Compact car

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A 1996 Geo Prizm, an example of a compact car

Compact car is a largely North American term denoting an automobile smaller than a mid-size car, but larger than a subcompact car, similarly recognized in much of the world as a C-segment (between B- and D-segment) vehicles. Compact cars usually have wheelbases between 2.54 meters (100 inches) and 2.67 metres (105 inches). The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a "Compact" car as measuring between 100 ft³ (2800 L) and 109 ft³ (3000 L) of combined passenger and cargo volume capacity.

Although compact cars had been made in the United States before, the post World War II era compact class began in 1950 when Nash introduced a convertible Rambler. It was built on a 100-inch wheelbase to which a station wagon, hardtop, and sedan versions were added. The modern compact class greatly expanded between 1958 and 1960 when the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant joined the market segment held by the Rambler American. 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".

During the 1960s, compacts were the smallest class, but in the early 1970s, the domestic automakers introduced even smaller models, the subcompact, that included the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto.

Today, although the general downsizing of all vehicles has somewhat blurred size class distinctions, 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 relatively small SUVs, such as the Ford Escape. Compact SUVs are sometimes called "cute-utes" or "soft-roaders".

This term is not commonly used in Europe, where the classification system is different (the term small family car is used for compact cars).

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