In today’s automotive market, there is a world of competition, what with more than 400 different models and many styles of vehicles. It can be difficult to make sense of all of this. Which kinds of cars are different? The first thing to note is that “cars” means “passenger vehicles of all kinds.” To keep things straightforward, we have broken down all those vehicle options into nine main categories covering all the common types of vehicles from coupes to full-size sedans to crossover SUVs.
The simplest way of identifying a vehicle is from what it looks like. What is the first thing you think when a car comes on the street towards you? Its design. That’s called “the shape of the body.” Is that tall, boxy? Sleek and low? How many doors is it? The best way to categorize a vehicle is by body type.
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There are four doors in a sedan and a conventional trunk. These are available in a variety of sizes, from small (subcompact vehicles like Nissan Versa and Kia Rio) to compact (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla) to mid-size (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima) and full-size (Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger), like vehicles in other categories. Luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus also sell sedans in identical sizes.
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Historically a coupe was known as a two-door car with a trunk and a solid roof. This would include cars such as a Ford Mustang or Audi A5—or even two-seater sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche Boxster. Nonetheless, carmakers have recently started adding the term “coupe” to four-door cars or crossovers with short, sleek rooflines they consider “coupe-like.” This involves cars as diverse as the Mercedes-Benz CLS sedan and BMW X6 SUV. We also find a coupe a two-door car at Car and Driver.
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Those are the most sporty, trendy, coolest-looking coupes and convertibles — low to the ground, stylish, and always costly. These are normally two-seater but often they do have narrow rear seats. Cars such as the Porsche 911 and Mazda Miata are traditional sports cars, but the concept can be expanded to include muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. And there are the high-end luxury concept cars with the one per cent sky-high price tags, vehicles like the Ferrari 488 GTB and Aston Martin Vantage, which looks like traffic-stopping with their spaceship.
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Wagons are identical to sedans but instead of a windshield, they have an expanded roofline and a hatch door at the back. Others, such as the Subaru Outback or the Audi A4 Allroad, have improved ground clearance and some rough body cladding to make them look like a sports utility vehicle ( SUV), however, they are closely related to sedans. In the last few decades, wagons have fallen from popularity and relatively few are available for sale in the United Kingdom.
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The term “hatchback” has historically meant a compact or subcompact sedan with a squared-off roof and a rear flip-up hatch door that offers access to the cargo area of the vehicle, rather than a standard trunk. Two popular hatchbacks are the Volkswagen Golf, and Kia Rio. Recently, rear hatches, like the Audi A7 and Kia Stinger, have made their way onto several larger vehicles. They look like sedans, but they do have a steeply raked hatchback that offers better access to the cargo area and greater carrying capacity than would a conventional trunk.
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Will the roof retract into the body leaving the elements exposed to the passenger cabin? If so, then this is a convertible. Most convertibles have a fully-powered fabric roof that folds down, but a few have to be hand-lowered. There is also a range of retractable hardtop versions, as well as a variety of rare quasi-convertibles (called “Targa tops”), such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, Porsche 911 Targa and Corvette; only the forward part of their roofs retracts or can be removed manually.
SPORT-UTILITY VEHICLE (SUV)
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SUVs – also referred to as crossovers – appear to be wider and boxier than sedans, provide an elevated seating place and have more ground clearance than a car. These have a cargo-like station area that is accessed through a flip-up rear hatch door, and many offer all-wheel drive. The larger ones are seated in three rows. Sizes start at the mid-size subcompact (Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks), and go all the way to the full-size (Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe). Luxury brands sell plenty of SUV models in most segments of the same size.
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Minivans are the family-car world’s workhorses, the strongest to transport people and freight in a compact box. They ‘re called minivans but they’re far from “small.” That’s because they’re big boxes-on-wheels with easy-access sliding side doors and a rear hatch that opens up to a large cargo region. Most minivans in their second and third rows have flexible seats which can often be removed or even folded into the floor to create a wide-open cargo bay. Good examples of the breed are the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica.
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The rear of a pickup truck has a passenger cabin and an open freight space. Almost all pickups offer some form of all-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive-the latter only for off-road use. For one exception – the Honda Ridgeline mid-size – pickup bodies are cabs built on a separate steel frame. The Ridgeline is more of a crossover with the roof lopped off at the back to reveal a cargo bed. Pickup trucks actually come in two categories: full-size and medium-size.
IT DOESN’T STOP THERE
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Other than simple forms of body, there is to it. Those 10 vehicle models are available from hundreds of different brands from Acura to Volvo — and in several sizes and at very varying prices. But there are always a few outliers, like the BMW X4 “four-door coupe SUV” pictured here, that don’t fit very neatly into either group.