Quick facts about car types
- There are 10 general types of cars
- Some definitions of the type of car are vague
- Pickup trucks and SUVs outperform cars
You might think that with a simple topic like “types of cars” there wouldn’t be much room for doubt or discussion, right? Not so fast. Analyzing the different types of cars is not as easy as it seems. There are some gray areas where car types overlap more or less. For example, a sports car and a coupe are two of these categories, as are the convertible and sports car. There are exceptions to every rule, and we’ll see more as we move through our list. We abbreviate the word “cars” to mean passenger cars.
In an effort to create clarity, we’ve broken this list down into 10 types of compounds. Our criteria for each type have more to do with identifying characteristics of two or three than anything else. For example, the coupe has two doors, while the sedan has four. As we move through the list, we give some examples of subgroups of each type, such as subcompact, compact, midize, etc.
What are the different types of cars?
There is no single logical way to organize a list like this; So, here are our categories in no particular order other than that we group cars, vans, SUVs, and trucks together.
The sports car segment falls into a gray area without a hard and fast definition. Once upon a time, I had only referred to a two-seater convertible—like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and BMW Z4—as a sports car. It should be compact, sporty and fun to drive. Not much anymore. Today, the term casts a broader grille for cars like the Chevy Corvette. Moreover, it can include vehicles with a small rear seat, such as the Ford Mustang and Porsche 911.
Even though we are out of the reach of most of us humans, we will also be including ‘Exotic Items’ in this group. These are high-priced, high-performance sports cars such as the Ferrari Roma, McLaren GT and Aston Martin DBS.
Hatchbacks are usually smaller (small or compact) with four passenger doors plus a fifth door in the back instead of the boot lid. We’d collect a 5-door Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Ionic 5-door, and Volkswagen Golf GTI in this group.
However, sometimes they have three doors as the Chevy Spark sub. Despite the evolution, the hatchback now has a few bigger and brighter entries like the mid-size Kia Stinger and Audi e-tron S Sportback, which bear little resemblance to traditional hatchbacks.
Coupes come in all sizes, from compact to full-size. Historically, the coupe is a two-door car with a hard roof and a rear seat. For example, Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Infiniti Q60 and Audi A5 cars fit this mold. Of course, some models have spread from the sports car lineup to the coupe segment, including cars like the Nissan Z and Toyota GR86.
Then there’s a larger set of 4-door hardtops with sloping rooflines that its makers call a coupe. This is where things get a little weird. Merdedes-Benz CLA and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe fall into this group. Even more unusual, Mercedes-Benz is also marketing the GLC Coupe, a crossover.
There is not much ambiguity in the definition of a sedan. It has always been a four-door hardtop with two rows of seats and a trunk. Although there are fewer and fewer sedans on the market, they continue to fill the compact, compact, mid-size and full-size classes. The compact sedans are represented by Nissan Versa and Hyundai Accent. Among the compact sedans are Honda Civic, Kia Forte, and Subaru WRX.
The mid-size sedan yard is overflowing with models, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, and more.
Shrinking at an alarming rate, the list of full-size sedans still has the Dodge Charger, Volkswagen Arteon and Nissan Maxima. One area where sedans are still plentiful is the full-size luxury car segment. Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Genesis G90, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and more are still selling in enough numbers to keep them off the cancellation list.
Whether the top is soft or hard, the car is a convertible if the roof can be lowered or removed entirely. Convertibles today have two doors (Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Mazda MX-5 Miata), but four-door convertibles are unheard of. There have been a few in the past, and recent examples include the GMC Hummer EV, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, and Ford Bronco. Again, there is some overlap between sports cars and convertibles.
Another downsized breed, station wagons, for the most part, are based on a sedan. However, instead of a trunk, they have an extended roofline and tailgate access to the cargo area. Most of today’s wagons are mid-size, including the Volvo V60 and Audi allroad. Mini Clubman represents wagons in the compact car category.
Minivans smashed station wagons off the road where the Chosen Ones were before the SUVs drove them aside. Usually a minivan is one large box with three rows of seats, a rear hatch door and sliding side doors. In addition, they have front wheel drive (FWD). Despite its practicality, minivans have disappeared from the passenger car scene. Those that still stand are the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Carnival.
Historically, pickup trucks were considered working horses, and were often listed as “commercial” on automakers’ websites. Most of them, like the Chevrolet Express, GMC Savanna, Nissan NV, and Ford Transit are rear wheel drive (RWD). On the other hand, you have a Ram ProMaster that’s FWD. Most offer cargo and passenger versions. Like minivans, trucks are one-box designs; However, they do not have sliding side doors. You must access the cargo area through a side-hinged tailgate or dual rear doors.
We’re using “SUV” here as a blanket way to talk about SUVs and crossovers. We could spend a few paragraphs distinguishing the two, but we’ll leave it to SUVs built on heavier truck platforms and crossovers on lighter car platforms. Most SUVs are large, offer rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (4WD), and are designed for heavy towing or off-road driving. Examples of large SUVs include the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, Land Rover Range Rover, and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon. The Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Wrangler, and Dodge Durango are mid-size SUVs.
Although SUVs and crossovers are often used interchangeably, crossovers are much more like a car than an SUV. Crossovers are usually FWD; However, many offer all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard or as an option. Among the larger crossovers are Hyundai Palisade, Cadillac XT6 and Audi Q7. Midsize examples include the Mercedes-Benz EQS, Buick Enclave and Honda Pilot. Unlike the SUV class, several smaller nameplates qualify as crossovers. For example, Jeep Renegade, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford Bronco Sport.
There is a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s get to it. Generally, a pickup truck has a cab with two or four doors, one or two rows of seats, and an open cargo box behind the cab. It’s RWD with all-wheel drive as standard or optional. Its structure consists of a structure bolted to a steel frame. However, there are some exceptions in the Honda Ridgeline and Hyundai Santa Cruz, which are auto-based pickups. Both are on FWD platforms; However, Ridgeline no longer offers FWD. The Ridgeline comes with AWD only, while Santa Cruz offers AWD as an option.
Full-size pickup trucks, such as those made by Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram, come in light and heavy versions. These are relative terms. Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and Ram 1500 are the light duty versions. The Ford F-150 Super Duty, Silverado HD, and Ram HD models represent the heavy-duty class.
Competing in the arena are midsize trucks such as the GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. We will also be adding Honda Ridgeline to this group. Hyundai Santa Cruz is more than just a pickup truck. However, Hyundai classifies it as a “sports adventure vehicle”. Whatever the case, we’re throwing it in the pickup segment.
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