Economy vs Compact: Which rental car is best for your road trip?

Planning a road trip and needing a rental car? You’re in luck, because at Car Rental Reviews, we provide you with all the information you need to find a company that specializes in car rentals. That’s your first step. However, on the next aspect, we can only provide advice. It’s unfortunately something many people mess up. You might be wondering how that’s possible. Well, when it comes to renting a car, many people opt for the cheapest car possible, not considering the underlying issues that impact on an economy vs. compact car rental.

Knowing the differences between the two car rental categories will ensure that your car rental meets your needs. 

When it comes to car rental, you will encounter a variety of terms to describe different car categories. If you’re trying to impress people, you might rent a classic or a sports car, but most people will just look for the cheapest way to travel between two points. That means that you’ll probably be looking at the economy vs. compact categories. But what’s the difference between the two? Let’s do a little comparison.

economy vs compact

Economy vs. Compact Comparison

When it comes to economy vs. compact rental cars, the main difference is the size. Therefore, you should consider the size of your group, the distance you’ll be traveling, the amount of luggage you’ll be taking, and the amount of time you’ll spend in the car. In terms of size, economy cars tend to be slightly smaller than compact cars.

Compact cars offer slightly more luggage space in the trunk, and can carry larger passengers. They are best suited to longer road trips, or for long drives outside of the city, where the roads may not be as smooth. It’s therefore important to consider the passengers, luggage, location and distance you will be driving when you decide whether you will rent an economy vs compact car.

Affordability & Fuel Efficiency

Both economy and compact cars are quite affordable to rent and both are easy to drive. Both cars offer great fuel efficiency, although it varies by model. On an economy car, you can typically get about 30-50 miles per gallon, or better, while a compact will give you 25-30 miles per gallon or better. 

Seating Capacity

Economy cars can comfortably accommodate up to four occupants. It’s the ideal option for up to two adults and two small children. 

Compact cars can easily seat up to five occupants, including adults and adolescents.

Luggage Room

Economy cars can easily accommodate one medium suitcase and several carry-on bags, whereas a compact car has approximately 12-14 cubic feet of luggage space. That provides sufficient space for a large suitcase, a medium suitcase and a number of carry-on bags. 


Economy cars usually have two doors, although some small sedans have four passenger doors. Compact cars are sometimes available in compact hatchbacks or wagons, and typically have four passenger doors. 

Top Rentals

Top economy rentals include:

Top compact rentals include:

economy vs compact

‘Or Similar’: What it means

The available cars in a car rental company’s fleet differs from moment to moment, depending on the fact that any given car could be:

That’s right. Even rental cars sometimes need washes and repairs,refueling, servicing, and much more. In most cases, companies will make additional stock available if they can find it from a nearby depot of the same company. If not, they will offer you a different (if it is available) car, sometimes from another dept of the same company. 

For that reason,car rental companies add the disclaimer “or similar” next to each category. That means that if your chosen category is out of stock, you will be given the next category up from your choice, typically at the same price. As such, when you select a specific economy car model, they might give you the “or similar” option from within the economy range. If all the economy cars are out, they will give you a compact car at the price of an economy car rental. 

Economy or Compact Car Rentals: What else to look for

Now that you understand the key differences between economy vs. compact cars, and the aspects to look at when choosing between the categories and availability, it’s a good idea to look at the additional features that make your driving experience as pleasant as possible. That would include:

Are you ready to choose between an economy vs. compact car rental? Knowing the differences between economy vs compact cars is that you know exactly what to look for if you wish to score a great deal. Please view our car rental reviews to choose the right company to supply you with the perfect car for your next family road trip.