SPECS CHECK: Compact Chevy Sedans Through The Years

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“Compact car” has had different meanings since the 1970s, but in the case of Chevy, it’s interesting to see how its entries evolved in size versus roominess. Let’s take a look.

It was our recent streetside Nova feature that got us thinking about the size of compact Chevrolets through the decades. Here’s another example from the 1975-79 generation, the one-above-base Nova Custom. This one’s a 1979. That long hood was there to accommodate the Sixties-era inline six, and it stretched the Nova to just under 198 inches in length.


If it had the six and you added common options like automatic transmission, air conditioning, rear defogger, cruise control and power steering and brakes,  you’d be just under $19K in adjusted-for-2015 pricing.

Still no clock, or right-side mirror, or tilt wheel, or trunk release, or tinted glass, or many other options – you’d need to brew a pot of coffee to pore over the list to get this Nova equipped like the cars of today.

Inside, the front seat had 41.7 inches of legroom, with 35.3 inches in back. Trunk was 13 cubic feet.


Then for 1980, the Nova was replaced by the Citation, which emphasized a shorter 176.7-inch length – a whopping 21 inches shorter than that Nova – along with much greater hatchback cargo capacity. Optioned like the Nova with the base four-cylinder, the Citation would cost just about the same.


The magic of front-wheel-drive packaging eked out 0.3 inches more in front legroom, 0.2 inches more in rear legroom and seven more cargo cubic feet.


It took time to remove the stain of the Citation’s poor reliability, so from its 1985 axing came its 1988 Corsica replacement.

The Citation’s rigorous emphasis on short length vs. big interior space had loosened a bit, so the Corsica stretched 6.7 inches to 183.7 inches while adding 1.3 inches of front legroom and losing 0.5 inches in rear legroom. The four-door’s trunk just about matched the Nova’s, with half a cubic foot more.

Priced like its predecessors, the four-door sedan would be $21,700, though items like  intermittent wipers part of the option packages you had to buy to get the features you’d want.


That brings us to today, where the Chevy Cruze falls in line with the previous compacts. Its 181-inch overall length is 2.4 inches shorter than the Corsica, and it lost 1.1 inches of front legroom while gaining 0.4 inches in the rear. The trunk beats the Nova and Corsica at 15 cubic feet. Price is just under $20K with no options and much more standard equipment and safety features.


So what have we learned here? Although packaging has shifted in various dimensions, all these compacts had much the same functionality. What’s most surprising is all these compacts had rear legroom in the 35-inch range. The more things change…

Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the similarity of interior dimensions across these generations of Chevy compacts?