Compact vs. Subcompact Cars

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If you’re trying to rent or buy, you may be debating between a compact or subcompact car. While the two are very similar, the main difference is that a subcompact is slightly smaller. Additionally, you’ll want to consider the difference in cost, safety, and fuel efficiency when making your decision. 
Because of their different features, the car insurance costs for compact and subcompact cars are likely to be different, as well. Luckily, Jerry can help! In under a minute, Jerry’s free-to-use app combs through 50+ top insurance companies to find the cheapest quotes without cutting coverage. 
With insurance taken care of, here’s a rundown of what to consider when deciding between a compact and subcompact car. 

Compact vs. subcompact interiors  

While it sounds like there could be a large distinction, the interior space of a compact car may only be marginally bigger than a subcompact car. By definition, the volume between passenger and cargo areas in a compact car measures 100-109 cubic feet. The volume between these areas for a subcompact car is 85-99 cubic feet. 
In reality, this difference isn’t huge—in fact, many modern “subcompact” cars are the same size as “compact” cars of the ‘90s. 
That said, it’s useful to keep in mind some nuances that may affect comfort levels. Some subcompact cars, for example, only have two doors, which may make it tricky to climb into the back seats or set up a car seat

Passenger space

Both compact and subcompact cars can seat around four to five passengers. 
It’s worth noting, however, passenger space distribution varies considerably on a car-to-car basis—not necessarily a class-to-class one. The 2014 Honda Fit, for example, measures 60” in height while the 2014 Honda Civic only measures 56”. Though the Fit is a subcompact, it seems roomier to passengers than the compact Civic because it has more headspace.   
To get a better idea of the cabin proportions, see if you can test out the car in person. If that’s not an option, research the car you’ve got in mind online. Look for wide doors and ease in getting in and out of the back seats of the car in video demos. 
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Cargo Space 

Cargo space varies car-by-car, too. Hatchbacks, both compact and subcompact, tend to have a split-fold rear seat, which can be more helpful for transporting long items like skis or fishing poles. 
In general, you should note how frequently you travel with other passengers and how much space you typically need for luggage or groceries. The answer can inform your decision heavily, and may even push you toward a larger car like a midsize or compact SUV
If you regularly travel and need ample luggage space, look for fold-down seats in the back and a wide trunk opening. 

Fuel efficiency 

Smaller cars have smaller gas tanks, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be saving at the gas pump if you purchase a subcompact over a compact. 
Compact models can often have more fuel efficiency or equal fuel efficiency compared to subcompact models—with the added benefit of extra legroom. 
Larger cars tend to be longer, which creates a shape—like a teardrop—that controls airflow better. Less wind resistance means less gas needed to go, so you’ll fill up less in the long run. 
That said, a subcompact car is in no way a gas guzzler. A smaller car has a lighter weight, which contributes toward better fuel economy, too. 
Transmission is another aspect that factors into fuel economy. Smaller cars often have a wider range of gears, which can help optimize the engine for better fuel economy. This is also true of hybrids or electric cars. 
However, the specific fuel efficiency of a car can depend on make and model, so your best bet is to research specific cars’ fuel efficiencies online. 
Key Takeaway: Compact models can have better fuel efficiency, mostly due to aerodynamics. But this isn’t always the case. 


Cost is another factor to consider when deciding between a subcompact and compact vehicle. Basic subcompact models go for around $13,000, whereas similar compact models will usually cost $2,000-$3,000 more. 
This is true of more high-end models as well. Even with all the bells and whistles, subcompact cars cost a couple thousand less than their best compact equivalent. 
If you’re on a tight budget, subcompacts may be the better option for you. But, you’ll also want to consider the costs of potential repairs down the line. 
Older models for both compacts and subcompacts will likely have necessary repairs. It’s worth a look at their typical maintenance costs to save your wallet in the future.
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Though both compact and subcompact cars have several safety features in place today, larger vehicles are typically safer vehicles. 
As a whole, subcompact cars have less protective capabilities—mostly because there is less material to protect passengers from collisions. A bigger car, like an SUV, provides much more security in the event of a crash. 
However, today’s subcompact models have added protection through collision-prevention features. The addition of backup cameras, lane departure alerts, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, collision warnings, and automatic emergency braking have all made subcompacts much safer than they have been in the past. 
As always, to get the best read on a specific vehicle’s safety, check out the car’s safety ratings online.

Insurance cost 

While it may seem like smaller cars would cost less to insure, this is not always the case
Because smaller cars have higher rates of accidents than larger vehicles, their insurance typically runs higher, too. 
Statistics indicate that this is due to higher rates of speed by younger, riskier drivers who are more drawn toward small, sporty cars. 
Size, it seems, plays a big role in insurance cost, which makes it an important factor to consider.

Saving money on insurance with Jerry 

All is not lost on your subcompact or compact car dreams, though. 
Despite the higher insurance rates of subcompact and compact vehicles, you can still find cheap policies without cutting coverage through Jerry’s free-to-use app. 
With custom, competitive quotes from over 50 top insurance companies, the average Jerry user ends up saving $879 a year on car insurance—no phone calls or long forms attached. 
Even better: Jerry can retrieve all your information from your current provider and help cancel your policy, too.  
 “As a young person who owns a sports car, I couldn’t find quotes below a certain threshold. By using Jerry, I managed to find full comprehensive coverage on my vehicle and am now saving $150 a month!” —Channing Y.
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Yes—in terms of volume, the interior spaces of subcompact cars measure 85-99 cubic feet total. Compact cars measure 100-109 cubic feet total.
A subcompact car is any passenger vehicle whose combined passenger and cargo volume measures between 85-99 cubic feet. The term “subcompact” refers to a vehicle size class.

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