What defines a "compact car"?

I drive a Saturn, which is a small car, and I always figured close enough to a “compact” car as one could be (side from a Smart car or a suitcase car, but we won’t get into that). My question is, knowing that my car is small, why is it all the “compact car” parking spaces are SO DAMN SMALL? I can barely fit my car into them, and I drive a friggin’ Saturn. My friends Echo doesn’t fit into the spaces either, and that’s a damn small car as well. So, what’s the deal? Am I really driving a “mid-size,” or are there people out there who just want to watch me ruin some poor bastards pain job?

I think older compact cars were smaller than the newer ones - I know my '92 Civic is smaller than my '01 Civic, and other than sporty little 2-seat roadsters I don’t think they make cars as small as my old late-70s Colt. Perhaps the parking lots were divided when compact cars were compacter.

Interestingly, my Jeep Cherokee (a “compact SUV”) usually sticks out less than the “compact” cars I park next to.

I would define it as one small enough to fit into the spaces labelled “compact” in my parking garage.

About 3/4 of them are labelled as such, and my Boat (Pontiac SSEi) won’t fit into any of them.

The size reference to cars applies to the interior room, not the outside dimensions of an automobile. An example of how this skews things is the early 80’s Chevy lineup. The Camaro and Malibu are built of virtually the same platform, both have 108 inch wheelbases and the Camaro is 4 inches longer in overall length. The Camaro was considered a compact and the Malibu as a midsize. The interior of the Camaro was about 30 cubic feet and the Malibu about 40. My 66 GTO was considered a midsize when new, now it would be considered a full size car.

I was about to say what Racer said; when the EPA does its fuel-economy ratings, it classifies the car into sizes… it wouldn’t be fair to expect Ford’s Crown Victoria to compete with Chevy’s Cavalier, of course.

However, these classifications are based on interior space, not what type of car it is, how expensive, et cetera, which is why my '92 Pontiac Firebird Formula, which is a 3400-pound car, gets compared with Toyota Echos and such.

All that being said, I’ve never found those “compact” spaces to be a problem. If I park my Cadillac Brougham in one of them, getting into and out of the car can be a bit tight, but the parking itself is no big deal.