Compact vs Midsize: SUV Comparison

November 22nd, 2020 by

There are many options in the broad category of SUVs, making this a difficult market to navigate if you’re interested in a new vehicle. Two popular options are compact and midsize SUVs. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your options, consider the differences in these two categories so you can focus on the one that’s best suited to your needs.

Compact vs Midsize SUV Comparison height and length

What Is an SUV?

An SUV, or sport utility vehicle, is a type of vehicle that sits higher than a regular car and features an extended wagon-style roof line. Early SUVs were constructed to look like trucks with an extended cabin in lieu of a truck bed. However, today’s SUVs have grown and changed to provide drivers with an incredible range of options. Understanding the differences between these classes of SUVs will help you narrow down your options when you’re shopping for a new vehicle.

What Is a Compact SUV?

A compact SUV is one of the smallest types of SUVs. The only option that’s smaller in this market is a subcompact SUV. A subcompact SUV is little more than a taller hatchback. It’s not until you climb into the compact range that you’ll truly feel like you’ve left sedans behind.

A compact SUV rides high, like other SUVs, but has a smaller frame. You’ll enjoy more seating and cargo space in a compact SUV than you will in a sedan.

Examples of compact SUVs include the:

What Is a Midsize SUV?

A midsize SUV is slightly larger than its compact counterpart. In this range, you typically have a minimum of a turbo four-cylinder engine to power your travels. This is also where you’ll start to find some towing and off-roading capabilities. Here, you’re moving away from the sedan look and feel and into that of a truck.

Examples of midsize SUVs include the:

Comparing Compact and Midsize SUVs

If you’re torn between a compact and midsize SUV, it’s important to think through your options carefully so you can find the right fit for your lifestyle. There are several areas that deserve your consideration. Take a look at each of these for a better idea of which SUV you should choose.

Compact vs Midsize SUV Comparison Length and seating


In general, you’ll find more seating in a midsize SUV than a compact SUV. In most compact SUVs, you’ll find two rows with seating for five. That fifth person might have to squeeze into the middle seat in the back.

A few compact SUVs do offer a third row, so you can look for these outliers if third-row seating is the only feature that you’re missing in this class. The Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sorento, and Volkwagen Tiguan are all compact SUVs with three rows. Keep in mind, however, that your passengers will be rather crunched with this setup, so you’ll probably want to reserve the third row for children or use it sparingly if you go this route.

Midsize SUVs aren’t guaranteed a third row, but there’s a greater chance of finding this option. You’ll also find that all the seating is more spacious in a midsize SUV.


Compact vs Midsize SUV Comparison storage

As with seating, storage options are larger in a midsize SUV than a compact. If you have a third-row midsize SUV like the Volkswagen Atlas or Buick Enclave, you’ll find the interior especially spacious. Third-row SUVs like these often provide the opportunity to remove or fold down the back row for a particularly spacious cargo area. Your compact SUV will still provide more storage than the average sedan, but the difference is often minor.

Towing and Off-Roading

You won’t find towing or off-roading capabilities with most compact SUVs, although the Buick Envision does have a 1,500-pound towing capacity when properly equipped. You’ll start to see decent towing capabilities when you move up to the midsize SUV category. Something like the Jeep Grand Cherokee can offer a decent romp off road, and might be a good fit if you do a lot of back road driving in tricky conditions or if you live in an area with snow.

If you’re planning to tow a large trailer or looking for increased safety, you’re probably better off with a large SUV like the GMC Acadia. Always check the weight of the equipment that you want to tow and compare it with the towing capacity of any SUV you’re interested in to make sure you choose a vehicle that’s up to the job.

Fuel Efficiency

Smaller vehicles offer better gas mileage, so a compact SUV will win out in this area nearly every time. Many small SUVs use 15% to 25% less fuel than their larger counterparts. It’s worth checking the fuel efficiency for any vehicle that you’re considering to understand the differences. Better fuel efficiency means you’ll pay less for gas. However, you’ll have less space in exchange, so you need to consider your priorities carefully.


You can expect to pay less for a compact SUV than a midsize SUV. The difference is often several thousand dollars with comparable features. If you’re set on a midsize SUV and want to cut back on the price, consider going down a trim level. Some of the bells and whistles may not be worth it when it comes to downsizing entirely from a midsize SUV to a compact SUV.

What’s Right for Me?

You may prefer a compact SUV if:

  • You have a small family.
  • You want to get the best possible fuel efficiency.
  • You need only moderate cargo space.
  • You’re on a budget.

A midsize SUV is probably better if:

  • You have more than two children and want comfortable spacing.
  • You frequently drive carpools or other groups.
  • You need room to carry a stroller, sporting equipment, or camping equipment.
  • You drive on tricky roads.

If you need help finding the right vehicle for your needs, come to Cochran Buick-GMC. We can help you explore all your options for compact and midsize SUVs and select a vehicle that’s a perfect fit for your needs.

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