Car Buying Articles

How To Downsize Your Car

A Step Down in Size Doesn't Have To Be a Downgrade


You've always purchased large vehicles. You liked the seating position and roomy interior, and the extra power didn't hurt either. But now that you are considering a new vehicle, your priorities have slightly changed. Maybe the kids are gone and you've realized that a large SUV might not be as practical as it once was. It may be time for a smaller vehicle. We can show you how downsizing doesn't always have to be a downgrade.

Stepping down a car class can often mean increased fuel economy with no real loss of space. "Many of the current 'compact' SUVs on the market — Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 — have as much or more total interior space as the midsize SUVs of a decade ago — Explorer, Blazer, Grand Cherokee," said Karl Brauer, Edmunds editor in chief. "This is possible because of advanced design technologies, taller cabin layouts and just plain wiser engineers working on these cars."

If you are shopping for a new vehicle or debating whether you should trade in your current one, we're here to give you choices for downsizing to a more economical vehicle, one that offers nearly the same level of practicality.

Obviously, there will be exceptions. Some peoples' lifestyles demand a larger vehicle. But those who can switch to a smaller vehicle will often find that they save money on the purchase of the vehicle, on fuel costs and on maintenance — all with only a slight trade-off in size.

Large SUV to Midsize SUV

In this segment, the downsized vehicles may not be much smaller, but they are lighter, more fuel-efficient and best of all, less expensive.

If you have or are deciding on a large SUV like a Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon, you might want to consider the Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia. They are close in size, so it won't be much of a change, but you'll definitely notice the difference in price and at the fuel pump. The Acadia costs about $5,700 less than the Yukon, and improves on the fuel economy by roughly 12 percent.

The truck-based Toyota Sequoia is more vehicle than most people need. If you can go without the Sequoia's off-road capabilities and one less passenger, the Toyota Highlander is an excellent substitute. The Highlander also offers a third-row seat, saves you about $17,700 and improves fuel economy by 27 percent.

Midsize SUV to Compact SUV

In this segment, downsizing often means carrying two to three fewer passengers (as a third-row seat is typically not offered in compact SUVs), but you'll make up for it with a lower price and increased fuel economy.

Buyers interested in a Honda Pilot should consider the Honda CR-V. Though you lose the ability to carry up to eight passengers (the CR-V carries just five), you gain nearly 18 more cubic feet of cargo space behind the rearmost seats. The CR-V costs about $6,700 less than a Pilot and gets 28 percent better fuel economy.

The Chevrolet TrailBlazer is no longer in production, but not everyone in a downsizing mood is deciding between two new vehicles. So if you already own a TrailBlazer, a good replacement could be the Chevrolet Equinox. Comparing the two six-cylinder engines, the Equinox will improve your fuel economy by 25 percent. Opt for the four-cylinder Equinox to save some coin and fuel economy improves another 19 percent.

Minivan to Crossover or Wagon

Consumers looking at the Kia Sedona might want to consider the Kia Rondo. Like the Sedona, the Rondo is capable of seating seven passengers but is more manageable for around-town driving. The 11 percent (16 percent if you opt for the Rondo's four-cylinder engine) fuel economy improvement isn't as dramatic as some of the other swaps here but you'll be saving about $4,700.

If you can give up some space and the third row of the 2010 Volkswagen Routan, the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is one of our top recommended wagons. The Jetta also costs $5,500 less and gets 39 percent better fuel economy (89 percent in TDI trim).

Midsize Sedan to Five-Door Hatchback

This swap is for consumers who want the spaciousness of a midsize sedan in a smaller, less expensive package. The Honda Accord has grown larger with each generation, and buyers who want something smaller with a comparable amount of utility might consider the Honda Fit. The Fit stickers for about $6,100 less, gets 24 percent better fuel economy and offers comparable cargo capacity thanks to its folding rear "Magic Seats."

The Ford Fusion is a highly regarded midsize sedan, but if you're looking for something smaller to get into tight parking spaces and provide better fuel efficiency, we recommend the upcoming Ford Fiesta. The Fiesta will start at $13,320 when it goes on sale in the summer of 2010, compared to $19,620 for the Fusion, and can even be ordered as a compact sedan if you aren't into hatchbacks. The Fiesta's cargo space will be reasonably close to that of the Fusion. In either body style, your fuel economy will improve by at least 25 percent.

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