Economy vs Compact: What’s The Difference When Renting A Car?

putting luggage into rental car

You’ve got to book a rental car and want something small, but that has enough space for your luggage. Which do you choose?

Which is smaller – the economy car or the compact car? And which one will fit your luggage?

Other questions that might come to mind include: how many people can fit in the car? And, what’s the gas mileage like?

If you’re like most people, then these are the panicked questions that run through your mind when it’s time to book that car rental. After experiencing the same thing, we’ve done the comparison to finally put this to rest.

What Is An Economy Size Car?

toyota yaris econony rental car

A good example of an economy rental car, or sub-compact car, is the Toyota Yaris. While this is a hatchback model, not all economy rental cars are hatchbacks – but it does give you a good idea of the general size of vehicle to expect.

Economy class rental cars are typically small sedans or hatchbacks that are designed for couples or small families.

While the actual model and specs vary from one rental car location and dealer to the next, there are some common characteristics of economy size cars.

  • Number of doors: Usually 2, but sometimes 4
  • Fuel economy: Usually 30-35 mpg
  • Seating capacity: Usually 2 adults and 1-2 children (not comfortable for 4 adults)
  • Luggage capacity: Usually 1 medium suitcase and a couple of small bags, or several smaller bags
  • Rental cost: Usually the cheapest option available

As you can see, economy class rentals are the smallest and cheapest vehicles for renters. Of course, prices vary depending on availability (if they are short on supply, an economy class vehicle may be more expensive).

For most people, the important things to note here are the trunk capacity and seating capacity.

What Is A Compact Size Car?

corolla compact rental car

A good example of a compact rental car is the Toyota Corolla. While this is a four-door model, not all compact rental cars are four-doors – but it does give you a good idea of the general size of vehicle to expect.

Compact class rental cars are typically slightly larger small sedans designed for families of four.

While the actual model and specs vary from one rental car location and dealer to the next, there are some common characteristics of economy size cars.

  • Number of doors: Usually 4 doors, but occasionally 2
  • Fuel economy: Usually 25-30 mpg
  • Seating capacity: Usually 4-5 people, with up to three people able to fit in backseat
  • Luggage capacity: Usually several suitcases and small bags (12-14 cubic feet of trunk space)
  • Rental cost: Usually similarly priced to economy, but with more room and storage space

As you can see, compact class rentals are both small and cheap vehicles for renters, while offering a lot of space. Of course, prices vary depending on availability (if they are short on supply, a compact class vehicle may be more expensive).

What’s The Difference? And Which Is Better?

If you’re still confused and just looking for an easy way to remember the difference between the two, then we can help with that.

The only real significant difference between these two rental car classes is the size.

The easiest way to remember which is smaller is to think of economy cars as sub-compact cars.

The cost, fuel consumption, and number of doors is pretty similar between the two. But the number of people and luggage that you can fit is where the difference lies.

Knowing which if the two is better really depends on you and your needs. To determine which better meets your needs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many people will be in the vehicle?
  • How much luggage do I need to transport?

Once you know the answers to those questions, you will know if an economy or compact car better meets your vehicle rental needs.

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Other Considerations

If you determine that both types of vehicles meet your needs, then you still might not be sure as to which is the better choice for you.

In such an instance, it’s a good idea to think about how you will be using the vehicle.

Will you be driving and parking the vehicle in places with very narrow streets or parking lots? If so, go with the smaller option (the economy car).

Will you be spending a lot of time in the car, such as for a road trip? If so, go for the larger option (the compact car) for a more roomy and comfortable drive for you and the passengers.

Are you going to be covering a lot of miles? If so, you may want the more fuel efficient model (the economy vehicle) to save on fuel costs.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the basics of the two classes of rental cars, you’re ready to make an informed decision. However, do be sure to check what the rental agency lists for each type of vehicle.

Typically the rental agencies give you an example of the type of vehicle you can expect, as well as common features that you will get. For instance, you may discover that an agency only has cruise control in their compact cars and not in the economy models.

Or, the rental agency may not even have an economy class available at all. So, do some thorough research before you book.

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