Best Guide to Rental Car Sizes in Iceland

Zweryfikowany ekspert

There are many different types of cars you can rent in IcelandRenting a car is the easiest way to experience Icelandic nature, but which one is the best for your trip? Learn all about different rental car sizes, their pros and cons, and their optimal uses. Find the perfect car for your itinerary and the time of your visit to Iceland.

Iceland is known for its magnificent landscapes that can seem otherworldly. With stunning attractions along the 821-mile (1,322 kilometers) long Ring Road, hidden in secluded fjords and among the mountainous Highlands, the best way to explore all that Iceland has to offer is with a rental car.

The best car for your trip will depend on your budget, group size, travel plan, and the time of your visit. It also matters if you're going to stay in a hotel in Reykjavik, book accommodation around Iceland, or embrace the wilderness by renting a campervan. These options will all call for different itineraries and planning, which can be done in a stress-free way by booking a self-drive tour.

But with so many options for your journey, what kind of car should you rent for your trip to Iceland? And what do all of the different categories, classes, and names even mean? This helpful guide provides an overview of the sizes of rental cars available, their benefits and drawbacks, and what kind of itinerary they're best suited for. Read on and get ready to plan your perfect trip to Iceland!

Meaning of Car Classes

During summer in Iceland, you'll see all sorts of rental car sizes on the Ring RoadNavigating the world of car size terms can be overwhelming for those who aren't familiar with them. Here are the most common car terms and what they mean:

Mini Cars and Sub-Compact Cars

  • Seats 2-4 people

  • Usually has 3 doors

  • Space for 2 small bags

Economy and Compact Cars

  • Seats 4-5 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 1 big and 1 small bag

Medium, Standard, and Estate Cars

  • Seats 4-5 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 1 big and 1 small bag

Full-Size Cars

  • Seats 5 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 2 big and 2 small bags

Minivans and Vans

  • Seats 7-9 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 3-8 big and 2-3 small bags

SUVs and 4x4 Jeeps

  • Seats 5 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 3 big and 2 small bags

Premium and Luxury

  • Seats 5 people

  • Has 5 doors

  • Space for 2 big and 2 small bags

Rental Car Size Categories

It's easiest to have a small rental car in ReykjavikClasses of cars are often grouped together by rental companies for convenience. Differences can be subtle and unclear, so here's an overview of popular categories and what classes of cars you'll commonly find in each one.

To help you find the perfect car for your trip to Iceland, we've also included the pros and cons of each rental car size and further information about what they're best used for!

Small Rental Cars

Small rental cars are nimble and easy to parkSmall rental cars are one of the more popular rental car categories in Iceland. It usually includes minis, sub-compact, economy, and compact cars to suit different needs. They refer to three or five-door cars that seat four to five people, such as Toyota Aygo, Toyota Yaris, or Hyundai i10. They can generally fit one or two bags, depending on their size.

Small rental cars are the perfect option for those looking for easy transport within Reykjavik, as they're the ultimate city car. You'll also have an easier time parking in the city center.

They're great for day trips from Reykjavik, such as to the South Coast or along the popular Golden Circle route. For solo travelers or couples, they're even a good option for driving Route 1 in summer, like with this 10-day self-drive tour with top Ring Road attractions, which even includes the Snaefellsnes peninsula!

You won't be able to go on the mountain roads or F-roads to the Highlands, as those roads are rough, and it's common to find river crossings along the way. You will, however, be able to explore most of Iceland without issue in summer, including the Westfjords and the Eastfjords.

You can reach many of Iceland's main attractions in a small rental car

Pros and Cons of Small Cars in Iceland

Choosing a small rental car for your trip to Iceland has some great benefits. They're generally the more affordable option available when looking for a rental car, and they're usually fuel-efficient, making them even more budget-friendly. They're also nimble and easy to drive.

One drawback of small rental cars is that they don't have a lot of luggage space. Because of their small size, they can also feel cramped if you're in a group of more than three people and driving for long periods of time. You'll also be limited in which areas of Iceland you can explore.

When to Rent a Small Car in Iceland

The best time for small rental cars in Iceland is during summer, as you'll get the most use out of your vehicle. During spring and fall in Iceland, you'll still be able to explore much of Iceland in a small rental car, but conditions can be more difficult. There may be unexpected ice and snow on the roads that can complicate things, and these seasons tend to bring very strong winds.

Small rental cars are not recommended in winter in Iceland unless you're only staying within Reykjavik. Even then, it can be had to tackle the snow and ice during the height of winter, even for the locals! Unless you're confident in driving in snow and aren't traveling outside Reykjavik, it's better to rent a larger car during the darker months.

Medium Size Cars

Station wagons and other medium sized cars offer good luggage spaceMedium rental car categories include a range of options, including standards, full-size cars, and station wagons or estate cars. These are typical family cars that have the benefit of being comfortable to drive and offering a decent amount of space. Depending on the car, they can fit between two and three bags, and they usually seat 5 people.

The main difference between them is the cargo space available. They vary in size, so you can find different options to suit your needs. For example, the Toyota Corolla, Kia Creed, and Suzuki S-Cross are all examples of popular cars in these categories.

Like the small rental cars, they make for good city cars, and you can easily drive the Icelandic circle road during the warmer months. You can even spend more time on the road, as they generally come with more luggage space! A good option is this epic 14-day self-drive tour of the Ring Road that includes the beautiful Westfjords.

Intermediate cars are an affordable and family friendly rental car option in Iceland

Pros and Cons of Medium Cars in Iceland

Medium cars have more space and, therefore, offer more convenience for a long drive. They're a good option for those who want a small and nimble car but have more luggage on their travels. If you're planning on taking a hiking tour or camping with a tent, then you'll have decent space for storing equipment.

It can be a bit harder to maneuver through tight spaces or narrow roads, and they're not quite as fuel-efficient as small cars.

When to Rent a Medium Car in Iceland

Medium-size rental cars and station wagons are good options for summer visits to Iceland. Like with small rental cars, you'll be able to make the most of your rental car during the warmer months as you don't have to tackle very tricky road conditions. They're also good options for spring and fall visits to Iceland, though weather changes can still cause difficulty.

In winter, they're mostly recommended for inner-city travel unless you're very used to driving in snow and ice. Even then, they're mostly good for shorter trips from Reykjavik along the main roads.


SUV's are a great rental car choice for a road trip in IcelandSUVs, or Sport Utility Vehicles, are characterized by their elevated ground clearance and spacious interior. They often have a four-wheel-drive capability, making them suitable for both on-road and off-road driving. They're equipped to tackle rough terrain, snow, ice, and other difficult conditions.

Because of this, SUVs are the best rental car option for those wanting to explore all of Iceland. In fact, the Dacia Duster has been the most popular rental car in Iceland for years, with another popular one being the Nissan Qashqai. Because of their popularity, you'll also need to book further in advance for a better price and to ensure availability.

You'll be able to reach most attractions in every region of Iceland with an SUV, and in summer, this includes some of the Highlands. Make sure to research the F-roads you need to take to reach your desired Highland location before heading out. Some mountain roads require a more heavy-duty vehicle!

Dacia Duster has been the most popular rental car in Iceland for years

Pros and Cons of SUVs in Iceland

The best thing about renting an SUV in Iceland is safety and freedom, as you'll be better equipped to tackle rough gravel roads and difficult road conditions. They're also very spacious so you can bring a good amount of luggage with you!

However, while SUVs are popular day-to-day vehicles among Icelanders, they're still a bit difficult to drive within Reykjavik. They take up space, making parking more challenging, and will take some used to if you usually drive a smaller car. They are also less fuel efficient.

When to Rent an SUV in Iceland

It's best to rent an SUV if you plan to explore Icelandic nature, no matter the time of year. While you can easily drive the Ring Road with a smaller car in summer, you won't be able to take on rougher roads without an SUV or Jeep, meaning you may miss out on stunning detours. If you're only staying within Reykjavik, a medium or small car is a more efficient choice for a summer visit.

SUVs are the best rental car option for winter visits, especially if they have four-wheel drive. You can still see a great deal of Iceland as long as you keep your plans flexible and look out for road conditions and the weather forecast.

If you're hoping to see the northern lights in Iceland, you won't have issues reaching areas with low light pollution. If you're not comfortable driving in the winter darkness or in snowy conditions during the height of winter, you can simply take a northern lights tour instead. You may also want to consider a larger 4x4 Jeep if you're planning to visit more remote and snow-heavy regions.

4x4 Jeeps

You need a sturdy 4x4 jeep to explore the Icelandic highlandsFor optimal freedom when traveling around Iceland, you may want to consider renting a 4x4 Jeep. The four-wheel-drive system allows power to be delivered to all wheels simultaneously for enhanced traction and stability, and it's specially designed to navigate challenging terrains.

The most popular 4x4 rental Jeep in Iceland is the Suzuki Jimny, as it's relatively small and affordable. It's great for single travelers or couples as it usually has two seats, but it has decent luggage space. For a larger car, you can choose a Suzuki Vitara or similar option that seats up to 5 people. Choose a Toyota Land Cruiser or a similar large jeep for the ultimate Highland car.

4x4 Jeeps are necessary if you want to visit the Icelandic Highlands. You'll also have no issue taking on mountain roads in different regions of the country, such as in the Westfjords or Eastfjords, and they're the best option for a winter Ring Road trip.

If you don't have time to complete the whole Ring Road during your visit, you can combine a visit to the Highlands with a tour of the South Coast and the Snaefellsnes peninsula with this adventurous 7-day summer self-drive tour. You'll see the most famous attractions in Iceland, including the strikingly colorful Landmannalaugar area!

You'll need a 4x4 jeep to drive to Askja in the Icelandic HighlandsKeep in mind that while a 4x4 Jeep is the best option for seeing hard-to-reach locations in Iceland, it doesn't mean it's an easy thing to do. Traveling along rough mountain roads and crossing rivers safely requires skill and preparation. Evaluate your own driving capabilities, and don't take unnecessary risks when planning your Iceland itinerary.

Pros and Cons of 4x4 Jeeps in Iceland

A 4x4 Jeep will let you access remote locations in Iceland, letting you explore more remote areas and see the hidden beauty of the Highlands in summer. They're convinient for traveling through heavy snow and other challenging conditions. They're usually a spacious, safe, and reliable option for more intense travel itineraries.

Choosing a 4x4 Jeep can be more expensive, both in the rental price and fuel cost. Their large size can also make driving through Reykjavik more awkward. If you're used to driving a smaller car, you'll have to adjust your driving style accordingly.

If you choose a large car, be aware that you may have problems meeting other vehicles on smaller gravel roads. For example, the road to the beautiful Latrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords is very narrow, with a sharp drop to the side. Consider your itinerary and research the roads you must take when choosing your car.

When to Rent a 4x4 Jeep in Iceland

It's best to rent a 4x4 Jeep if you're planning to visit the Highlands or want the freedom to explore other remote locations during summer. If you're visiting Iceland between December and March and planning to travel around different regions in Iceland, this type of car is also a good option. You'll more easily access locations off the beaten path with minimal light pollution if you're looking to see the northern lights during your visit.

Premium and Luxury Cars

You can travel around Iceland in a electric car, like a Testa Model 3, with planningThe premium and luxury cars categories refer to a range of higher-end vehicles at different price ranges. They commonly have advanced safety mechanisms and other comfortable features, and if you are driving for long periods of time, they're a great option for a more enjoyable driving experience.

Examples include the Ford Explorer Luxury and BMW X3, which can be a luxurious way to experience the beautiful landscapes of Iceland. You can also enjoy the comfort and style of a Tesla during your visit, which you can even use to drive the Ring Road in summer!

Pros and Cons of Premium and Luxury Cars in Iceland

The biggest advantage of renting a premium or luxury car in Iceland is the comfort it brings for long road trips. If you're planning to travel long distances or to more remote locations like the Highlands, then consider looking for 4x4 Jeeps and SUVs in this category. They have more safety features, durability, and comfort.

The main cons of these cars are that there are generally fewer options to choose from, and unsurprisingly, they're more expensive than other rental cars.

When to Rent a Premium or Luxury Car in Iceland

It's best to rent a premium or luxury car in Iceland if you want to make driving as comfortable as possible. It can also make your trip feel more special, so if you're visiting Iceland to celebrate a special occasion, such as a big birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon, then this is a great choice!

Vans and Minivans

Renting a minivan is a great option for large groups visiting IcelandIf you're visiting Iceland with a large family or group, then it may be best to rent a minivan. It's far more affordable than renting two vehicles and the best option if there is only one driver in the group.

Minivans commonly seat up to seven people and have space for two to three bags, such as the Dacia Jogger. If traveling with more people or needing more space, you can choose a larger rental van. Cars like Toyota Proace and Renault Trafic can seat up to nine people with space for six to nine bags.

Pros and Cons

Vans are the most spacious rental car options available and make it convenient to transport larger groups or a great amount of luggage. However, renting a minivan in Iceland can be more expensive, both in terms of rental costs and fuel consumption, compared to smaller vehicle options. The larger size of a minivan can make maneuvering through narrow roads and tight spaces a bit challenging as well.

When to Rent a Van in Iceland

Vans and minivans are mostly meant for transport, so they're most commonly used to travel within Reykjavik or to make trips along main roads. It's best to rent vans in summer as you can easily drive the Ring Road of Iceland; just be conscious of the higher fuel cost.

In spring and fall, they can be used for lighter travel. However, these seasons often feature strong winds that can be especially tricky to drive in with such a large vehicle. During winter, they're best used within the Capital Region as they're not well equipped to tackle heavy snow and ice.

Campers in Iceland

An affordable way to explore Iceland is by campingIf you're looking for a budget-friendly way to travel around Iceland, then renting a campervan is the best way to go. You don't have to worry about accommodation, and you can keep your travel plans flexible!

Campervans and Mini Campers

Sleep among nature by renting a camper van in IcelandCampervans and minicampers are some of the most popular rental car options for those looking for an affordable way to travel around Iceland. They're the perfect choice for solo travelers or couples for a summer trip around the Ring Road or to spend multiple days in different regions. You'll be able to reach most major attractions in Iceland, though you won't be able to access rough gravel roads or F-roads.

Popular options include the Dacia Dokker or the larger Volkswagen Transporter. These are converted vans that usually seat two or three people in front. The back features a bed and storage area, and some larger ones even feature a sofabed with a table and a kitchenette.

During your travels, you can cook your own food and sleep comfortably in your rental car, providing the ultimate freedom to explore at will. Many are even equipped with a space heater for colder nights!

Keep in mind that there are strict rules about where you can camp in Iceland, including with campervans and mini campers, but you'll have no trouble finding designated campsites in different regions with some planning.

Mini campers are pretty comfortable, especially if you have a heater

Pros and Cons

Renting a campervan in Iceland allows you the flexibility to explore the country's stunning landscapes at your own pace. They're budget-friendly as you don't need to book accommodation and you can cook your own meals instead of eating out.

The ability to stay closer to natural attractions can also enhance your overall travel experience, as you can make the most of your days and can even enjoy sunrise or sunset views. If you're visiting during the darker months, you may even see the northern lights from your parking space!

On the downside, campervans and minivans can be challenging to maneuver on narrow or winding roads due to their size and weight. The cost of renting can also be relatively high, and fuel consumption is typically greater than that of smaller vehicles. You'll also have to look for available space at legal camping locations for each night.

When to Rent a Campervan or Mini Camper in Iceland

It's best to rent a campervan or mini camper for summer trips in Iceland. They can also be a good option for late spring and early autumn if you choose a car with a heater.

As they're usually converted vans, they're not optimal for taking on winter conditions in Iceland. You can explore the South Coast and potentially the Snaefellsnes peninsula in winter, as long as there's not too much snow and you stick to the main roads. Some attractions may be inaccessible.

Be aware that from mid-October to mid-April, it's common to see very strong winds in Iceland, which can be challenging to maneuver in a large car.

Rental Cars with Roof Tents

Rental cars with a roof top tent are fantastic for a wilderness adventure in IcelandTaking a rental car with a rooftop tent is the most convenient way to explore all that Icelandic nature has to offer while staying budget-friendly. You can find SUVs and 4x4 Jeeps that will bring you to some harder-to-reach attractions, and you'll enjoy the comfort of bringing a tent with you!

Popular rental car options with attached roof tents include the Dacia Duster, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Suzuki Jimny.

The tent is attached to the roof of your rental car and generally fits between two to four people, depending on the type. You access it with a ladder, and once you've reached your chosen camping area, you simply pop it open and get ready for a cozy night!

This option is ideal for adventurers seeking flexibility and proximity to nature. If you're aiming to capture stunning photographs, then this proximity makes it easier to capture special lighting conditions in the morning or evening.

They're also great for exploring the Highlands or other remote areas that require a larger vehicle or a four-wheel drive to access.

You'll be staying closer to nature when sleeping in a car tent in Iceland

Pros and Cons

The greatest benefit of choosing a rental car with a roof tent is the convenience and freedom of being able to access most areas of Iceland. You can keep your plans flexible and sleep among nature. It's also budget-friendly and easy to set up!

The main drawback of roof tents is the space. Regular camping tents have a bigger size range, so you can find the perfect size option for your needs. Roof tents, however, generally only fit two to four people and have a very low ceiling. They're also very elevated, making access trickier.

The unpredictable weather of Iceland can also easily turn challenging, meaning you might not have the most enjoyable time camping. This will, however, depend on the time of your visit and your luck!

When to Rent a Car with a Roof Tent in Iceland

The best time to rent a car with a roof tent in Iceland is during summer, as the weather is milder and camping is more comfortable. The greatest advantage of this rental option is exploring remote areas, many of which are only accessible between June and August.

In late September, nights get progressively colder, and camping becomes difficult. It won't come as a surprise that camping in winter in Iceland is not recommended unless you have proper equipment and experience with sleeping in sub-zero temperatures. It's safest to stay in proper accommodation around Iceland if you're planning a winter road trip.

Tips for Choosing a Rental Car in Iceland

If you're visiting Iceland in summer, there are a lot of rental car options to choose fromChoosing the perfect rental car for your trip to Iceland can be quite a task, especially if you don't know much about cars! There are many different options to choose from, and your itinerary may include very different road conditions. Here are some tips to help you make a choice and how to prepare for your journey.

  • Prepare for driving in Iceland: Make sure to look into the traffic laws in Iceland and what may be different than what you're used to. Also, see if you're driver's license is valid. Driving in a foreign country, especially in Iceland's diverse conditions, can be challenging, so don't skip out on research!

  • Consider the time of your visit: The weather in Iceland is infamous for its sudden changes. If you're visiting in summer, you can travel around the country with a small car without much worry. Otherwise, plan your itinerary and choose your rental car based on the worst-case scenario, especially in winter. You don't want to be stranded in the snow with a small rental car.

  • Choose gas, hybrid, or electric before planning your itinerary: Gas cars are the most convenient way to get around Iceland. However, in summer, you can drive the Ring Road with a hybrid or electric car with careful planning. Consider how you want to experience Iceland and adjust your travel plans as needed.

  • Research the roads for your itinerary: Iceland is known for its diverse landscapes. If you plan to explore off-road trails, the highlands, or drive during winter, opt for a 4x4 Jeep or SUV with good ground clearance. If you're staying on the Ring Road in summer or staying within Reykjavik, then a smaller or medium-sized vehicle is enough.

  • Evaluate your driving skills critically: If you’re not confident driving in snow or off-road conditions, plan your route accordingly and avoid challenging terrains. Don't take unnecessary risks that may ruin your experience and may potentially be dangerous!

Small cars are best rented during the warmer months in Iceland

  • Assess the space available: Keep in mind the amount of luggage you'll bring with you. Ensure the vehicle is spacious enough for comfort but also manageable to drive.

  • Look at fuel efficiency and type: Given the long distances that you might cover, look for cars that offer good mileage to save on fuel costs. Also, it may sound obvious, but be clear on the type of fuel your rental car uses to avoid filling up with the wrong fuel and damaging the car. It's a simple and common thing to forget about!

  • Choose transmission type: When deciding on manual or automatic transmission, choose the one you're already comfortable with. You'll already be adjusting to driving in Iceland, so this won't be a good time to learn a new way of driving.

  • Look at the vehicle’s age and condition: Opt for newer car models to ensure reliability and safety, especially for long trips. When you pick up your car, remember to look at the state of the car, especially the tires!

  • Decide on Limited or Unlimited Milage: Another way to narrow down your rental car choices is by deciding on limited or unlimited mileage. The choice will depend on your itinerary, as you can easily get by with limited mileage when staying within Reykjavik or only doing shorter trips. For Ring Road trips, it's better to go for unlimited, as you'll have far more freedom!

You'll need a car with four-wheel drive to reach the Icelandic Highlands in summer

  • Choose your pick-up and drop-off location strategically: Many rental companies in Iceland offer pickup and drop-off at Keflavik International Airport or in the nearby town of Keflavik. Choosing to rent a car from Keflavik Airport is the best way to make the most of your vehicle. You can also rent a car in Reykjavik if you want to make your arrival and departure hassle-free and simply book an airport transfer for a stress-free experience.

  • Book your car in advance: As the majority of visitors to Iceland want to explore the beautiful countryside, rental cars are a hot commodity. Make sure to book your rental car well in advance to ensure the availability of your preferred vehicle.

  • Add additional drivers: If you’re traveling with others who can drive, consider adding additional drivers to share the driving responsibility. This can be an advantage when you're driving a lot, as you can split the driving time and make the experience more enjoyable for all involved. It's also a much safer way to travel long distances.

  • Don't skip out on the insurance: While you may think you don't need gravel damage insurance or sand and ash protection for your Ring Road trip, be aware that you'll drive through vast deserts of black sand along the way. Sand damage can easily happen in strong wind, something Iceland has plenty of! Many attractions are also only reachable by gravel road, and it can often be more expensive to pay for repairs than for the insurance.

Summary of Rental Car Sizes in Iceland

You'll see some stunning scenery in Iceland when you travel with a rental carChoosing the perfect rental car for your trip to Iceland can be a struggle, as you'll see many different sizes, terms, and descriptions that all mean slightly different things! Each season and travel itinerary will also require a different car.

Knowing the limits and capabilities of different car sizes and types can help you plan a realistic trip to Iceland, letting you make the most of your time. So, find the perfect rental car for your journey in Iceland and prepare for a memorable adventure!

What kind of rental car will you choose for your trip to Iceland? Will you go on shorter day trips or complete the whole Ring Road? Have you driven in Iceland before? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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