There’s a world of choice in today’s car market, what with more than 400 different models and many car types available. Making sense of it all can be difficult. What are the different types of cars? The first thing to know is that “cars” means “passenger vehicles of all types.”
For the purposes of keeping, it simple, we’ve broken down all of those vehicle choices into nine major categories covering all of the basic types of cars from coupes to full-size sedans to crossover SUVs.
The easiest way to define a vehicle is by how it looks. What’s the first thing you notice when a vehicle comes toward you on the street? Its shape. That’s called the “body style.” Is it tall and boxy? Low and sleek? How many doors does it have? The body style is the easiest way to categorize a vehicle.
A Sedan is a types of car in which the cargo area is behind the rear pillars. It is separated from the cabin where the passengers are seated. Sedans offer great protection for the cargo against theft since they don’t have glass windows in the cargo area.
A sedan has four doors and a traditional trunk. Like vehicles in many categories, they’re available in a range of sizes from small (subcompact vehicles like Nissan Versa and Kia Rio) to compacts (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla) to mid-size (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima), and full-size (Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger). Luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have sedans in similar sizes as well.
A coupe is a car that is defined by simplicity. It has two doors, a small cargo space, and takes its cues from both the Sedan and the Hatchback. It has minimal space and is a minimalist car that is designed to impress. It isn’t for the family or for a get-together of friends. It’s for the lone rider or a couple that wants to explore the world.
A coupe has historically been considered a two-door car with a trunk and a solid roof. This would include cars like a Ford Mustang or Audi A5 or even two-seat sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche Boxster.
Recently, however, car companies have started to apply the word “coupe” to four-door cars or crossovers with low, sleek rooflines that they deem “coupe-like.” This includes vehicles as disparate as a Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan and BMW X6 SUV. At Car and Driver, we still consider a coupe to be a two-door car.
A sports car or a sports car is a small, luxury automobile that is built for speed and minimal cargo and cabin space. It is usually a two-seater and is high in the metrics of handling and speed. Though usually considered a luxury car, the sports car is strictly designed with performance in mind.
These are the sportiest, hottest, coolest-looking coupes and convertibles—low to the ground, sleek, and often expensive. They generally are two-seaters, but sometimes have small rear seats as well. Cars like the Porsche 911 and Mazda Miata are typical sports cars, but you can stretch the definition to include muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.
Then there are the high-end exotic dream cars with sky-high price tags for the one percent, cars like the Ferrari 488 GTB and Aston Martin Vantage, which stop traffic with their spaceship looks.
The station wagon is a car designed with space in mind. It has a large cabin with loads of space for people to sit and also offers a large cargo space. It is the ultimate family vehicle and is perfect for long trips.
Wagons are similar to sedans but have an extended roofline and a hatch door at the rear instead of a trunk. Some, like the Subaru Outback or Audi A4 Allroad, have elevated ground clearance and some rugged body cladding to make them more like a sport-utility vehicle (SUV), but they are nonetheless closely related to sedans.
Wagons have fallen from favor during the past few decades and there are relatively few available for sale in the United States.
This is a specific types of car where the rear cargo door swings up when it is opened. The rear window exposes the content of the cargo space and can be covered up using mats. Hatchbacks are usually taller than Sedans. Due to this feature, they have higher roofs and driving positions.
Traditionally, the term “hatchback” has meant a compact or subcompact sedan with a squared-off roof and a rear flip-up hatch door that provides access to the vehicle’s cargo area instead of a conventional trunk.
The Volkswagen Golf and Kia Rio are two typical hatchbacks. More recently, rear hatches have found their way onto some larger cars, like the Audi A7 and Kia Stinger. They look like sedans, but they actually have a steeply raked hatchback that affords easier access to the cargo area and greater carrying capacity than a traditional trunk would.
Convertible cars have been famous for their recognizable aesthetic and their lovely designs for decades. They have been popular for decades because they have been made icons of cinema and symbols of freedom and youth. They have retractable tops and minimal cabins for passengers, sometimes, seating only two people. They also have small cargo space.
Does the roof retract into the body leaving the passenger cabin open to the elements? If so, it’s a convertible. Most convertibles have a fully powered fabric roof that folds down, but a few have to be lowered by hand.
There are also a number of models with a retractable hardtop, as well as several unusual quasi-convertibles (called “targa tops”) like the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, Porsche 911 Targa and Corvette; only the forward section of their roofs retracts or can be removed by hand.
SPORT-UTILITY VEHICLE (SUV)
An SUV or Sports Utility Vehicle is made keeping in mind the long journey. It is designed to travel the long journey to another city or a state. It has a high ride height and a boxy shape which makes it easier for people to look around. It uses a ladder frame chassis which is usually found in trucks.
SUVs also referred to as crossovers tend to be taller and boxier than sedans, offer an elevated seating position, and have more ground clearance than a car. They include a station wagon-like cargo area that is accessed through a flip-up rear hatch door, and many offer all-wheel drive.
The larger ones have three rows of seats. Sizes start at subcompact (Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks), are mid-size, and go all the way to full-size (Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe). Luxury brands offer many SUV models in most of the same size categories.
Minivans are usually designed with an emphasis on the size of cabin space rather than the size of storage space. It is often associated with station wagons and family cars. It is made with the specific idea of fitting an entire family inside it. It does have plenty of cargo space, but not much in comparison to the Hatchback.
Minivans are the workhorses of the family-car world, the best at carrying people and cargo in an efficient package. They’re called minivans but they are far from “mini.” That’s because they are tall boxes-on-wheels with sliding side doors for easy access and a rear hatch that opens to a large cargo area.
Most minivans have adjustable seats in their second and third rows that often can be removed or even folded into the floor to create a huge open cargo bay. The Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica are great examples of the breed.
A pickup is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. It is distinguishable from other automobiles due to its distinct design. Its cargo space is completely divided from its cabin space and it usually seats no more than 3 or 4 individuals at a time.
A pickup truck has a passenger cab and an open cargo bed in the rear. Virtually all pickups offer some form of all-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive the latter for off-road use only. With one exception the mid-sized Honda Ridgeline pickup bodies are cabs mounted to a separate steel frame.
The Ridgeline is more like a crossover with the rear section of the roof lopped off to expose a cargo bed. Currently, pickup trucks come in two size categories: full-size and mid-size.
Jeep is like Kleenex. It’s a product model that’s become synonymous with an entire product line. Jeep, as a model, is designed and built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Jeep hit the scene in November 1940, just before the USA entered WWII.
They were widely used throughout the war and subsequent wars due to their ability to travel on all kinds of terrain.
In 1987 Chrysler bought the Jeep brand and has expanded the models ever since. While the traditional design is still popular, Chrysler also developed the SUV model Cherokee.
I cannot wait to lease my next car, which will be an electric car. This is an exciting time because, over the next few years, most automobile makers will be rolling out many electric car options. Audi, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes are all rolling out a fleet of electric cars.
Tesla, of course, is the current top dog in the arena but will be facing tougher and tougher competition over the next 5 years. GM’s Volt is also a good option.
While I like Tesla’s designs, it doesn’t come close to how cool the first Porsche electric car looks. Check it out… the Mission E. What I love about the Mission E is it’s a 4 door and still looks super cool. I have young kids so a 2-door is out of the question.