If you're shopping for cars, especially online, the categories for different car types might seem endless. How do you decide between a crossover and an SUV? Do all coupes have just two doors? What's the difference between a wagon and a hatchback?
Let's take a look at 12 common car types you might find on the market today.
Sedans are usually defined as a four-door passenger car with a conventional trunk and sloping rear roofline. The trunk is hinged and opens directly upwards blocking the back window. Sedans are sometimes described as mid-size or full-size cars, or also as family cars. The size and look of a sedan can vary greatly from entry-level subcompact models to full-size $100,000 luxury sedans. Typically, sedans appeal to first-time buyers, small families and those of the older generation who like to have four doors for convenience and a larger vehicle. Examples of popular sedans include the Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Elantra, Mercedes CLS and Buick LaCrosse.
Until the last decade or so, a coupe was generally considered to be a two-door car with a relatively small back seat and a fixed roof. To an extent, a coupe is basically the two-door version of a sedan. However, in the past ten years, automakers have started calling sleeker four-door cars ‘coupes’ in order to convey their more sporty design and intentions. Coupes can sometimes be lighter weight they’re often positioned as having sportier styling and/or handling than their more conservative sedan counterparts.
Coupes tend to appeal to people who rarely or never use the rear seat and enjoy having something stylish. The term coupe is also used to describe cars that also fall under the sports car moniker. Examples of coupes include the Scion FR-S, BMW 4 Series, previous generations of the Honda Accord, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Audi A5, Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.
Some luxury brands have even started calling some of their sleeker crossovers ‘Coupes’ owing to their image. Yet most of these models still have four doors.
Convertibles are sometimes also called cabriolets or roadsters. They are defined by a roof that can be converted into an open-air driving experience through a top that folds down or that can be removed. There are both hardtop and soft-top convertibles.
Soft-top convertibles typically use a cloth-based material that is constructed to be waterproof. Modern convertibles retract using a power-operated system.
Another version of this is a retractable hardtop, which may also be called coupe convertibles. This involves a traditional hard roof being mechanically retracted to provide an open-air experience.
Though this type of convertible provides more security when the roof is in place, it reduces trunk space and often adds considerable weight to the car, not just for the roof and motors themselves but also because of the additional structural bracing that the car needs since it can’t rely on a roof for that. Some hardtop convertibles also allow their tops to be manually removed and then stored in the trunk.
Convertibles tend to be the most popular in warm climates where driving without a top is easy to do most of the year. Examples of convertibles include the Audi A5 Cabriolet, Mazda Miata, Nissan 370Z, BMW 4 Series and Volvo C70.
Wagons, also often called station wagons, are essentially a combination of a sedan and a hatchback. Wagons have four doors, a lift back door and a roofline that extends past the rear doors to offer an additional cargo space. Some wagons have a third-row seat at the very back that can be folded down to provide more cargo space.
Wagons are sometimes called sportbacks by automakers and will often be a model option offered along with a coupe or sedan or both.
The main difference between a hatchback and a wagon is size. Wagons are usually based on larger sedans and have a boxier profile with a full cargo area behind the rear seats; hatchbacks are often based on smaller vehicles. When viewed in profile, the wagon roof goes all the way to the furthest rear of the vehicle while a hatch roof is likely to slope down steeply into its liftback area. In this era of SUVs and crossovers, wagons typically appeal to families who want the practicality of an SUV or CUV but with the better handling and style that a wagon provides.
Examples of wagons include the BMW 3 Series Wagon, the Audi all road, the Volvo V60 and V90, Mercedes E Class wagon, Subaru Outback and Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen.
The hybrid classification exclusively refers to a vehicle that is powered by both an internal combustion engine and an electric propulsion system. The combination between the two allows the hybrid to get extremely good gas mileage, while also having good power and drivability. Hybrids can come in nearly any body style mentioned on this list, but they’re most often smaller hatchbacks or crossovers. The first hybrid SUV was the Ford Escape, which debuted in 2005.
Some hybrid models can travel limited distances and speeds using only electric power before the gas engine kicks in.
Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are a variation of these vehicles that can recharge their batteries by plugging them in, whereas standard hybrid vehicles recharge their batteries through regenerative braking or with power from the gas engine. PHEVs can also travel longer distances under electric-only power, compared to their regular hybrid counterparts.
Some examples of popular hybrids include the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Ford Fusion. Notable PHEVs include the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Honda Clarity PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV and Hyundai Ioniq PHEV.
Crossovers, sometimes called crossover SUVs or CUVs, are essentially car-based SUVs (they could also be considered tall wagons).
A typical crossover is built on a passenger car platform, but has a tall profile like an SUV. Handling and ride tend to be more like a car than the traditional truck-based SUV. Many CUVs also come with at least an option for AWD or 4WD. They come in a range of sizes, from subcompact versions like the Toyota C-HR to larger versions like the Toyota Highlander. Crossovers have become incredibly popular in recent years as they have come to appreciate their view of the road, improving fuel economy, practicality, style and comfort.
Crossovers also tend to be especially prevalent in areas with inclement weather. Though crossovers appeal to a wide range of car buyers, there's no doubt that they appeal the most to families.
Some popular examples of crossovers include the Acura MDX, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, Kia Sorento and Nissan Rogue.
Though there is a wide range of styles for trucks, a truck can be described pretty simply: All trucks have two or four doors and an open cargo bed. Trucks may also be referred to as pickups or pickup trucks. Most pickups come in two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions. The two-wheel drive version employs rear-wheel drive in order to stabilize the open cargo bed. Four-wheel drive trucks can usually be recognized by their higher ground clearance.
Both types of trucks can be used for towing and two-wheel drive versions may even have a higher towing capacity. Truck models are often sold with different cab options. Regular cabs only have two doors and the front seat is right up against the back of the cab. Extended cabs also have two doors, but there's a tight rear bench seat or cargo area behind the front seats. Four-door trucks may be called king cab or crew cab. These trucks have a full-size rear seat that ranges in size depending on the model.
Trucks are popular choices for those who want to tow or need to haul things in the cargo bed.
The most popular size of trucks is full-size models like the Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150 and Ram 1500. Compared to their midsize counterparts, these trucks usually cost more, have better towing and payload capacities and larger, more powerful engines.
Midsize trucks include the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier.
The term SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle; the term has described different types of vehicles at different times. Early SUVs weren't much more than a pickup truck with a covered bed and an extra row of seats. As SUVs evolved and became more popular, people began calling any taller, four-door vehicle an SUV, even if they were technically car-based crossovers.
Today, true SUVs remain truck-based and boast off-road competence, higher ground clearance and four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive. These SUVs are built using body-on-frame construction (like trucks) while crossovers feature unibody construction. This gives SUVs a tougher constitution, but also makes them rougher in ride and handling. They tend to appeal to families and those who want a combination of passenger space, towing ability and off-road prowess. Examples of popular traditional SUVs include the Toyota 4Runner, Chevy Tahoe, Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, Ford Expedition and Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Minivans rose out of the need for carrying a large number of passengers in a smaller-profile vehicle than the traditional full-size van. Minivans are hard to mistake for anything else as they have a distinctive long body with a short hood. They are typically built on car platforms and feature car-like handling and good fuel economy. One distinguishing feature of a minivan is its sliding doors behind the front doors (on most models today, these are power-operated).
Minivans usually have three rows of seats, with the third row folding into the floor to provide additional cargo space when not in use.
Minivans excel at carrying the most amount of people and cargo. They are still considered the traditional big family vehicle. Examples of popular minivans include the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica.
As previously mentioned, hatchbacks tend to have a similar appearance to wagons in that they're often four doors and have a rear door that swings upwards. The main way to tell the two car types apart is to see if the car's roofline slopes steeply down just past the doors. If it does, then you're looking at a hatchback. Hatchback cars usually have four doors, but some do have two doors.
A sub-category of a hatchback is called a hot hatch, which refers to a high-performance hatchback. Though hatches are gaining popularity in the U.S., they are extremely popular and common in Europe. Because of this, many hatches on the market are made by European carmakers.
Examples of popular hatches include the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic Hatchback, Hyundai Veloster and Ford Fiesta and Focus.
This segment typically includes car types classified as small, compact or subcompact. These cars can be either two doors or four doors, sedan, coupe or hatchback but their classification is usually determined by the EPA's interior space parameters. For example, a C-segment compact car is defined as having 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior and cargo volume combined.
Subcompacts also fall into this category. These models are cars defined as having 85 to 99 cubic feet of interior volume. Compacts typically get good fuel economy due to their small size and smaller engines. They tend to be popular as commuter vehicles. Examples of compact cars include the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Dodge Dart, Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3.
The term sports car is generally used to describe a high-performance model with a coupe or convertible layout. Sports cars usually have engines tuned for performance and power.
Sports cars can be front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive (the most common layout preferred by enthusiasts) and all-wheel-drive. Many sports cars are front-engined, but there are some models that are rear-engined (Porsche 911) or mid-engined (McLaren 720S, Porsche Cayman).
Sports cars typically have sleek and dramatic styling for aerodynamic purposes. Sports cars are often more expensive than more common types of vehicles like sedans and crossovers. Because they’re oriented more for performance, fuel economy is usually subpar and some are less comfortable in daily driving than mainstream vehicle types.
Muscle cars can fall under this category though there are some key differences. Muscle cars are often larger and heavier than pure sports cars and while sports cars balance both handling and power, muscle cars prioritize brute power.
Some popular examples of sports cars include the Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911 and the Jaguar F-TYPE; muscle cars include Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger.