What Is Considered a Compact Car?

by Rob Wagner

The compact car, identified as a small car in Europe, falls between the mid-size and the sub-compact vehicles. Typically a Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Audi A3 fall into the compact category. The compact can be a hatchback, two- and four-door model and a sports compact. They are generally factory equipped with a four-cylinder engine.

Origins

America's first official compact: the 1950 Nash Rambler.

The compact has been available in some form since the inception of the automobile, but as cars grew larger, the compact made its formal debut with the 1950 Nash Rambler that sat on a 100-inch wheelbase.

Volkswagen's Influence

The 1960 Falcon was Ford's response to the popularity of Volkswagen.

The growing popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle in the 1950s prompted American automakers to introduce a series of compacts, including the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair and the Ford Falcon.

Today's Dimensions

The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is the modern compact car.

Offered in configurations of a sedan, station wagon, coupe or convertible, today's compact measures no more than 181 inches in length with a wheelbase between 100 and 105 inches.

Interior

An inside look at the compact Audi A3.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines a compact as having 109 cubic feet of cargo and passenger space and being able to seat up to four passengers.

Engine

The Chrysler PT Cruiser's interior dimensions qualifies it as a compact.

The vehicle is powered either by a gasoline or diesel four-cylinder engine ranging in size from 1.2 to 1.4 liters.

Sports Cars

The BMW 1 Series is BMW's compact car offering.

By strict definition many sports cars, such as the Audi TT and the Mazda Miata, can be considered compact cars, although in some cases their engine size often exceeds the 2.4-liter limit.

References

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Audi, Ford Motor Company, Chrysler LLC, BMW