Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Subcompact hatchbacks: Sedans or Station Wagons?

So, today I began thinking about the literal definition of a "subcompact" car. Does someone actually define what a subcompact car is? I recently heard an automotive journalist refer to the 2009 Toyota Corolla as a subcompact. I thought to myself—the Corolla is not a subcompact, it's a compact. I'd always thought the classifications were centered around wheelbase. However, since I wasn't 100% sure, I figured I'd look it up.

Webster's dictionary defines a subcompact as "an automobile smaller than a compact." Okay, that doesn't help much. Low and behold, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines car classes, and it has an operational definition of a subcompact car.

EPA Class Definition - Subcompact Culture
The EPA states that a subcompact vehicle has a passenger and cargo volume of between 85 and 99 cubic feet. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. However,I did notice the classifications were for "sedans." Does the EPA consider hatchbacks as sedans or station wagons?

So, my Toyota Yaris hatchback has an EPA passenger volume of 84.6 cubic feet, and a cargo volume (seats folded up) of 9.32 for a total volume of interior volume of 93.92 cubic feet. It's officially a subcompact, according to the EPA. FYI, the overall length of a Yaris liftback is 150.6 inches

So, how about the Corolla, which someone had called a subcompact car? It has 104.3 cubic feet of interior volume (interior space + cargo space), which, according to EPA standards, falls under the compact designation. So yes—the Corolla is a compact car, not a subcompact car, as I had originally read. The Corolla also has an overall length of 178.7 inches—28.1 inches longer than a Yaris.

I decided to look up the 2009 Honda Fit as another example. It has a passenger volume of 90.8 cubic feet, and a cargo volume of 20.6 cubic feet for a total of 111.4 inches. Wait a minute—that's apparently not a subcompact. Heck, it's not even a "compact." According to the EPA's definition, with that amount of interior volume, the ' 09 Fit is technically a "mid-size" car. Well, that doesn't seem right, unless the EPA considers the Fit a station wagon. It's obviously a small car; its overall length is only 161.6 inches—17.1 inches less than a Corolla, and only 10 longer than a Yaris. Honda itself refers to the vehicle as a subcompact in its press release. What gives?

The Nissan Versa falls into the same category. It has a passenger volume of 94.7 cubic feet and a cargo dimension of 17.8 cubic feet (with the seat folded up) for a total of 112.5 cubic feet, aka, a mid-size sedan (unless it's a staton wagon), yet it's overall length is 169.1 inches.

Since the EPA defines a car's class according to its interior volume, not its exterior dimensions, it appears to blur the lines between what is a subcompact car and what isn't. It also doesn't state whether or not hatchbacks are station wagons or sedans. Interesting ...

How are vehicle size classes defined? (EPA Definition)

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