Are Small Cars Good For Long Trips? (Read This First!)

A small car is one that has a combined passenger and cargo volume of between 100 and 109 cubic feet. 

It is also defined by the EPA as one of 161 to 187 inches in total length. They typically will also feature engines that are 2.0L or smaller.

This article answers the question “Are Small Cars Good For Long Trips?”…

Are Small Cars Good For Long Trips?

The fact is that larger vehicles like sedans are much better suited to longer road trips than small cars. However, that’s not to say that small cars can’t handle longer trips. Small cars are fuel-efficient, easier to park up, cheaper to buy and insure, and largely are fun to drive.

They are not as ideal as a larger sedan in many ways, but they can work fine for long trips if you plan everything well.

Pros & Cons Of A Long Trip With A Small Car


Gas Mileage

Small cars are very fuel-efficient, so even though they have smaller gas tanks, they use gas very well.

A Honda Civic Coupe, for example, gets a very impressive 35mpg, and it’s not a hybrid model. The Hyundai Elantra gets 36mpg, and the Toyota Corolla Hatchback gets 35mpg.

Other popular models like the Mini Cooper get 36mpg on the highway, which is where most longer trips take place.

Any way you look at it, you get far more bang for your buck in a smaller car when it comes to gasoline.

Easier Parking

A smaller car is easier to park. You can use not only regular and larger parking spots but also compact ones.

When you’re not in a lot, you can slot the car into smaller spaces where sedans and larger vehicles cannot go. That helps speed up your parking and exploring when you’re on the road.


Not only do smaller cars come with lower sticker prices, but they’re cheaper to insure and maintain as well.

Large sedans are the most expensive of any vehicle type to insure, even more than minivans and some trucks.

Compact cars are cheaper to insure because of their lower inherent value, and therefore their lower inherent risk.

Fun Driving

Modern small cars offer a dynamic and fun driving experience. They are often fitted with surprisingly powerful engines that give great acceleration.

Furthermore, their small size makes handling easy and enjoyable.

Modern Comfort And Safety

Comfort, luxury, and great features are no longer reserved exclusively for the world of sedan cars.

There are plenty of small cars that come with the comforts that make long trips more bearable.

Small cars have great sound systems, comfortable seats, automatic climate control, ADAS driving features, great navigation, and even things like wireless charging for your smartphone.


Leg Room

There’s no denying that small cars are harder to handle on long trips when it comes to leg room.

A person of above-average height with long legs should hope for about 48 inches of leg room. A tall person with a long torso still needs at least 38 inches.

Small cars struggle to provide this amount of leg room, though some models are surprisingly roomy. The problem area is typically the rear seat.

Some small cars don’t even have rear doors, creating a problem for passengers as they have to move seats forward and clamber in.

Trunk Room

A longer trip on the road means more luggage and other belongings to bring.

A smaller car means a smaller trunk. In a sedan car like a Toyota Camry, for example, you’ll find about 15.4 cubic feet of space. That’s a reasonable average.

In a Mini Cooper, on the other hand, you only get about 8.7 cubic feet as standard. The Smart Fortwo only gets 7.8 cubic feet.

Some small cars can surprise you with up to 14 cubic feet, but it’s not typical.

Speed Comfort

Smaller cars with smaller engines, sometimes as small as 1.4L or less, start to feel uncomfortable to drive when you hit high speeds. The ride is harder, rougher, and louder.

When driving at higher speeds, the smaller cars can feel less comfortable on corners, and the road surface makes the ride lack smoothness and evenness.

The bumpiness in some cars can be very uncomfortable over any significant distance.

Many small cars were built for smaller distances within cities and suburbs. They start to feel less comfortable when you overstretch their capabilities.


While it’s true that many modern small cars come with added safety and ADAS features, they are still by and large less safe than their larger counterparts.

If a small car is hit by a larger car, then the smaller car is inevitably going to suffer more damage, and its driver and passengers at greater risk of injury.

A Volkswagen Golf getting hit by a 2021 GMC Hummer EV is not going to come out of it so well.

That lack of strength leads many to perceive smaller cars as inherently less safe on the road.


When driving at lower speeds, smaller cars are just as quiet as any other modern car.

As we mentioned above, however, the smaller engines struggle with longer distances at higher speeds, and it generates more noise.


Some small cars are built to drive on city and suburban roads primarily.

While they are all technically “highway-safe” (they have to be), it doesn’t make them ideal for long distances on highways nor on more remote country roads.

When encountering high winds and other extreme weather, not to mention uneven road surfaces and difficult bends, smaller cars are more vulnerable.

Can The Engine Get Overheated?

A smaller car’s engine will be working a lot harder than a larger car’s engine over a long distance. This does naturally increase the risk of the engine overheating.

Drivers need to be extra careful with smaller cars, ensuring they have the right levels of coolant and engine oil to help prevent any overheating.

If smaller engines are properly maintained and well looked after, and if on the road trip they take enough breaks from driving, there’s no reason a small engine will get overheated.

What Tools Should I Have For A Long Trip?

You should always keep a basic tool kit in your car for a long trip, regardless of the car’s size.

Whether you bring tools for yourself to use, or a helpful stranger with mechanics knowledge, it’s better to have them and not need them than the other way around.

Your tool kit should include pliers, screwdrivers (flat-blade and Phillips-blade), an adjustable wrench, vise-grips, wire cutters, a pocket knife or box cutter, and a small ball-peen hammer.

Which Small Car Is The Best For A Long Trip?

The Honda Civic Hatchback is arguably the best all-around choice for a small car on a long trip.

The latest models get up to 38mpg on the highway, which is extremely good for a non-hybrid car.

Beyond efficiency, the Civic has 37.4 inches of rear leg room which is ideal for most people, even quite tall folks.

Only those with exceptionally long legs would be uncomfortable in the back, and they could always sit up front instead and enjoy more space.

Furthermore, the Honda Civic is equipped with the Honda Sensing ADAS package, which helps keep the car, its driver, and passengers safer by detecting dangers in the road and offering features to keep the car centered in the lane and from colliding with obstacles.

On top of all of that, the Civic is a reliable car, and Honda a reliable brand.

The engines are well built and last for many tens of thousands of miles, even hundreds of thousands of miles overall.

Can A Long Trip Cause Any Damage To A Small Car?

If a car owner doesn’t take proper precautions before a long road trip, then it certainly could do damage to their car.

If the small car hadn’t had an oil change on time, or insufficient coolant, or was being pushed too hard for too long over too great a distance, then overheating and engine damage becomes likely.

The smaller car can cope with longer trips just like any larger car, but it just needs to handle the distance in more manageable pieces.

How Many Miles Should I Drive Max Per Day?

The maximum for any car is about 500 miles per day, but that’s primarily not down to the car, but rather the human driver.

When driven carefully, there’s nothing to stop a car from driving continuously until it simply runs out of gas.

More realistically, however, if we factor in about 8 hours driving per day, then the absolute maximum you could cover when you think about slowing for lights, toll booths, and traffic would be 480-500 miles.

Beyond that, the risks of fatigue start to present themselves and they can be deadly.

Whether you’re in a small or a larger car, you should keep these limits in mind.

Is A Petrol, Diesel, Hybrid or Electric Better For A Long Trip?

Since a long trip will inevitably mean more driving on the highway, then diesel is actually the best choice of the three.

Petrol/gasoline delivers good all-around results for city and highway driving, hybrid and electric cars are best for city-dwellers who occasionally need to drive more distance or longer commutes, and diesel cars are best on the highway.

Diesel vehicles frequently outperform their EPA estimates, especially on the highway, sometimes achieving 50+mpg in real terms.