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Does Size Matter? Compact vs. Full-Size SUVs

Comparison of the full size and compact SUVs available on the market today.

Shopping for a car can send you headlong into a maelstrom of choices, involving everything from financing to upholstery. If you're in the market for a new SUV, you might wonder if a compact or full-size one is right for you. Consider the following.

Fuel Economy

Like a six-foot-four-inch pro linebacker consumes more food than an office worker, a full-size SUV needs more fuel than a compact SUV to go the same distance. In a full-size SUV, you can expect to get anywhere from 13 to 20 mpg in the city. Compact SUVs, on the other hand, can get up to 25 mpg or more in the city and upward of 30 mpg on the highway. While careful driving and keeping up with maintenance on a vehicle help it go as easy as possible on gasoline, compact SUVs always win in this category.


Full-size SUVs can weigh anything between 7,500 and 12,500 pounds, which means they need a super engine to get them and their cargo up to speed. They usually feature V8 engines, in contrast with the 4- and 6-cylinder engines that occupy compact SUVs, which have an average weight of less than 7,000 pounds.

Of course, a V8 in that big SUV will do more than carry you on the freeway at a steady pace. SUV designers know that such a vehicle without towing capacity is like a computer without Internet access - useful, but way short of reaching its potential. Go for a full-size SUV if you plan on doing much hauling.

Several car companies make hybrid versions of their SUVs, both compact and full-size. While the hybrids don't always have the same capacity for acceleration or towing as their non-hybrid counterparts, they can still get the job done.

Storage and Seating

A bigger vehicle means more space for seating and storage, right? No, not always. One auto expert says that when it comes to interior space, "don't necessarily go by category - e.g., 'compact' or 'mid-sized.' Go by stats. Check out the interior volume of the car you're considering."

That said, third-row seating is pretty standard in full-size SUVs and can oftentimes comfortably accommodate adults. If a compact SUV has a third row, the third row is usually there just for appearances. Children might handle a ride back there without too much complaint, but adults and teenagers... not so much.

Also take a look at how you can move the seats. If you choose a compact SUV, you want to have the ability to move the back seats forward and/or fold them down to make room for cargo.


Any SUV comparison you conduct while shopping, whether it's online or at the dealership, will involve scrutiny of those cool extra features that make a vehicle more than a tool that gets you from point A to point B. Brand and model year play more of a role in the luxury category than size does; nifty add-ons like heated seats, navigation systems, and Bluetooth can show up on any size vehicle.


Both full-size and compact SUVs commonly come equipped with sound safety features such as anti-lock brakes, side curtain airbags, and rearview cameras. However, size itself does play a role in safety. Edmunds.com states that because SUVs are so large and bulky, their maneuverability suffers, which may cut back on your ability to avoid a collision. The bigger the vehicle, the more of an issue this becomes.

However, compact SUVs have their own disadvantage. As stated by Forbes.com, "Death rates in minicars involved in multi-car crashes are nearly twice as high as those in large sedans." While the statistics likely differ for SUVs, the laws of physics still apply. Large SUVs are particularly safer in head-on collisions because the long fronts of the cars absorb more of the impact before the force of the crash reaches the vehicle's occupants.

Because of their size and safety, full-size SUVs make good family cars, and they can make a loud statement about your personality. At the same time, though, you shouldn't discount the fuel efficiency and affordability offered by smaller models.

Which is right for you?

More Stories By Hailey Robinson

Hailey is a recent graduate with a degree in Journalism. Now that she isn't face first in books she is trying to travel as much as she can. She writes in her free time between fixing up her new house and teaching people how to live a longer, healthier life.