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Compact car

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Toyota Corolla
Hyundai Elantra
Volkswagen Golf

Compact car is a vehicle size class—predominantly used in North America—that sits between subcompact cars and mid-size cars. "Small family car" is a British term and a part of the C-segment in the European car classification. However, before the downsizing of the United States car industry in the 1970s and 1980s, larger vehicles with wheelbases up to 110 in (2.79 m) were considered "compact cars" in the United States.

In Japan, small size passenger vehicle is a registration category that sits between kei cars and regular cars, based on overall size and engine displacement limits.

United States[edit]

Current definition[edit]

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fuel Economy Regulations for 1977 and Later Model Year (dated July 1996) includes definitions for classes of automobiles.[1] Based on the combined passenger and cargo volume, compact cars are defined as having an interior volume index of 100–109 cu ft (2.8–3.1 m3).[2]

1930s to 1950s[edit]

1952 Nash Rambler 2-door station wagon used until 1955, began 1950

The beginnings of U.S. production of compact cars were the late 1940s prototypes of economy cars, including the Chevrolet Cadet and the Ford Light Car.[3]: 214  Neither car reached production in the U.S., however Ford SAF in France bought the plans of the "small Ford" and produced the Ford Vedette.[3]: 214 

The first U.S.-produced postwar compact car was the 1950 Nash Rambler.[4] It was built on a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase, which was nonetheless still a large car by contemporary European standards.[3]: 214  The term "compact" was coined by a Nash executive as a euphemism for small cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches (2,794 mm) or less.[5][6] It established a new market segment and the U.S. automobile industry soon adopted the "compact" term.[7][8]

Several competitors to the Nash Rambler arose from the ranks of America's other independent automakers, although none enjoyed the long-term success of the Rambler. Other early compact cars included the Kaiser-Frazer Henry J (also re-badged as the Allstate), the Willys Aero and the Hudson Jet.[9]

In 1954, 64,500 cars sold in the U.S. were imports or small American cars, out of a total market of five million cars. Market research indicated that five percent of those surveyed said they would consider a small car, suggesting a potential market size of 275,000 cars.[10] By 1955, the Nash Rambler that began as a convertible model became a success and was now available in station wagon, hardtop, and sedan body styles.[11] During the Recession of 1958, the only exception to the sales decline was American Motors with its compact, economy-oriented Ramblers that saw high demand among cautious consumers.[12]

By 1959, sales of small imported cars also increased to 14% of the U.S. passenger car market, as consumers turned to compact cars.[13] By this time, smaller cars appealed to people with a college education and a higher income whose families were buying more than one car. Customers expected compact cars to provide improved fuel economy compared to full-sized cars while maintaining headroom, legroom, and plenty of trunk space.[10]

Between 1958 and 1960, the major U.S. car manufacturers made a push toward compact cars, resulting in the introduction of the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant.[14] These models also gave rise to compact vans built on the compact car platforms, such as the Studebaker Zip Van,[15][16] Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier, Ford Econoline, and Dodge A100.


1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza 900 convertible, used until 1969, began 1960

During the 1960s, compacts were the smallest class of North American cars, but they had evolved into only slightly smaller versions of the 6-cylinder or V8-powered six-passenger sedan. They were much larger than compacts (and sometimes even mid-sizers) by European manufacturers,[17] which were typically five-passenger four-cylinder engine cars. Nevertheless, advertising and road tests for the Ford Maverick and the Rambler American made comparisons with the popular Volkswagen Beetle.[18][19][20][21]

Compact cars were also the basis for a new small car segment that became known as the pony car, named after the Ford Mustang, which was built on the Falcon chassis. At that time, there was a distinct difference in size between compact and full-size models. Early definitions of vehicle size class were based on wheelbase, with models under 111 inches as compact, 111 to 118 inches intermediate, and over 118 inches as full size,[citation needed] at least until EPA classes based on interior volume of the passenger and cargo compartments were introduced in the late 1970s.


AMC Concord (1977–1983) luxury compact[22]
Ford Fairmont (1977–1983)

In the early 1970s, the domestic automakers introduced even smaller subcompact cars that included the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.[23][24]

In 1973, the Energy Crisis started, which made small fuel-efficient cars more desirable, and the North American driver began exchanging their large cars for the smaller, imported compacts that cost less to fill up and were inexpensive to maintain.[25]

The 1977 model year marked the beginning of a downsizing of all vehicles so that cars such as the AMC Concord and the Ford Fairmont that replaced the compacts were re-classified as mid-size, while cars inheriting the size of the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega (such as the Ford Escort and Chevrolet Cavalier) became classified as compact cars. Even after the reclassification, mid-size American cars were still far larger than mid-size cars from other countries and were more similar in size to cars classified as "large cars" in Europe. It would not be until the 1980s that American cars were being downsized to truly international dimensions.

1980s to present[edit]

1988–1991 Ford Tempo
Ford Tempo (1988–1991)
Dodge Dart (2013–2016)

In the 1985 model year, compact cars classified by the EPA included Ford's Escort and Tempo as well as the Chevrolet Cavalier. For the 2019 model year, the best sellers were the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.[26]


1966–present Toyota Corolla
2003–present Mazda3


In Japan, vehicles that are larger than kei cars, but with dimensions smaller than 4,700 mm (185.0 in) long, 1,700 mm (66.9 in) wide, 2,000 mm (78.7 in) high and with engines at or under 2,000 cc (120 cu in) are classified as "small size" cars.

Small-size cars are identified by a license plate number beginning with "5". In the past, the small size category has received tax benefits stipulated by the Japanese government regulations, such as those in the 1951 Road Vehicle Act.[27]

1950s and 1960s[edit]

In 1955, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry set forth a goal to all Japanese makers at that time to create what was called a "national car". The concept stipulated that the vehicle be able to maintain a maximum speed over 100 km/h (62 mph), weigh below 400 kg (882 lbs), fuel consumption at 30 km/L (85 mpg‑imp; 71 mpg‑US) or more, at an average speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) on a level road, and not require maintenance or significant service for at least 100,000 km (62,000 mi). This established a "compact car" target that was larger than what has become known as the "light car" or the kei car.

One of the first compact cars that met those requirements was the Toyota Publica with an air-cooled two-cylinder opposed engine, the Datsun 110 series, and the Mitsubishi 500. The Publica and the Mitsubishi 500 were essentially "kei cars" with engines larger than regulations permitted at the time, while the Datsun was an all-new vehicle. These vehicles were followed by the Hino Contessa in 1961, the Isuzu Bellett, Daihatsu Compagno and Mazda Familia in 1963, the Mitsubishi Colt in 1965, and the Nissan Sunny, Subaru 1000, and Toyota Corolla in 1966. Honda introduced its first four-door sedan in 1969, called the Honda 1300. In North America, these cars were classified as subcompact cars.

1970s to present[edit]

By 1970, Nissan released its first front-wheel-drive car which was originally developed by Prince Motor Company which had merged with Nissan in 1966. This was introduced in 1970 as the Nissan Cherry. In 1972, the Honda Civic appeared with the CVCC engine that was able to meet California emission standards without the use of a catalytic converter.


In Pakistan, the concept of compact cars is significant. Most common cars tend to be Kei cars.

Popular compact cars in recent times are the Honda City, Toyota Yaris, Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6, and the Changan Alsvin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Code of Federal Regulations Sec. 600.315 - 82 Classes of comparable automobiles". U.S. Government Publishing Office. 1 July 1996. p. 733. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  2. ^ "FAQ - How are vehicle size classes defined?". fueleconomy.gov. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Stevenson, Heon (2008). American Automobile Advertising, 1930-1980: An Illustrated History. McFarland. p. 214. ISBN 9780786436859. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  4. ^ McGuire, Bill (5 June 2018). "America's First Postwar Compact: The 1950 Nash Rambler". Mac's Motor City Garage. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Tom (2007). Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment. Yale University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978030011038-8.
  6. ^ Ward's automotive yearbook. Vol. 22. Detroit: Ward's Communications. 1960. p. 92.
  7. ^ Trout, Jack (2008). In Search of the Obvious: The Antidote for Today's Marketing Mess. Wiley. ISBN 9780470288597. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  8. ^ Lent, Henry Bolles (1974). Car of the year, 1895-1970: a 75-year parade of American automobiles that made news. Dutton. p. 115. ISBN 9780525274513. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  9. ^ Nelson, Jeff (29 September 2011). "Automotive History: The First Wave Compacts – The Pioneers Take The Arrows". curbsideclassic.com. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  10. ^ a b Kranz, Rick (16 June 2003). "As the 1950s end, 'one size fits all' strategy gives way to Falcon, other economy cars". Automotive News. pp. 176–177.
  11. ^ Donovan, Leo (June 1955). "Detroit Listening Post". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 103, no. 6. p. 92. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  12. ^ Gunn, Malcolm (26 February 2013). "Today's compact cars trace roots to AMC's Rambler". Newsday. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Tom (2007). Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment. Yale University Press. p. 144. ISBN 9780300110388. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  14. ^ "The New Compact Cars of the 1960s: Suddenly, Small Is In". saturdayeveningpost.com. 4 June 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  15. ^ "Sit or Stand: Rare 1963 First-Year Studebaker Zip Van". bringatrailer.com. 6 October 2018. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  16. ^ "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah: 1963 Studebaker USPS Zip Van". barnfinds.com/. 15 June 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  17. ^ "20 Most Interesting Classic American Compact Cars Ever Made". motor-junkie.com. 14 October 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  18. ^ "1970 Gremlin vs VW folder". oldcarbrochures.org. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  19. ^ Ernst, Kurt (21 May 2013). ""What's wrong with this picture?" The AMC Gremlin takes on the VW Beetle". hemmings.com. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  20. ^ Kilpatrick, Bill (August 1969). "Maverick versus the mob". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 132, no. 2. pp. 73–77, 196. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  21. ^ Phillips, David (3 April 2018). "AMC launches Gremlin in U.S." Automotive News. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  22. ^ Foster, Patrick R. (2013). American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America's Last Independent Automaker. Motorbooks. p. 163. ISBN 9780760344255. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  23. ^ Gold, Aaron (1 June 2020). "Terrible Cars That Weren't Terrible: The AMC Gremlin". Motor Trend. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  24. ^ English, Eric (4 March 2024). "We're Head Over Heels for this, Low-Mile 1970 AMC Gremlin!". Hemmings. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  25. ^ McIntosh, Jil (1 February 2017). "Rearview Mirror: The fuel crisis that changed the industry". driving.ca. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  26. ^ "Gas Mileage of 1985 Compact Cars". fueleconomy.gov. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  27. ^ "Road Vehicle Act of 1951". law.e-gov.go.jp (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2016.

External links[edit]

Euro Car Segment[1] Euro NCAP Class US EPA
Size Class[2]
Other common
segment terms
Quadricycle Microcar
Bubble car
Bond Bug, Smart ForTwo, Isetta,
Mega City, Renault Twizy
A-segment mini cars Supermini Minicompact City car
Kei car (JP)
Chevrolet Spark, Fiat 500, Kia Picanto,
Suzuki Alto, Renault Twingo
B-segment small cars Subcompact Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Opel Corsa,
Peugeot 208, Volkswagen Polo
C-segment medium cars Small family car Compact Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus,
Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf
Subcompact executive Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series,
Lexus CT, Mercedes-Benz A-Class
D-segment large cars Large family car Mid-size Ford Mondeo, Toyota Camry, Peugeot 508,
Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat
Compact executive (U.K.)
Entry-level luxury (U.S.)
Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series,
Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class
E-segment executive cars Executive Large Full-size car (U.S.) Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus,
Holden Caprice, Toyota Avalon
Mid-size luxury (U.S.) Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CT5,
Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Tesla Model S
F-segment luxury cars Full-size luxury (U.S.)
Luxury saloon (U.K.)
Genesis G90, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ,
Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera
S-segment sports coupés Supercar Bugatti Chiron, LaFerrari, Lamborghini Aventador,
Pagani Huayra, Porsche 918 Spyder
Convertible Chevrolet Camaro, Mercedes-Benz CLK,
Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos, Opel Cascada
Roadster sports Two-seater Roadster
Sports car
BMW Z4, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5,
Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK
M-segment multi purpose cars Small MPV Minivan Mini MPV Citroën C3 Picasso, Kia Venga, Ford B-Max,
Opel Meriva, Fiat 500L
Compact MPV Chevrolet Orlando, Ford C-Max, Suzuki Ertiga,
Renault Scénic, Volkswagen Touran
Large MPV People mover (AU) Chrysler Pacifica (RU), Kia Carnival, Renault Espace,
Toyota Sienna, Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
J-segment sport utility cars Small off-road 4x4 Small SUV Mini 4x4 (U.K.)
Mini SUV (U.S.)
Daihatsu Terios, Ford EcoSport, Jeep Renegade,
Peugeot 2008, Suzuki Jimny
Compact 4x4 (U.K.)
Compact SUV
Tesla Model Y, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape,
Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage
Large off-road 4x4 Standard SUV Large 4x4 (U.K., AU)
Mid-size SUV (U.S.)
Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee,
Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
Full-size SUV (U.S.)
Large 4x4 (U.K.)
Upper Large SUV (AU)
Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover, Chevrolet Suburban,
Toyota Land Cruiser, Mercedes-Benz GLS
  1. ^ "Case No COMP/M.1406 - Hyundai / Kia: Regulation (EEC) No 4064/89 Merger Procedure: Article 6(1)(b) Non-opposition" (PDF). Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. 17 March 1999. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  2. ^ 40 CFR 600.315-08