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Economy and Compact CarIt can be difficult to navigate the lexicon of automotive terms, especially when two words seem to convey the same thing. For example, economy and compact seem to be synonyms. If there’s a difference, what is it? 

Economy Cars

Economy cars aren’t the smallest you can buy. But economy cars are on the smaller, cheaper side of your transportation options list.

Size and Space

An economy car generally has two doors and seats four people. In this size class, the most useful format is the classic, two-box shape of the hatchback. 

Passenger and Luggage Capacity

You’ll have room for four people and perhaps a medium suitcase or a few carry-on-sized bags in the trunk. 


The Toyota Yaris, Chevy Spark, Audi A1, and Ford Focus are all good examples of economy cars, and you can expect to pay about $18,000 and up to buy one.


Expect an economy car to return at least 35 MPG, if not 40-50 MPG, depending on its powertrain. 

Compact Cars

Compact cars are the next rung up on the automotive class ladder. You’ll find a little more space, a little more capacity, and slightly less efficiency.

Size and Space

Most of these cars will have four doors, and again, the classic hatchback will be the most useful iteration in this size class. The Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Mazda 3 are all compact cars.

Passenger and Luggage Capacity

You’ll be able to seat five in a compact car, but only if they’re all rather slender and you’re not planning on staying on the road all day. Trips across town should be fine, and you’ll probably fit a large suitcase in the trunk as long as there’s nothing else you need to tote.


Expect to pay at least $20,000, but you probably won’t find many examples at that price point. Some compact cars can easily blitz past the $30,000 mark and keep going, depending on what options you select. 


You’ll get at least 30 MPG in a compact car, but some can return 40-50 MPG depending on the drivetrain. Mileage depends a lot on how you drive it, too, though.

What Are the Advantages of Each?

Economy cars are just that: economical. The trade-off is that they’re not always convenient or ideal for every situation. If you often need to carry lots of people or lots of stuff, it’s best to go with a compact car in this scenario.

Compact cars, if you find a great deal on one, are often more bang for the buck. You’ll get more space, more capacity, more features, and more power, all with not much difference in fuel mileage or price. 

Thumbs Up: Compact Cars

Since compact cars are more useful than economy cars, and with very little difference in their cost of ownership, they get the nod here. If you’re going to lay out that kind of cash for a set of wheels, you might as well go for the car that’s going to offer more things more often, and that means the compact car is tops.

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