Small cars appeal to buyers on a budget, to the environmentally conscious, to growing numbers of empty-nesters and to the legislators pushing for improved fuel economy from automakers - and yet consumer expectations inspire automakers to make smaller cars more powerful and more functional. As a result, compact cars are physically larger and heavier than in the past, according to analysis by, the premier online resource for automotive information.

On average, compact cars weigh 549 pounds more, have 61 more horsepower and have a 6.4-inch longer wheelbase than they did in 1990. Still, this segment gets 2.5 more miles per gallon in combined fuel economy estimates, thanks to improvements in engine technology.

"Over the years, consumer demand has increased for small cars that have more features and are more versatile in carrying passengers and cargo. Those consumer-driven desires, together with the regulatory drive for enhanced safety equipment, have led to size and weight increases," said Edmunds' Senior Editor Bill Visnic.

So far in 2010, about 20 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. have been small cars, up from 17 percent in 2006. analysis indicates that sales in the small car segment will steadily increase, with a 23.2 percent market share projected in 2014.

"Stepping down a car class can often mean increased fuel economy with no real loss of space," noted Consumer Advice Associate Ronald Montoya in his article How To Downsize Your Car.