Type to search

The Different Types of Cars Explained

From sedans and coupes to trucks and SUVs, we’re giving you a look at the different types of cars, comparing each of their body styles!

What’s the Difference?

Toyota vehicle lineup - pressroom.toyota.com
Toyota vehicle lineup - pressroom.toyota.com

The auto industry is always adjusting to meet the demands of consumers. Cabin space, vehicle size, fuel efficiency, and versatility are all examples of evolving needs over the past several decades. As consumer demands continue to change, so does the popularity of certain vehicle body styles. What are some of those different body styles, and what do they all offer?

You’re probably already familiar with some of the body styles in the automotive industry, but what exactly is the difference between a coupe and a sedan? How about a crossover, a wagon, and a sport utility vehicle (SUV)? We’re going to explain the 10 kinds of body styles, highlighting each of their distinct features.

Sedan

2022 Toyota Camry - pressroom.toyota.com
2022 Toyota Camry - pressroom.toyota.com

The sedan is what many people may think of when they hear the term ‘car.’ It’s built as a three-box design, meaning there is an engine compartment in the front, an area for passengers in the middle, and an enclosed cargo area in the rear. Those three areas are separated by automobile pillars or dividers. Any vehicles without an immovable barrier between the trunk and the cabin aren’t actually sedans. The interior space also must add up to 33 cu-ft or more in order to be considered a sedan.

The first four-person car that was called a ‘sedan’ was the 1911 Speedwell. Over the past century, the definition of a sedan hasn’t really changed. A passenger car that has four doors and a separate trunk is still generally considered a sedan. Current examples include the Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta, Hyundai Accent, Kia K5, Lexus ES, and Chevrolet Malibu. For more information on some of those sedans, read our 2022 Mazda3 Review, 2022 Volkswagen Jetta Review, and 2022 Chevrolet Malibu Review.

Coupe

2022 Ford Mustang - ford.com
2022 Ford Mustang - ford.com

It’s become a little harder to differentiate between a sedan and coupe because, while it used to be easily identifiable by having room for just two passengers, some coupes can cram more passengers behind the front driver and passenger seats, too. Historically, coupes haven’t included the B Pillar that sedans have. Visually, coupes still usually have more elongated doors and windows.

Coupes handle differently as well. They’re described as sporty and fun to drive because there is less cargo, there are fewer passengers, and, therefore, they have less weight. What they may lack in comfort, they make up for in speed and excitement. Examples of this are the Ford Mustang, Toyota Supra, Chevrolet Camaro, Aston Martin Vantage, and the Chevrolet Corvette.

Convertible

2022 Audi TT Roadster - audiusa.com
2022 Audi TT Roadster - audiusa.com

If a vehicle has a retractable roof, then it’s a convertible. A convertible can be a coupe or a sedan. Some people have modified their own vehicles into convertibles. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to convertibles. They can be hard-tops or soft-tops. There’s a roadster, too, which is a convertible that doesn’t have roll-up windows. A cabriolet is a convertible is a soft-top with roll-up windows. The overall body style in all of these variations is the same as a coupe, but there are differences between a convertible and a coupe.

While convertibles are great to have in nice weather, coupes are a little more practical in changing climates. Coupes are also more rigid than convertibles because they have a full metal roof. The result is better handling. The retractable roof mechanism on a convertible actually adds quite a bit of weight to the car. Though they may not perform quite as well as coupes, they still amp up the excitement level of any drive, especially on a warm, sunny day.

If there’s room in your budget and your garage for a convertible, there’s nothing like accelerating down the road with the wind blowing alongside you! We have a full list of the Best Convertible Cars of 2021 to get you started. To keep your budget in place, read our list of Best Convertibles for UNDER $20,000.

Sports car

2022 Porsche 911 Carrera - porsche.com
2022 Porsche 911 Carrera - porsche.com

A sports car can be a coupe, a convertible, or even a sedan. They are usually two-door vehicles, but the most important quality is dynamic performance. Handling and speed have to be top-notch to attract sports car enthusiasts. It’s the kind of car that can accelerate in an instant and stop on a dime.

Sports cars today are usually lightweight and sleek, like a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, or Toyota Supra. They’re also usually not very cheap. A Porsche 911 Carrera, for example, has a starting MSRP of $101,200. Used models are available for much cheaper, of course. We’ve got a list of the Best Used Sports Cars Under $20,000.

If there’s room in your budget and your garage for a convertible, there’s nothing like accelerating down the road with the wind blowing alongside you! We have a full list of the Best Convertible Cars of 2021 to get you started. To keep your budget in place, read our list of Best Convertibles for UNDER $20,000.

Hatchback

2022 Subaru Impreza hatchback - subaru.com
2022 Subaru Impreza hatchback - subaru.com

To be considered a hatchback, a vehicle must have a two-box design with room for the engine in the first compartment and a combined area for people and cargo in the second. That second area must have a rear door that opens, usually upward, for cargo access. They typically have three pillars: A, B, and C. Some examples of vehicles with a hatchback version include the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Kia Rio, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, and MINI Cooper. Some hatchbacks are compact, while others are midsize with a little more space available. If you’re considering buying a hatchback, go ahead and look at our Best Used Hatchback Cars list, which covers popular models from the past several years.

The hatchback is newer than the sedan or coupe, but you may be surprised to learn that it goes all the way back to 1938, when the Citroën Traction Avant 11 CV Commerciale. It was built on the same elongated chassis as the other Citroën Traction Avant models. The original Commerciale had a two-part tailgate. The lower part folded down into a platform. The upper part was cut into the roof level. After World War II, the Commerciale was given a one-piece top-hinged rear door. At the time of production, the vehicle was marketed to butchers, grocers, and other tradesmen who had to regularly load cargo.

Truck

2022 Chevrolet Silverado - media.chevrolet.com
2022 Chevrolet Silverado - media.chevrolet.com

The pickup truck has an engine compartment, an enclosed passenger cab, and an open cargo bed. You’ll see compact trucks with two pillars or larger trucks with three pillars. Many pickups are offered in all-wheel drive, making it easier for off-road use. In an effort to compete with sedans, truck makers have increased the comfort level over the past couple of decades. The crew cab style of truck offers extra space in the cabin for second-row passengers. An extended cab doesn’t provide the extra space many people may need to fit their family.

The truck has been a successful body style for decades and is still a massively popular choice because it has no real equal when it comes to power, towing capacity, and payload capacity. They’ll handle a day of heavy work or play. Trucks don’t have the higher fuel efficiency that other vehicles have, but it’s a trade-off that many people are willing to accept. EV trucks are changing the fuel efficiency part of that equation though. The Ford F-150 Lightning already has an increased demand for production.

The Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator, Ford Ranger, and Nissan Titan are just some of the popular models we mention in the Best Used Mid-Sized Trucks to Buy and the Best Full-Size Trucks of 2021. We also have detailed comparisons like Budget Buy: Toyota Tacoma vs. Nissan Frontier, Head-to-Head: Ram 1500 vs Nissan Titan. There’s even an electric pickup truck option in our list of the Top 10 Longest Range Electric Cars.

SUV

2022 Toyota RAV4 - toyota.com
2022 Toyota RAV4 - toyota.com

The Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) has been on a steady rise since the late 1990s. More and more car buyers want it all: an option with space, utility, good handling, higher ground clearance, and off-roading. The SUV offers many people an all-in-one solution.

The SUV body style includes A, B, C, and D pillars. Based on a truck platform, the body-on-frame design doesn’t have as smooth a ride as a sedan, but it has more space to fit an average-sized family. Sitting higher means it can tackle a variety of terrain, especially with models that focus on off-roading like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, and the Land Rover Defender.

If you’re looking for a SUV, but you’re not sure which is the best one for you, we have multiple articles that can help. We’ve compiled lists of the Best Used SUVs Under $10,000, the Top 10 Used Mid-Sized SUVs, and the Best SUVs for Families.

Crossover SUV

2022 Subaru Crosstrek - subaru.com
2022 Subaru Crosstrek - subaru.com

The 1979 AMC Eagle is considered the first crossover ever made. There’s just one catch: it wasn’t called a crossover at the time. It’s been retroactively given the name, ‘crossover,’ which is a vehicle based on a unibody car platform with raised ride height. The crossover also has better off-roading ability than a sedan does thanks to better ground clearance. They can also be purchased with two-or-four-wheel drive. There’s also more interior and cargo space. Sedans do, however, usually have a more composed ride than crossovers.

Meanwhile, the crossover isn’t as large or off-road capable as SUVs. Crossovers can be cheaper and easier to drive because they don’t have the size and weight SUVs do. The crossover can have three pillars, like a hatchback or sedan, or four pillars, like a SUV. The crossover really is a mix of the sedan and SUV. Hence the name, ‘crossover.’ The Subaru Crosstrek is one example of a compact crossover. We have an entire list of the Top 10 Compact Crossovers Under $20,000 for anyone who wants a crossover while still staying on budget.

Van

2022 Honda Odyssey - hondanews.com
2022 Honda Odyssey - hondanews.com

As you’ve seen with a lot of these other body styles, there are variations of each of these entries. The same is true with the van. There are panel vans (known as car-derived vans in the U.K.), minivans, delivery vans, and other styles. Minivans, known as multi-purpose vehicles (MPV) in Europe, are either a two-box or a one-box body design. While a sedan has three different pillars, the minivan has A, B, C, and D pillars. Minivans don’t have a tight turning radius and gas mileage isn’t as good as a sedan, but there are several other reasons people turn to them when choosing a car.

Minivans are family favorites because they’ll carry kids, haul cargo, and usually allow for customizable climate control for each row of passengers. While cargo vans have hinged doors, minivans use liftgates. Sliding doors provide easy access to passengers climbing into rear seats. These days, most minivans have second and third-row seats that are able to be removed or folded into the floor. Those features and others are why we ranked the Toyota Sienna Hybrid, Kia Carnival, and Chrysler Pacifica as some of the Best Minivans of 2021 and the Best Minivans of 2022.

Wagons

2022 Volvo V90 - media.volvocars.com
2022 Volvo V90 - media.volvocars.com

In America, these are more commonly known as station wagons, but in the UK, they are called estate wagons. Whatever specific name you prefer, the concept is the same: the three-box design is transformed into a two-box design with a wagon. It’s a sedan variant with the standard compartment for an engine, but also with a shared passenger and cargo area. Access to the rear is achieved via a tailgate or liftgate. Like a SUV or minivan, the station wagon has four pillars for support.

You may be wondering what the difference is between a station wagon, a van, and a SUV. The driver of a station wagon sits lower to the ground than vans or SUVs. These days, many vans are equipped with sliding doors, allowing easier access to third-row seats. Wagons don’t have that. The station wagons are also smaller than vans. Basically, a station wagon has less interior space and cargo capacity than a van, making it more similar to a sedan in terms of driving capability, styling, and fuel efficiency.

The original purpose of a wagon was to transport people and their luggage from their country estates to a train station. The first wagon goes all the way back to 1910 when a wood-paneled carriage was fitted to a Ford Model T chassis. Since they were made partially of wood, many wagons became known as woodies. Then the 1935 Chevrolet Suburban, made of metal and built on a truck frame, debuted. Wood was phased out as cheaper, more durable all-steel bodies became the norm. The wagon continued to evolve from there as you’ll find out by reading our complete look at the history of The Old Station Wagon: Past, Present, and Future.

Always Useful Information

As you can see, there’s certainly a variety of vehicles out there! No matter the type of car you end up buying, however, there is some very useful information you’ll want to have when you walk into any dealership. Take a look at our previously published articles to prepare for any car purchase: Common Car Dealer Options Explained, MSRP and Dealer Mark-Ups Explained, and Car Insurance Explained.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted in July 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Related How To Articles

Why is My Car Overheating?

How to Drive a Stick Shift

Car Drivetrains and Powertrain Explained

Tags:
Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

  • 1

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share
Tweet
Pin