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Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?

By Shawn Furman | July 24, 2022

What Does Make and Model Mean?

'Make' designates the brand of automaker that builds the car. 'Model' is a name given to a specific vehicle within a manufacturer’s lineup.

You probably see hundreds of cars pass by you on the road each day, and the reason most of those vehicles look, perform, and sound different is that most are different makes and models. Vehicles’ make and model tell buyers who makes a particular car, what type of car it is, what the car is for, and helps keep that car separate from others.

Makes include car manufacturers like Ford, Chevrolet, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, Lamborghini, Honda, and many others. Model is usually the name given to the vehicle by each manufacturer, like CR-V, Corolla, Mustang, Corvette, X1, A4, and Malibu. For most people, putting the make and model together, like in the case of the Honda Accord, Ford Focus, or Volvo XC90 paints a clear picture of a specific vehicle.

Model is usually more complicated than a vehicle’s make. Sometimes there is more to a model name than just that, a name. In the case of some manufacturers, a model name helps designate what kind of engine a car has. Trim levels and body styles can also be factors when considering different car models within each make. We are going to dive into vehicle make and model to clear up any misunderstandings you might have.

What Is a Car’s Make?

A vehicle’s make is the car manufacturer who makes the vehicle or the vehicle’s brand. Kia, Toyota, Jeep, GMC, Mazda, Volvo, Subaru, and Hyundai are all examples of car manufacturers, and thus, makes of vehicles. A vehicle’s make will also help determine a vehicle’s country of origin. Toyota, Subaru, and Nissan are Japanese automakers, Ford, Chevrolet, and Tesla are American automakers, and BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen are German automakers.

Generally, vehicle make is much easier to keep straight than model since make is usually the “starting point” when describing most vehicles for most people. To make it slightly more complicated though, there are some makes that fall under the larger umbrella of a parent company.

More About Make:

General Motors is the parent company for brands like Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Buick. Maserati and Alfa Romeo fall under Fiat’s umbrella while Chrysler makes Dodge, Jeep, and RAM. Fiat and Chrysler combined in 2014 to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA. They have recently combined forces with French car manufacturer P.S.A. and now fall under the umbrella of Stellantis.

The Volkswagen Group owns several vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bugatti, and Bentley. Until recently, they were the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world. Toyota, though not having as many brands underneath them, is currently the world’s largest automotive manufacturer in terms of global vehicle sales.

Several vehicle manufacturers are also known for having a luxury division in addition to their main brand of vehicles. Toyota makes Lexus, Honda makes Acura, Nissan makes Infiniti, Hyundai makes Genesis, and Ford makes Lincoln. Many of these luxury brands feature vehicles with the underpinnings of other “regular” cars within their parent company’s lineups but with more features and a different body.

What Is a Car’s Model?

Model is usually more complex than make. At baseline, a vehicle’s model is a name given to a specific vehicle within a manufacturer’s lineup. Examples include the Civic, within Honda’s lineup, the Forester, within Subaru’s lineup, the Terrain, within GMC’s lineup, and the Giulia, within Alfa Romeo’s lineup.

Many luxury manufacturers designate their car models with a series of numbers and letters. German manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi are famous for doing this, and for those trying to keep models apart, it can feel confusing. There is often some method to the model madness, though.

### More About Model:

Unlike make, vehicle models can be as simple as a name or as complicated as a series of numbers that also designate a vehicle’s trim level, body style, and other information about the vehicle.

One of the easiest manufacturers to follow in terms of vehicle models is Nissan. They simply designate each of their models with a name, they have very few body styles within each model, and they offer a simple lineup of different trim levels within each model. The Versa, Sentra, Altima, and Maxima make up their model lineup of cars from smallest to largest. All are offered as four-door sedans.

What Is a Body Style?

Many manufacturers take their simple lineups one step farther and offer one or more of their models in several different body styles. A body style is a designation used to differentiate different types of vehicles. Common body styles include sedan, hatchback, coupe, convertible, minivan, SUV, and pickup truck.

Sometimes body style can be used more granularly than that. Pickup trucks are a good example. Depending on the make and model, pickup trucks can come as two-door, regular cabs with seating for two or three, two or two-and-a-half door extended cabs with seating for up to four, or as crew or king cabs with four doors and seating for up to six.

To add some more complication, a current trend among luxury car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz is to rename existing body styles or to designate a different body style to one of their models that do not fit the actual body style of the car.

BMW, for example, labels some of its SUVs as sports activity vehicles or sports activity coupes rather than sports utility vehicles. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer several of their 4-door sedans as “gran coupe” models. In doing this, manufacturers are trying to show buyers that the design of the car combines the style of a coupe and the practicality of a sedan.

More About Body Style:

Mazda and Honda are good, simple examples of manufacturers that incorporate body styles into their model lineup. Until recently, you could buy a Honda Civic sedan, a Honda Civic coupe, or a Honda Civic hatchback – the coupe model has been removed from the lineup for 2022. Mazda offers the Mazda3 as a four-door sedan or hatchback model.

This serves to offer buyers flexibility when buying a vehicle they like. Both the Civic and Mazda3 are compact cars, and purchasing a hatchback instead of a sedan offers increased cargo space over a sedan. Coupes are often seen as one of the sportier body styles as many sports cars are offered as coupes or convertibles. Offering a Honda Civic coupe as an alternative to a Civic Sedan opens up a younger market and offers sportier transportation for those who cannot afford more expensive sports cars.

In addition to the BMW and Mercedes-Benz models mentioned above, some manufacturers take the marriage between models and body styles to a more complicated level. Jeep and Toyota are good examples of this.

The Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator are built on the same platform, offer many of the same features, and look almost identical, except for one big difference. The Gladiator is a pickup truck while the Wrangler is an SUV. Because they have different model names, and because the Gladiator is fairly new to the Jeep lineup, these models are not often confused with each other, even though they are very similar.

Toyota has decided to throw some potentially confusing models into the mix as well. They have offered the Toyota Corolla for years but have recently added the Toyota Corolla Cross to their lineup. You can have the regular Corolla as a sedan or hatchback, but the Corolla Cross is Toyota’s newest crossover SUV.

There used to be a wider variety of body styles available on more vehicle models in the past. Models like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord used to be available as a coupe or a sedan. Competition, cost, and changing trends have led manufacturers to cut down on various body styles previously offered within their model lineups.

What Is a Trim Level?

Further delineating vehicle models from each other are trim levels. Trim levels usually designate what type of equipment, features, or powertrain is offered on a specific model. Trim levels are also directly correlated to the price of a vehicle. You can usually tell what trim level a vehicle is by emblems or lettering on the car after its name – also usually on the front or back of a car.

Examples of basic trim levels include SE, LX, GLS, EX, SS, and SV. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, Kia, and Ford use trim level designations like these in conjunction with the name of their car to designate different versions and equipment levels within a specific model.

These letters often have meaning. SS stands for super sport, GT stands for Grand Touring, EX stands for executive, and SE stands for special edition.

Not every manufacturer uses letters or numbers, though. Some just use names to designate each trim level. Volvo offers its vehicles in Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design trim levels. Buick offers several of its models in Preferred, Essence, and Avenir trims.

More About Trim Levels:

The number of trim levels offered on various vehicle models varies by manufacturer. Most offer four to six trim levels for each model. Some offer as many as twelve or thirteen since their trim level incorporates both a body style and other prominent features.

Again, Nissan has a good example of a straightforward trim level naming system. Nissan has four main trim level designations: S, SV, SR, and Platinum. S is the base trim level for most of their vehicles. Platinum is the highest and most luxurious trim level. Toyota has a similar lineup, with L, LE, SE, XSE, XLE, and Limited trims widely available within various models.

The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is a good example of a model that utilizes letters, numbers, and names to designate different trim levels. Within the Silverado lineup, you can choose from the base WT model, the Custom, the Custom Trail Boss, the LT, the LT Trail Boss, the RST, the LTZ, the High Country, or the ZR2. Within these trim levels, there are various powertrain options and cab styles available.

The Lincoln Navigator, Cadillac Escalade, Land Rover Range Rover, Porsche Panamera, and some other vehicles are offered in a long-wheelbase version in addition to or in tangent with a specific trim level.

Model Madness:

Manufacturers like Lexus and Audi kick it up a notch further by designating each of their models with a number and letter combination, then adding a name or an additional letter or number to designate the trim level within that model.

Audi uses the letter ”A” to designate its car models. The number that follows this letter generally relates to the size of the car. Therefore, an Audi A3 is one of their smallest cars, equipped with a base engine for that size. The letter S is used to designate a more performance-oriented version of a car with the same numbering system. RS is used to designate the performance version of each of its models. An Audi RS4, then, is the most powerful version of Audi’s compact car. Audi uses the letter ”Q” to designate its SUVs.

Lexus uses a similar, but slightly more complex model-naming method. Their compact sedan is the IS, their midsize sedan is the ES, and their large sedan is the LS. Each of these models also has a number designation: 250, 300, 350, or 500. This is used to show the engine size used in the car while not necessarily correlating with the engine size. Lexus also uses a small letter ”h” after the number designation to show whether or not each model is a hybrid. The Lexus IS 250, then, is Lexus’s smallest sedan with its smallest non-hybrid engine.

Both Lexus and Audi also use named trim levels to further differentiate between these models. BMW and Mercedes-Benz take the cake, though, when it comes to their model names. Even though it may seem like a dizzying array of numbers and letters to most, it actually makes sense when you know what they mean.

Like the number used on Audi models, the first number in BMW’s model naming system is the size of the car. The next two digits currently indicate kilowatts of power or “virtual displacement”, though they are used to designate the size of the engine in liters. The last letter used designates how the car is powered. A lowercase “i” stands for direct-injected gasoline, a lowercase “d” stands for diesel, and an “e” stands for electric. Therefore, a BMW 328i is BMW’s compact gasoline-powered car with a virtual displacement of 2.8 liters. The higher the first number, the larger the vehicle is, with a few exceptions of course.

Mercedes-Benz uses a similar, slightly more complex naming method.

Why Should Vehicle Make and Model Matter to You?

All these letters and numbers may be confusing since there is no universal naming convention for vehicle models. They do matter though, especially when it comes to insurance coverage, insurance costs, and insurance premiums. These costs will, of course, vary based on your chosen insurance company, but certain vehicle makes and models can even affect vehicle registration costs.

Safer vehicles usually bring lower insurance rates than less safe vehicles. Vehicles like the Honda Accord are more commonly stolen than many other vehicle models, raising insurance rates for its buyers. Sports cars are more expensive to insure since they are considered high-performance vehicles and generally bring a higher risk of accidents to their drivers.

New cars tend to have higher collision coverage rates because they are more expensive to fix than older models if they are crashed. The Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, and Ford Escape are currently some of the cheapest cars to insure.

Beyond car insurance rates, it is always helpful to know the make and model of your own car if you ever want to sell it, if your vehicle is ever stolen, or if you want to buy a similar car from a more recent model year.

Putting It All Together:

One of the best ways for you to find out more about different vehicle makes and models and to explore which one is best for you is to go online and find a vehicle configurator. Most manufacturers offer you the ability to go to their website, pick a vehicle from their lineup, and “build” a vehicle of your choosing. You can choose whatever model you like, and the configurator will walk you through each available trim level and what it offers.

If you do not know what make and model your vehicle is, you can check your vehicle identification number or VIN number. This number can also be helpful when getting a trade-in offer online or when searching for cheaper car insurance.