Compact vs Subcompact SUV – What’s the Difference Between the Two?

August 20th, 2021 by

When you’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, you have a lot to take into consideration, including the size that will work for you. Over the past several years, the market for compact SUVs has continued to grow, and manufacturers are coming out with more and more of the relatively new category of subcompact SUVs. But what do these terms mean, and what’s the difference between the two? Here’s a comparison to help you navigate the increasingly popular small SUV market so you can see what you can expect from a compact SUV versus a subcompact SUV

What Is a Subcompact SUV?

2023 Buick Encore GX Essence (1SL) exterior in White Frost Tricoat.

The smallest SUVs on the market fit into the subcompact market. These are often the most affordable SUVs and are recommended for people who are on a budget and don’t need a lot of extra space. While these are small vehicles, the cabins often feel roomy, and depending on trim levels, they often come with lots of convenience features and infotainment technology.

The Buick Encore is an example of a subcompact SUV. It has room for five passengers and comes standard with stylish 18-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, and LED accented taillights. Inside, the versatile cabin has folding second-row seats and a cargo area that offers up to 48.4 cubic feet of storage space if you fold the rear seats down. You can stay connected and entertained on the road in the Encore with its 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android technology, and available Wi-Fi hot spot.

The Encore gets its power from a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine that puts out 138 horsepower, and it has a six-speed automatic transmission.

What Is a Compact SUV?

silver buick envision at beach

The compact SUV is one of the most popular sizes for SUVs. It’s larger than the subcompact but not as bulky as a midsize or full-size SUV. It offers more legroom than you get with a subcompact, and in some cases, you can even get a third row if you need extra seating.

The Buick Envision fits in the compact SUV market segment. This Buick also has two rows of seats and room for five. It comes standard with LED headlights and roof rails and offers upscale convenience features such as a hands-free liftgate. Inside, this compact SUV has heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, with the option to add ventilated front seats and heated rear seats. It has more cargo space than the subcompact Encore, with 25.2 cubic feet of storage in the back with the rear seats up, which can increase to 52.7 cubic feet of cargo area when you fold the rear seats down.

The Envision has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 197 horsepower, and it also works with the six-speed automatic transmission.

Benefits of a Subcompact SUV


A subcompact SUV combines the best features of a small vehicle with some of the capabilities and features you get with a larger vehicle and puts it all into one small package.

Seating Position

You can enjoy the elevated seating position of an SUV for a better view of the road and what’s around you without the bulk of a large vehicle.

Fuel Efficiency

You’ll notice a difference at the gas pump when you choose a subcompact over a compact or a midsize SUV. The smaller size of a subcompact means it’s lighter than other vehicles on the road, which means it’s more fuel-efficient.

Precise Handling and Performance

Comparing a subcompact SUV vs compact SUV, you’ll find that a subcompact SUV is much easier to handle and maneuver than larger cars and SUVs. Subcompacts can zip around town and through city traffic whether you stay in Youngstown or travel to the larger cities of Pittsburgh or Cleveland. The small footprint of a subcompact SUV means it has a tight turning radius, which also means you can easily maneuver around parking garages or in crowded parking lots.

Even though a subcompact SUV is small in size, it has comparable levels of power to larger vehicles. You get the benefit of carlike handling and a comfortable ride with the performance of an SUV.


A subcompact SUV is a budget-friendly option for drivers who want to get into an SUV.

Benefits of a Compact SUV

2021 buick envision backset side

The benefits of a compact SUV are similar to those of a subcompact. These also offer a higher seating position for a better view of the road than you get in a hatchback or a sedan, and they provide carlike handling and a comfortable ride. Compact SUVs are larger than subcompacts, but they are also fuel-efficient. Most compact SUVs offer the option for either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. If you choose a subcompact, in some cases you can only get it with front-wheel drive.

A compact SUV offers more versatility than you get with a subcompact. If you need room for people, they have comfortable rear seats with a good amount of legroom, and the cargo area offers extra space. If you have a family, a compact might be a better choice than a subcompact because of the larger cargo area.

Subcompact SUV vs Compact SUV – Safety

Both subcompact and compact SUVs come with the latest safety features. In many cases, subcompact SUVs offer the option for advanced driver aids while compacts make them standard. For example, the budget-friendly subcompact Buick Encore offers two safety packages for the higher Preferred trim, featuring safety features such as a blind-spot monitor, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

In contrast, the compact Envision comes standard with Buick’s Driver Confidence Package. This means that every Envision, even the entry-level model, has forward collision warning with mitigation, the blind-spot monitor, automatic emergency braking, a safety alert seat, and rear cross-traffic alert.

If you want to find out more about the difference between a subcompact SUV and a compact SUV, or are looking for a comparison of bigger SUVs, give us a call at Cochran Buick-GMC. We can provide you with more details and set up test drives in the Encore, the Encore GX, and the Envision so you can get a feel for how each one drives.

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