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1973 Vega GT, 1972 Pinto Runabout & 1971 Gremlin X in Motor Trend Classic 2010

Subcompact car is a North American term used to describe automobiles whose class size is smaller than that of a compact car, usually not exceeding 165 inches (4,191 mm) in length, but larger than a microcar. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a passenger car is classified as subcompact if it has between 85 cubic feet (2,407 L) and 99 cu ft (2,803 L) of interior volume.


In North America, the term "subcompact" came into popular use in the early 1970s. Previously, cars in this size were variously categorized, including "small automobile" and "economy car."[1] This type of car was first seen in 1939 with the Crosley, and then popularized in the 1950s with the introduction of the Nash Metropolitan, as well as a number of imported models, notably the Volkswagen Beetle and various small British cars.

1973 Chevrolet Vega GT Hatchback

1972 Ford Pinto Runabout

1971 AMC Gremlin X

North America

The subcompact market segment expanded in the 1970s with the introduction of new domestic-built models produced by North American automakers in response to the growing popularity of small imported cars from Europe and Japan.

The Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto were introduced in September 1970 for the 1971 model year. The two would find over five million buyers by the end of the decade. The AMC Gremlin was described at its April 1970 introduction as "the first American-built import".[2]

The Pontiac Astre, the Canadian-born re-badged Vega variant was released in the U.S. September 1974. The Vega-based Chevrolet Monza and the Pinto-based Ford Mustang II were upscale subcompacts also introduced for the 1975 model year as larger pony cars the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang sales had fallen. The Camaro was scheduled for cancellation, but sales stabilized with the end of the gas crisis. The Monza with its GM variants Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfire and the Mustang II continued until the end of the decade. The Chevrolet Chevette was GM's new entry-level subcompact introduced in September 1975 as a '76 model. It was a successful and 'Americanized' design from experienced (but technologically conservative) Opel, GM's German subsidiary. The front-wheel drive (FWD), US-built Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx subcompacts were introduced as 1981 models replacing the Ford Pinto and Mecury Bobcat.

Captive imports was the other response by U.S. car makers to the increase in popularity of imported subcompact cars in the 1970s and 80s. These were cars bought from overseas subsidiaries or from companies in which they held a significant shareholding. GM, Ford, and Chrysler sold imports for the U.S. market. The Buick Opel, Ford Cortina, Mercury Capri, Ford Festiva, and Dodge Colt are examples. Chevrolet offered two front-wheel drive subcompact economy cars in the 1980s to replace the aging Chevette, the Chevrolet Sprint, a three-cylinder Suzuki-built hatchback and the Chevrolet Spectrum built by Isuzu, and offered the Geo brand in the 1990s featuring the Suzuki-built Metro. As of 2011, numerous models of subcompacts are sold in North America, including the Chevrolet Aveo, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Nissan Versa, Scion xD and Toyota Yaris.

Europe - Superminis/City cars

Main article: Supermini

Many contemporary cars branded as "subcompact" fall into either the Supermini or the City car category (as defined by Euro NCAP) in Europe.

In 1976, Ford of Europe launched their first FWD subcompact, the Ford Fiesta. In 1982 GM launched their first FWD subcompact in Europe, the Opel Corsa/Vauxhall Nova, the midrange mark two Vauxhall Cavalier GM J platform 'world car', having been introduced the previous year.

Current examples include the Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa D, VW Polo V and Peugeot 207. Overall in 2008, of the fifteen best selling types of car in Europe, seven were Superminis

Gallery - Subcompacts

See also


  1. Foster, Pat: "Developing the Metropolitan", Hemmings Classic Car, 2005-10-01, retrieved on 2009-08-21. "During WWII and immediately afterwards, Mason began to explore the idea of developing a truly small car, the size of what today we'd call a subcompact."
  2. 197012 American Motors brochure

External links

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