10 Different Types of Small Cars Explained (With Photos)

Small cars, often seen as a contemporary evolution of automobiles, actually have a longstanding history dating back to the 1940s. Manufacturers have been crafting compact vehicles for decades, driven by the desire to provide the public with an affordable, economical mode of transportation. This exploration delves into the historical and modern manifestations of small cars, shedding light on their evolution.

The spectrum of small cars encompasses an array of categories: from microcars and mini cars to subcompacts, minicompacts, and compact cars. Within this realm, a lineage of iconic vehicles has emerged, even influencing luxury car manufacturers in the present day. These pioneering cars played a pivotal role in democratizing motoring, making it accessible to a broader swath of the population.

1. Microcars

Microcars boast a history that often surprises, representing the tiniest car category still thriving in today’s automotive landscape. These vehicles exist as a modern bridge between motorcycles and cars, stepping in as successors to the historical cyclecar.

In numerous instances, microcars harness the power of motorcycle engines, while certain manufacturers engineer specialized engines tailored to these compact wonders.

Given their reliance on motorcycle engines, these microcars usually house sub-700cc engines. Nevertheless, contemporary renditions might sport engines hovering around the 1000cc mark.

Post World War II Europe witnessed the ascent of microcars, driven by the demand for affordable personal transportation during an era when many households grappled with post-war poverty. In the face of exorbitant prices attached to larger cars, microcars fittingly filled the affordability void.

Serving as a substitute for motorcycles, microcars provided enhanced protection against inclement weather for commuters across Europe and the UK.

Distinctive from today’s standard four-wheeled vehicles, numerous microcars were conceived with a three-wheel configuration. A striking example is the Peel P50, heralded as the smallest production car ever crafted, originating from the Isle of Man between 1962 and 1965.

During the same era as the Peel P50, four-wheeled versions of microcars made their presence felt. Notable mentions include the German Champion 400, the Honda N360, the Mazda R360 Coupe, and the sporty Australian Goggomobil Dart.

Venturing into modernity, microcars feature the likes of the 1970s Mallalieu Microdot and the revamped Fiat 500, breathing new life into the iconic Fiat 500 model that graced the years 1957 to 1975.

Microcars also find a niche in the electric car domain, where their lightweight frames align harmoniously with low-powered electric motors. Exemplars like the Renault Twizzy and the Tazzari Zero illuminate this facet of microcar innovation.

Noted for their economical operation and budget-friendly purchase and upkeep costs, microcars come with restrictions on passenger and cargo capacity. As minicars such as the Mini Cooper emerged, offering more room at a lower cost, the popularity of microcars experienced a gradual ebb. However, it’s important to note that these micro marvels haven’t faded into obscurity entirely.

2. Kei Cars

Kei cars, often referred to as the Japanese equivalent of microcars, represent the tiniest category of highway-legal automobiles permitted to transport passengers.

Remarkably, these cars failed to gain substantial traction in the United States market, yet they found a receptive audience in Europe.

Japan embraced these vehicles as a favored, cost-effective alternative for transportation, a popularity that endures, compelling their continued production to meet ongoing demand.

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At present, Japan continues to manufacture and export modern Kei cars, with notable examples including the Daihatsu Cuore, Suzuki Jimny, and Toyota Pixis Joy, each contributing to this enduring automotive legacy.

3. Smart Cars

Manufactured by Daimler AG, smart cars fall under the minicar category. Notably, the Smart Fortwo hatchback, introduced in 1998, has emerged as a frontrunner within this range.

Featuring a compact design, the Smart Fortwo is tailored for two occupants and boasts either a rear-mounted 599cc petrol engine or a 799cc turbo-diesel motor. Renowned for its cost-effectiveness and fuel efficiency, this vehicle resonated strongly with both younger demographics and retirees alike.

A distinguishing feature of smart cars is their interior space, surpassing that of earlier microcars. This enhancement in space underscores the vehicle’s versatility, rendering it an increasingly attractive option for a broader range of uses.

4. Minicars Or City Cars

Termed as “minicars,” these compact vehicles encompass a diverse range, spanning from the iconic Mini Cooper to the European designation of the compact City Car.

The all-encompassing Mini family showcases an array of small-car dimensions. Starting with the Mini Cooper, originally manufactured in the UK, which can even be categorized as a microcar. In the lineage of Mini iterations produced by BMW, the size spectrum extends from hatchback to subcompact. However, none of the Minis crafted in Germany meet the criteria for microcars.

The European classification of City Cars or A-segment vehicles frequently falls under the minicar umbrella. These automobiles span a length range of 8.8 feet (2.7 meters) to 12 feet (3.7 meters).

The favored design for City Cars predominantly takes the form of a hatchback. Nevertheless, the current trajectory leans towards adopting the crossover SUV body style over the conventional hatchback models.

Elegantly tailored for urban driving, these vehicles alleviate the challenges of city traffic while delivering enhanced fuel efficiency, setting them apart from bulkier sedans. A noteworthy distinction of minicars or City cars lies in their larger size compared to their microcar counterparts, rendering them apt and versatile for small families.

Under the hood, the engine capacities of these vehicles showcase a range extending from just under 1000cc to 1800cc, catering to both luxury and sportier models.

In the hatchback genre of Minicars, notable mentions encompass the Volkswagen Up! and the Toyota Aygo. On the crossover front, the Suzuki Ignis stands as a prime example of this evolving trend.

5. Compact Cars

In the United States, the term “compact car” serves as a classification for automobiles, aligning with Europe’s C-segment car classification.

According to the contemporary and authoritative definition, these vehicles are characterized by an internal volume ranging between 100 to 109 cubic feet, equivalent to 2.8 to 3.1 cubic meters. This volumetric criterion encapsulates both passenger and cargo space within the vehicle, accommodating a spectrum of car shapes, spanning from hatchbacks to sedans.

Interestingly, this classification introduces the possibility of a single car model belonging to distinct categories across different generations. A pertinent illustration lies in the case of the Volkswagen Golf. Starting from its 8th generation in 2019, it takes the mantle of a compact car. Contrastingly, earlier generations such as the 1st generation Golf, engineered to succeed the VW Beetle, were categorized as City Cars.

Critical to the performance of compact cars is the presence of larger engines, typically starting from 1600cc. This augments their capability to manage the expanded dimensions of the car’s body, chassis, and its cargo-carrying potential.

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The allure of compact cars has captivated the young family demographic due to their affordability and augmented space, exceeding that of City Cars yet not venturing into the realm of mid-size cars’ expense. In the United Kingdom, these vehicles are colloquially referred to as “Small Family” cars, a reflection of their targeted market niche.

Beyond the context of the Volkswagen Golf, other prominent exemplars of compact cars encompass the Honda Civic, the fourth-generation Ford Focus, the Audi A1, and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class from the year 2018 onward.

6. Subcompact cars

In the realm of small cars, the subcompact category holds the moniker of the B-segment in Europe, while being known as the supermini class in the UK.

Defining this class entails a collective interior volume that falls within the range of 85 to 99 cubic feet, equivalent to 2.4 to 2.8 cubic meters. Consequently, these vehicles find themselves slightly smaller than their compact car counterparts, yet occupy a larger space in comparison to minicompact or city car offerings.

Much like the compact car category, this volume-oriented definition accommodates a diverse array of body shapes within the classification.

Prominent names within the subcompact realm encompass the likes of the Mini Hatch, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, and the Opel Corsa, each capturing the essence of this dynamic and popular vehicle category.

7. Minicompact

In the United States, the term “Minicompact” designates the vehicles also recognized as city cars or minicars in the UK, and they hold the classification of A-segment cars throughout the rest of Europe.

Given their diminutive dimensions, hatchback and crossover SUV styles emerge as the prevalent body shapes for these cars. However, the compact size of minicompact vehicles does not accommodate the inclusion of a sedan body shape within this category.

8. Hatchbacks

The concept of a hatchback is more closely associated with the car’s design rather than its size. Nonetheless, the hatchback layout naturally aligns with smaller vehicles, leading to its common association with compact cars.

Cars denoted as 3-door or 5-door typically incorporate the hatchback configuration into the equation. Consequently, a 3-door vehicle features two passenger doors, while the addition of a hatchback forms the third door.

At its core, a hatchback design entails a tailgate hinged along the vehicle’s roofline. When opened, this tailgate swings upward, creating a generous opening at the car’s rear. This innovative design simplifies the process of loading and unloading the vehicle.

Crucially, the term “hatchback” pertains to a particular body style rather than dictating a specific size. This means that hatchbacks span a wide spectrum of vehicle sizes, ranging from microcars to compact cars, showcasing the flexibility and versatility of this design concept.

9. Bubble Cars

The term “bubble car” designated a unique style of microcar, drawing its name from the distinctive design of the car’s upper portion, reminiscent of the canopy seen on fighter aircraft, often referred to as a “bubble.”

Adding to the bubble car’s allure was its atypical egg-shaped configuration, which further contributed to the “bubble” moniker attributed to these vehicles.

A notable characteristic of these vehicles was their connection to manufacturers that had previously produced fighter aircraft during World War II. This historical link potentially explains the fighter canopy-like style that these cars adopted. Examples include the Messerschmitt KR200 and the FMR Tg500.

A significant proportion of these bubble cars sported a three-wheel arrangement, capitalizing on more lenient regulations for three-wheeled vehicles, especially evident in the UK. An exemplary illustration is the Peel Trident, a quintessential representation of this particular vehicle type.

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Even the esteemed car manufacturer BMW had modest origins within the bubble car category, seen in the BMW Isetta. This vehicle was produced under Italian license and took inspiration from the design of the Iso Rivolta from Italy.

A standout feature of the BMW Isetta was its unconventional front-entry and exit door, setting it apart. The Isetta lineup encompassed a 250cc model, a 300cc variant, and a 600cc model, characterized by a more expansive body.

In a contemporary context, modern iterations of bubble cars encompass the Danish CityEl and the electric Myers Motors NmG Corbin Sparrow, both aligning with the electric vehicle trend.

10. Cyclecars

Cyclecars emerged as a distinctive automotive category in Europe and the United States, bridging the gap between motorcycles and automobiles. Flourishing from 1910 to 1920 on both sides of the Atlantic, these vehicles epitomized an intriguing fusion of traits from both realms.

Characteristically, cyclecars accommodated two individuals in a tandem arrangement, mirroring the setup seen in motorcycles. This design, derived from motorcycles, later evolved to position the passenger alongside the driver.

Powering cyclecars often involved motorcycle engines, frequently air-cooled and boasting capacities ranging between 750cc and 1100cc.

The transmission system predominantly embraced belt or chain drives, enabling the transfer of power from the engine to the drive axle.

Cyclecars, akin to many contemporaneous vehicles, exposed occupants to the elements, providing limited protection against adverse weather conditions. Despite this drawback, the affordability and higher carrying capacity in comparison to motorcycles contributed to their popularity.

Although cyclecars occupied a brief chapter in automotive history, they made their mark in diverse motoring pursuits, including motorsports. Notably, cyclecars even participated in the prestigious 1920 Le Mans long-distance race.

However, the rise of mass production, epitomized by the Model T Ford, dealt a decisive blow to the cyclecar’s presence in the United States. The Model T’s affordability and larger size overshadowed the cyclecar’s appeal, relegating it to historical archives.

Conversely, in Europe, the post-war era ushered in the advent of microcars, offering greater versatility than their cyclecar predecessors.

A tangible instance of a cyclecar is the JPL or La Vigne, which surfaced in Detroit, Michigan, in 1913. Emblematic of its time, the cyclecar serves as a testament to the inventive intersections of motorcycle and automobile influences.


The evolution of compact automobiles presents a captivating facet within the annals of automotive history, boasting visually captivating creations from unexpected manufacturers during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. These pioneering designs have laid the foundation for contemporary small cars, some of which dominate the market.

The enduring presence of small cars is firmly cemented, as they perpetually hold a vital role within our societal landscape. Escalating fuel costs and the perpetual climb of new car prices ensure an enduring niche for these compact, budget-friendly vehicles that excel in fuel efficiency.

The diminished size of engines yields a dual advantage, precipitating reduced carbon emissions and diminished fuel-related levies from traffic authorities targeting smaller vehicles.

The urban congestion plaguing our city roads ushers in a preference for nimble, smaller vehicles that can adeptly navigate through traffic, fostering a pragmatic inclination towards these agile cars.

The design trajectory of small cars has spurred a realm of intriguing and inventive solutions to optimize the restricted space within these pint-sized vehicles. This innovation is a testament to human ingenuity, maximizing utility within these compact dimensions.