
  • Hyundai accent
  • Nissan Versa

How To Decide Between a Compact and Economy Car?

Choosing between compact and economy vehicles is not easy since they are similar, but there are some things to consider.

The main advantage when renting an economy vehicle is that it’s cheaper. If you are on a budget, then the economy is the best option. Likewise, economy vehicles are smaller and give you a slight advantage in gas mileage.

I recommend economy cars for people driving in the city. They get great gas mileage and are smaller, making them easier to park and maneuver in tight spaces.

If you are traveling with a larger group or have lots of luggage, you will want to opt for a compact car over an economy car.

Ask yourself the question below:

  • Determine how many people are traveling?
  • How much luggage are you carrying on your trip?
  • How far are you traveling?
  • Will this be a short or long rental?
  • Is budget an issue? What is your budget per day?

1. How Much Space Do You Need?

If you need more space or what increased odds of receiving a four-door vehicle instead of a two-vehicle. Select the compact vehicle over the economy vehicle for increased space.

2. Budget

You want the cheapest, most budget-friendly vehicle to rent, select the economy vehicle over the compact. Rental car companies will always have the economy vehicle day rate the lowest compared to other rental car class sizes.

3. Pick-Up Location

Depending on the location you plan to rent your vehicle from can vary in price. For example, the destination area: Hawaii, Florida, California, and New York to name a few are going to be more expensive. Compared to a rental car company located in Kentucky or Ohio.

The larger rental car locations have more inventory for the customer to pick from. Picking up at a larger location may be more expensive, but you as a consumer have more options to choose from. Helping you make a better decision on the class of vehicle to rent.

4. Make and Model

The make and model of the vehicle received from the rental car company can make a world of difference in this situation. You could choose an economy vehicle class and receive a nicer vehicle than you expect or you could actually receive what you booked.

More experienced renters know rental car companies typically do not keep a lot of compact and economy size vehicles in their fleet.

Rental car companies will not downgrade you if they don’t have your size vehicle. They can only upgrade your class vehicle. If you book a cheaper vehicle for example a compact or economy vehicle you have a good chance of getting a free upgrade to a larger vehicle.

The average renter will book a mid-size or a full-size vehicle. The rental car companies typically keep more of the mid and the full-size class range vehicles in their fleet. Giving the customer who booked a compact or economy size a good chance to receive a free upgrade from the rental car company.

Are Compact Cars bigger than Economy Cars?

Yes, compact cars are bigger than economy cars. Be aware that in many cases telling the difference is hard. It’s easier to tell when you are dealing with a very small economy car and a larger compact car. But, oftentimes the lines are blurred between economy and compact cars. 

Many rental car companies, for example, may classify cars in different categories. 

Do Compact Cars Have Better Fuel Economy Than Economy Cars?

Compact and Economy cars have very fuel economy. To make it easy, in most cases economy cars might have a slight advantage in fuel economy. 

When comparing the fuel economy of compact and economy cars the biggest difference will be the make and model. For example, a Ford Focus, a compact car might have better gas mileage than a Nissan Versa, an economy car. 

You can expect around between 20-30 MPG in the city and 32-40 MPG on the highway, depending on the make and model of the vehicle.

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