A compact car (North America), or small family car (UK), is a classification of cars which are larger than a supermini but smaller than or equal to a mid-size car. The term often leads into confusion, however, since international compact cars are somewhat larger than their North American equivalents, mostly because no supermini/subcompact size is manufactured by American, Mexican and Canadian car makers at this time. This car class is also known as the C-segment across Europe.
Current compact car size, for US and international models respectively, is approximately 4,100 mm (161 in) and 4,450 mm (175 in) long for hatchbacks, or 4,400 mm (173 in) and 4,750 mm (187 in) long for convertibles, sedans (saloon) or station wagons (estate car). Multi-purpose vehicles and sport utility vehicles based on small family cars (often called compact MPVs and compact SUVs) have similar sizes, ranging from 4,200 mm (165 in) to 4,500 mm (177 in) in the U.S., and from 4,400 mm (173 in) to 4,700 mm (185 in) in international-based models.
In Japan, any vehicle that is over 3.4 m (11.2 ft) long, 1.48 m (4.9 ft) wide, 2 m (6.6 ft) high and with an engine over 660 cc (40 cu in) but is under 4.7 m (15.4 ft) long, 1.7 m (5.6 ft) wide, 2 m (6.6 ft) high and with engines at or under 2,000 cc (120 cu in) is considered a compact vehicle. The dimension standards are absolute, meaning special consideration is not made for SUVs, CUVs, minivans, station wagons or hatchbacks.
Common engines are 1.5 to 2.4-litre straight-4s, using either petrol (gasoline) or diesel fuel, with a range between 100 bhp (75 kW) and 170 bhp (127 kW). Some models also have economical 1.3 or 1.4-litre units. High-performance versions, called hot hatches or sport compact sedans, may have turbocharged 2.0 or 2.5-litre engines, or even V6 3.2-litre units, ranging maximum outputs from 170 bhp (127 kW) to 300 bhp (224 kW).
Small European family cars include the Ford Focus, Vauxhall/Opel Astra, Peugeot 308, Citroën C4, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Fiat Bravo (2007), Lancia Delta, SEAT León, Škoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf Mk6. Examples of compact cars from Asia include the Tata Indigo, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Bluebird Sylphy, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, Suzuki SX4, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Toyota Corolla. The Chevrolet Cruze, Pontiac G5, and Dodge Caliber are an example of compacts made in the United States. Holden Viva and later Holden Cruze are examples of compact cars from Australia.
 American market
Compact car is a largely North American term denoting an automobile smaller than a mid-size car, but larger than an international supermini variant, similarly recognized in much of the world as a "C-segment" (between B- and D-segment) vehicles. Compact cars usually have wheelbases between 100 inches (2,540 mm) and 105 inches (2,667 mm). The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a "Compact" car as measuring between 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) and 109 cubic feet (3.1 m3) of combined passenger and cargo volume capacity. Vehicle class size is defined in the U.S. by environmental laws in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40—Protection of Environment, Section 600.315-82 Classes of comparable automobiles. Passenger car classes are defined based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except automobiles classified as a special vehicle such as those with only two designated seating positions.
Although small cars had been made in the United States before World War II, the compact class was introduced in 1950 when Nash introduced a convertible Rambler. It was built on a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase to which a station wagon, hardtop, and sedan versions were added. Although first conceived by George W. Mason, the term "compact" was coined by George W. Romney as a euphemism for small cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches (2,794 mm) or less. The U.S. automobile industry soon adopted the term.
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 Henry J from Kaiser-Frazer (and its Sears, Roebuck and Company marketed variant the Allstate), as well as the Willys Aero and the Hudson Jet.
The modern compact class was greatly expanded between 1958 and 1960 when the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant were brought to the market previously dominated by the Rambler American. These models also gave rise to compact vans that were sized similarly to the Volkswagen Type 2 microbus and were based from the Falcon, Corvair, and Valiant automobile platforms.
Within a few years after that, the compacts had given rise to a new class called 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, and an early definition of the compact was a vehicle with an overall length of less than 200-inch (5,080 mm), much larger than European designs.
During the 1960s, compacts were the smallest class of North American cars (and much bigger than those elsewhere), but they had evolved into only slightly smaller versions of the 6-cylinder or V8-powered two-bench six-passenger sedan. They were much larger than imports by makers such as Volkswagen and Datsun, which were typically five-passenger 4-cylinder engine cars, even though ads for the Ford Maverick and Rambler American would make comparisons with the popular Volkswagen Beetle. In the early 1970s, the domestic automakers introduced even smaller subcompact cars that included the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.
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.
|Class||Minicompact car||Subcompact car||Compact car||Midsize car||Large car||Small station wagon||Midsize station wagon||Large station wagon|
|Interior volume index||under 85 cu ft (2.4 m3)||85–99.9 cu ft (2.4–2.83 m3)||100–109.9 cu ft (2.8–3.11 m3)||110–119.9 cu ft (3.1–3.40 m3)||120 cu ft (3.4 m3) or over||under 130 cu ft (3.7 m3)||130–160 cu ft (3.7–4.5 m3)||over 160 cu ft (4.5 m3)|
In the 1985 model year, compact cars classified by the EPA included Ford's Escort and Tempo, the Chevrolet Cavalier, Toyota Corolla, Acura Legend, Mercedes-Benz 300, Nissan Maxima, and Volvo DL.
In North America, the compact segment is still discernible as a class smaller than the average car but larger than the smallest models on the market. The Chevrolet Cobalt would be an example. The term has also been adopted to describe small SUVs, such as the Ford Escape.
 European market
After the Second World War, European manufacturers usually featured two vehicle types: small cars and large saloons. In the 1960s, some brands found that many middle class buyers wanted something larger than superminis, and built small family cars. These were usually saloons, with the first successful hatchback in this class being the 1974 Volkswagen Golf, which moved the layout of the smaller Renault 5 to this segment. This proved popular and by the end of the decade, several other manufacturers launched hatchbacks like the Fiat Ritmo, Citroën GSA, Renault 14, and Opel Kadett.
The 1980s began with the launch of two more front-wheel drive hatchbacks: the Ford Escort Mk III and the Lancia Delta. Similar cars such as the Renault 11, Peugeot 309, updated Opel Kadett, Renault 19, Fiat Tipo, and second generation Rover 200 followed over the course of the decade. Alfa Romeo's venture into this market, the Nissan-based Arna, was one of the few unsuccessful European small family hatchbacks of the 1980s.
The 1990s saw small family cars firmly pitch themselves as the most popular class of car in Europe. The Volkswagen Golf Mk III was launched in 1991 and elected European Car of the Year. Citroën replaced the GSA with the large family car BX and later the small family car ZX. The ZX's chassis spawned the Peugeot 306 in 1993. Fiat replaced the Tipo in 1995 with the distinctive Bravo and Brava (three-door and five-door hatchbacks, respectively). In 1998, Ford launched the all-new Ford Focus, completing sales of run-out Escort versions in 2000.
Some small family cars have also spawned compact MPVs, the first of which was the 1996 Renault Scénic. The Opel Zafira, Citroën Xsara Picasso, Ford Focus C-MAX, Volkswagen Touran, SEAT Altea, Peugeot 5008 and Fiat Multipla followed and are becoming increasingly popular. In few years they outsold estates and saloons in many countries. A more recent trend is to build coupé cabriolets with components from these vehicles. Examples of this are the Peugeot 308 CC, Opel Astra TwinTop, Ford Focus Coupe-Convertible, and Volkswagen Eos.
 Japanese market
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. Under Japanese regulations, this class is defined as vehicles at or less than 4.7 m (15.4 ft) long, 1.7 m (5.6 ft) wide, 2 m (6.6 ft) high and with engines at or under 2,000 cc (120 cu in). Interior dimensions and available cargo space are not taken into consideration. All vehicles in Japan, regardless of origination of manufacture, are held to this standard.
This larger class is by far the most popular in Japan due to tax benefits stipulated by Japanese government regulations. One of the first compact cars that met those requirements was the Toyota Publica with a flat-4 engine, and the Mitsubishi 500. The Publica and the Mitsubishi 500 were essentially "kei cars" with engines larger than regulations permitted at the time. These vehicles were followed by 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 their first four-door sedan in 1969, called the Honda 1300. In North America, these cars were classified as subcompact cars.
By 1970, Nissan released their first front wheel drive car that 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 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. The Toyota Corona, the Datsun 510, the Mitsubishi Galant (a captive import from Chrysler sold as the Dodge Colt), the Subaru DL, and later the Honda Accord gave buyers increased passenger space and some luxury amenities, such as air conditioning, power steering, AM-FM radios, and even power windows and central locking without increasing the price of the vehicle. Compact trucks were also introduced to the USA, with the Toyota Hilux and the Datsun Truck, followed by the Mazda Truck also sold as the Ford Courier, with Isuzu selling their compact truck as the Chevrolet LUV. In 1979, Mitsubishi sold their compact truck Mitsubishi Forte as the Dodge Ram 50 and Plymouth Arrow.
 UK market
Small family saloons had a strong following among car buyers in the UK as the 1970s dawned, and enjoyed a popularity similar to that of larger family cars such as the enormously successful Ford Cortina. These two sectors were in fact dominant of the new car market at this time, as the Mini and - to a lesser degree - the Hillman Imp were the only popular mini-cars at this time. The Morris/Austin 1100/1300 had been Britain's best selling car for most of the time since its launch in 1962, and rival British products included the Ford Escort, Vauxhall Viva and Hillman Avenger. Cars such as the Citroën GS, Peugeot 304, and Datsun Sunny 120Y were also being imported.
British Leyland replaced the 1100/1300 with the Austin Allegro in 1973. Ford updated the Escort in 1975. The Vauxhall Viva finished production in late 1979 on the launch of the all-new Astra - which abandoned the traditional rear-wheel drive saloon in favour of the front-wheel drive hatchback format that was gradually spreading across Europe. The Allegro was front-wheel drive but only came as a saloon or estate though the similar Austin Maxi was a hatchback. The Escort was still a rear-wheel drive saloon in 1979 but was due for an imminent replacement by an up-to-date third generation model. The Hillman Avenger continued to sell well as a Chrysler following the 1976 rebranding and as a Talbot after the sale of Chrysler's European operations to French carmaker Peugeot in 1979, in spite of the 1978 launch of the Horizon front-wheel drive hatchback.
One of the first foreign cars to have a major impact on this sector in the UK was the Golf - a Giugiaro-styled front-wheel drive hatchback launched in 1974. The sporty GTI version sparked a huge demand for "hot hatchbacks" in the UK and many other countries. Other foreign competitors during this era in the UK included the Renault 14, Fiat Strada, Honda Civic, and Mazda 323.
The MK3 Ford Escort went on sale in the autumn of 1980 replacing the rear-drive saloon format in favour of hatchbacks and front-wheel drive. It was available in several versions, as well as the Orion saloon that was launched in 1983.
British Leyland replaced the Allegro in early 1983 with the all-new Maestro. Successor organizations, Austin Rover and Rover Group, kept the Maestro. The venture with Japanese carmaker Honda saw the launch of the Triumph Acclaim, a four-door saloon based on the Honda Ballade with a Honda-designed engine. The Rover 200 succeeded it in 1984.
The MK2 Volkswagen Golf went on sale in the UK at the start of 1984.
Ford began the 1990s by replacing its 10-year-old Escort (and the Orion saloon version) with an all-new model. The Escort was Britain's best selling small family car throughout the decade. Its eventual successor - the Focus - went on sale in September 1998, but Ford hedged its bets with this radical new design and kept the Escort in production for two more years.
Other foreign brands included the Citroën ZX, its successor the Xsara, the Fiat Brava/Fiat Bravo, the Nissan Almera, as well as the latest incarnations of the long-running Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 323.
The Renault Megane II was launched in November 2002 with styling quite unlike any other offering in this sector at the time. By 2005, the Megane II was Britain's fourth most popular new car.
The Volkswagen Golf entered its fifth incarnation at the beginning of 2004. The Vauxhall Astra entered with an all-new fifth generation model in March 2004. The Ford Focus second generation model was launched in December 2004. The Focus was the top seller in this segment, followed by the Astra.
Other offerings in the small family car sector included the Peugeot 308, Fiat Bravo, Škoda Octavia, Toyota Auris, Citroën C4, and Mazda 3. The small family sector is now firmly established as Britain's most favoured sector. In 2004, five of Britain's 10 best selling cars were in this sector - compared to just three in 1992. Back in 1992, the top 10 in the UK featured three larger family cars, but from 2001 to 2006 has featured just one.
 See also
- Vehicle size class
- Compact MPV
- Compact SUV
- Economy car
- Hot hatch
- Sport compact
- Supermini car
- Compact executive car
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