With over 400 different models and many car types available today, the car market has a world of choice. It cannot be easy to make sense of everything. What are the various types of automobiles? The first thing to understand is that “cars” refers to “all types of passenger vehicles.” To keep things simple, we’ve divided all those vehicle options into nine major categories covering all the basic types of vehicles, from coupes to full-size sedans to crossover SUVs.
The appearance of a vehicle is the simplest way to define it. Its form. The most basic way to classify a vehicle is by its body style.
A sedan has four doors or a standard trunk. They come in a variety of sizes, from small (subcompact vehicles like the Nissan Versa and Kia Rio) to compact (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla), mid-size (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima), or full-size (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima) (Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger). Similar-sized sedans are available from luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
Historically, a coupe was defined as a two-door car with a trunk or a solid roof. This includes vehicles such as the Ford Mustang and Audi A5 and two-seat sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche Boxster. However, car manufacturers have recently begun to apply the term “coupe” to four-door cars and crossovers with low, sleek rooflines that they consider “coupe-like.” This includes vehicles ranging from a Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan to a BMW X6 SUV. At Driver, a coupe is still considered a two-door vehicle.
These are the most sporty, hottest, cool-looking coupes or convertibles—low to the ground, sleek, or often pricey. They are typically two-seaters, but some have small rear seats as well. Sports cars include the Porsche 911 and Mazda Miata, but muscle cars like the Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger can also be considered. Then there are the high-end exotic fantastic cars for the 1%, with exorbitant price tags, for example the Ferrari 488 GTB and Aston Martin Vantage, which block the road with their spaceship looks.
Wagons are similar to sedans but have a longer roofline or a hatch door at the back instead of a trunk. Some, such as the Subaru Outback and Audi A4 Allroad, have raised ground clearance and rugged body cladding to resemble sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). However, they are still closely related to sedans. Wagons have fallen out of favor in recent decades, and there are only a few for sale in the United States.
Traditionally, a “hatchback” was a compact and subcompact sedan with a squared-off roof or a rear flip-up hatch door that provided access to the vehicle’s cargo area rather than a traditional trunk. Two typical hatchbacks are the Volkswagen Golf and the Kia Rio. Rear hatches have recently made their way onto larger vehicles such as the Audi A7 or Kia Stinger. They appear to be sedans, but they have a steeply raked hatchback that allows easier access to the cargo area or greater carrying capacity than a traditional trunk.
Is the roof retractable into the body, leaving the passenger compartment exposed to the elements? If that’s the case, it’s a convertible. Most convertibles have a powered-up fabric roof that folds down, but a few require manual lowering. There are also several models with retractable hardtops and unusual quasi-convertibles (called “Targa tops”), such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, Porsche 911 Targa, and Corvette, where only the forward section of the roof retracts or can be removed by hand.
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