Red Kia EV6

What are the different types of car?

Don’t know your coupes from your crossovers? Our guide to the different types of car tells you everything you need to know.

Phill Tromans Cazoo

By Phill Tromans

Published: 23 May 2023

Modern cars come in all shapes and sizes and there are now a wealth of different types – or category – of car to choose from. You may know the difference between a saloon and a convertible, but do you know what a coupe is or whether a crossover is the same thing as an SUV?  

If not, fear not – we’re here to help. We’ve rounded up the most common types of car (and a few not-so-common) and explained what they all are, with some of the most common examples that you’ll see every day on UK roads.

What is a hatchback?

A regular fixture in the country’s best-selling-cars lists for decades, a hatchback is, technically, any car with a boot that hinges at the top of the rear window.

However, the term is mostly applied to small and mid-size cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. Other types of car could be considered hatchbacks under the above technical description, but we’ll get to those later.

Hatchbacks are popular not only because there’s a wide choice of models, but because they tend to be affordable and practical for their size. Hinging the boot lid at the top means you get a large opening to load luggage and there’s usually room in the back for adult passengers.

Most hatchbacks today are five-door models (four side doors and the boot lid), although a few three-door models are available with just two side doors. These can be slightly more affordable, but they lose practicality points because they’re not quite as easy to get in or out of. You might see small hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta referred to as superminis, or even smaller ones such as the Toyota Aygo referred to as city cars.

Hatchbacks with a sporty feel and (usually) lots of power are known as hot hatches. These cars are designed to give you all the practicality of a regular hatchback but with more fun behind the wheel. Examples include the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Ford Fiesta ST and the Honda Civic Type R.

Volkswagen Golf

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What is a saloon?

A saloon car has four doors and a boot that’s separate from the cabin, with a boot lid that hinges below the rear window. They come in various sizes. Smaller saloons such as the Audi A3 are sometimes variants of a hatchback, while luxury saloons like Mercedes-Benz S-Class are among the biggest (or certainly longest) cars you can buy. Most saloons sit in the middle – like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 or slightly larger cars like the Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class.

Saloons are not as popular as they used to be, partly because of changing fashions and partly because they’re not as practical as SUVs. Many saloon models are also available as estates, however, and we’ll look at those next.

BMW 3 Series

What is an estate?

Take a saloon or hatchback car, give it a longer roof and a more upright hatchback boot, and you basically have an estate car. These are almost always based on a saloon or hatchback model and are designed to give you extra load space. Once the default choice of families, estates (like saloons) are less popular since the rise of SUVs, but many people still prefer the more nimble driving experience and lower running costs that estates can offer compared with an SUV. 

Popular estate cars include the Volvo V60, Skoda Superb Estate and the BMW 3 Series Touring. Some models, such as the Audi A4 Allroad, have raised suspension and four-wheel drive, which gives them some off-road capability.

Other names used by manufacturers for their estate models include Avant (Audi), Touring (BMW) and Sportswagon (Kia). Some brands, like Porsche, offer ‘Shooting Brake’ models. These are basically estates, but with a sleeker look.

Volvo V60

What is an SUV?

The Sports Utility Vehicle, or SUV, is the automotive success story of the past 25 years. Inspired by rugged 4x4s, modern SUVs come in all shapes and sizes. You can spot them by their raised ride height, the benefits of which can include a more comfortable ride and a more commanding view of the road.

While some SUVs have four-wheel drive and serious off-road capability – such as all Land Rover SUVs – most are more road-focused and many only have two-wheel drive to improve fuel efficiency. 

Some SUVs are referred to as ‘crossovers’ – a cross between a regular car and an SUV. There are sporty SUVs like the BMW X6 and Porsche Macan, while others are geared more towards comfort.

You can get SUVs in different sizes, ranging from the very compact Ford EcoSport to family SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai to huge seven-seater luxury SUVs such as the BMW X7. Just about every niche in between is covered, so the chances are high that there’s an SUV to suit your needs and budget.

Nissan Qashqai

What is a convertible?

A convertible is any car with a retractable or removable roof. These range from sports cars such as the Mazda MX-5 or Porsche 718 Boxster (more on sports cars below) to hatchback-based cars like the Fiat 500C or Mini Convertible. 

Some have hard-top roofs, which are regular metal roofs that fold away. They offer better security and often quieter driving when the roof is up. More traditional, and increasingly the norm, are convertibles with fabric roofs. These weigh less, which helps fuel economy, and they generally fold up smaller, so don’t eat into the space available for your luggage or passengers. 

Manufacturers will often refer to convertible models by names such as Cabriolet, Targa or Roadster.

Mazda MX-5

What is a coupe?

The definition of a coupe has changed over the years. Historically, it was a car with a total of two side doors, but that soon developed into including three-door cars with a hatchback boot. Nowadays, it’s a broad term for any car with a sloping “coupe-style” roof, from SUVs like the BMW X6 to “four-door coupes” such the Mercedes-Benz CLA.

There are, of course, traditional coupes like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe or BMW 2 Series Coupe, but generally the word is applied to cars that put style and sometimes sportiness high on their agenda.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

What is an MPV?

A Multi-Purpose Vehicle or MPV is sometimes also known as a people carrier. These are designed as much around those sitting in the back seats as those in the front, with large windows, individual seats and big door openings that make family journeys as stress-free as possible. They’re less popular than they once were, thanks to the prevalence of SUVs, but for large families they’re still a great option. They range in size from smaller MPVs such as the Mercedes-Benz B-Class to larger, seven-seater cars like the Ford Galaxy. Some MPVs are based on vans, offering lots of interior space and seating for up to nine people. These include the Mercedes V-Class and the Vauxhall Vivaro Life.

Ford Galaxy

What is a sports car?

A sports car puts enjoyment and performance as its top priorities. These cars are designed around the driver and aim to be (or at least, feel) fast, with quick steering and ultra-responsive controls. Most are coupes or convertibles.

The best sports cars are great fun and while many are expensive, because of the complex engineering that goes into them, there are affordable models, such as the Toyota GR86.

As you spend more money, the performance increases. Extremely fast (and expensive) sports cars – as produced by brands such as Bugatti, Ferrari and Lamborghini – are often referred to as ‘supercars’.

Toyota GR86

What is a pick-up?

A pick-up is a high-riding truck with a load bed in the back. Once used mainly by builders and tradespeople, many pick-ups today are much more sophisticated, with up to five seats and the kind of features you’d find in a family hatchback or even in a luxury car. Popular models include the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Volkswagen Amarok.

They usually have four-wheel drive and good off-road abilities. Entry-level models are still basic workhorses but if you pay a bit more, you’ll have all the comfort and entertainment features you’d expect from a premium car.

Toyota Hilux

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