Standard vs Full Size Car: What Should You Rent to Visit Iceland?

Iceland weather can be rainy during certain seasons

At first glance, planning a trip to Iceland can seem like a lot. In between booking flights, picking out hotels, and deciding on which car to rent, the number of options can become overwhelming. Do I stay at a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb? And what about renting a standard vs full-size car in Iceland? Is there really a difference? In addition to all of the decisions you have to make about the logistics of your trip, you also need to figure out the best activities and things to do, the nicest restaurants to dine at, and which items are must-dos on your Iceland itinerary.

Before you get too stressed, just take a deep breath. Taking things one step at a time will make your life much easier. Let’s focus on the topic of whether to rent a full size vs standard car. There’s a bit of confusion between full-size and standard vehicles as the distinction is not always immediately clear. In addition, some people’s definitions are different, so these categorizations are not always 100% accurate across the board. But in general, it’s good to know the difference in car rental sizes in order to have the most comfortable trip for your passengers as possible.

Choosing the right car to rent in Iceland is as important as knowing whether or not you want to include a whale watching excursion or a glacier hike on your trip. Let’s look at some of the most common car rental questions when it comes to economy vs compact and full-size cars. It might also help you understand why certain automobiles are priced cheaper than others.

Economy vs. Compact Car - What’s the Difference?

Rental vehicles typically fall under five different categories or classifications. What they’re called changes between providers and depends entirely upon the naming policy of the rental company. Cars like the Kia Picanto and Toyota Yaris that can carry between four and five people are the smallest category. They are considered compact or economy, and are sometimes called sub-compact. This essentially means that there is no difference with compact vs economy. Another characteristic of these small vehicles is they often have very little trunk space and sometimes only two doors. These are the cheapest rental cars you’ll find on the market. The bonus of these smaller types of rental cars is that they have a high fuel economy and get excellent mileage.

Compact vs economy Suzuki rental car model in Iceland

Full Size vs. Standard Car

The real room for error doesn’t come from talking about economy cars versus compact cars. Most people’s uncertainty springs from discussing standard and full-size vehicles. The wide range of options means you’ll have plenty of different types of cars to choose from. One thing that surprises many consumers is that certain standard vehicles actually cost more than some full-sized models. This doesn’t really make sense, right? After all, the larger the car, the heftier the price tag. But don’t make this assumption. It can be a bit puzzling, so let’s clear up some common misunderstandings and misconceptions and look at factors to consider for your Iceland car rental.

Standard Sized Cars - What’s in a Name?

Some examples of an intermediate or mid-size vehicle would be the Suzuki Vitara 4x4 or the Dacia Duster 4x4, which we recommend in our article about the best car models for your road trip in Iceland. There is space for up to five passengers to travel comfortably in addition to a spot for suitcases, backpacks, and duffle bags. Most drivers and their travel companions will be perfectly content driving a standard sized car. You’ll notice that many (but not all) of the vehicles with this classification will be SUVs and have 4WD. This is essential if you plan on exploring Iceland’s Highlands or traveling on F-roads (mountain roads) when they are open in the summer. By law, these special gravel roads require a 4x4 Iceland car rental, so make sure you consider that when picking out the best vehicle for your needs and travel itinerary.

Suzuki standard car rental 4x4 model in Iceland's glacier lagoon

Full Size Cars - Living Large

Size wise, these are the largest category of cars you can rent in Iceland. Full-size vehicles are extremely spacious and can easily carry up to seven passengers with plenty of room for luggage in the trunk. Typical models of vehicles classified as full-size would be a Land Rover, a Nissan X-Trail, or a Toyota Land Cruiser. These can be 4x4 SUVs that will allow you to explore Iceland’s backcountry to your heart’s content. Or they can be a roomy 4-door passenger vehicle that is perfect for families. Driving a full size car in Iceland will definitely take you where you want to go. The one drawback as compared to smaller compact or mid-size vehicles is that full-size cars are not quite as fuel efficient. These types of vehicles, affectionately known as gas guzzlers, get fewer miles per gallon (mpg) than their less Herculean counterparts.

What if My Desired Model isn’t Available?

You’ll notice that when you book online and make your deposit, the Terms and Conditions will state that if your requested vehicle is unavailable, the rental company reserves the right to substitute for a similar or higher class vehicle. This is standard operating procedure when driving in Iceland as the car rental companies cannot guarantee a specific model when you make your booking. They’ll always do their best to accommodate your request, however. When that’s not possible, you’ll receive a car that is a similar make and model and may even get an upgrade, depending on availability. This is nothing to worry about, but it’s something to be aware of and to set your expectations accordingly.

This Sukzuki model is typical of compact vs economy Iceland car rental sizes

Renting a Standard vs Full Size Car in Iceland: Final Remarks

At the end of the day, these labels can better help you understand the factors you should consider when renting standard sized cars or something larger. And remember that one rental company’s mid-size or standard vehicle might be another’s compact car. The size, weight, and dimensions of the different types of cars are open to interpretation as there is no universal standard. So whether you’re looking at an economy vs compact or a standard car vs. full size, keep this in mind. Many times the terms compact vs economy car are used interchangeably as are standard and intermediate-sized vehicles. The most important thing to know is how many travelers your rental can seat comfortably, how much room you have for luggage in the back, and whether or not your car or SUV is a 4x4, which makes it suitable for F-roads.


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