Volvo S60

What is a saloon car?

If you’re looking to buy a used car, you may have come across the term ‘saloon’. But what does it mean and why is it important to understand it? Here’s everything you need to know.

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By Cazoo editorial team

A saloon is a type of car with a boot lid that’s hinged below the back window, and the boot itself is separate from the passenger compartment. That’s an easy enough concept, but there’s more to it than that. Read on to find out.

What does a saloon look like?

Saloon cars generally look different to hatchbacks or estate cars, with a more pronounced ‘three-box’ shape, with separate ‘boxes’ for the engine at the front, the passenger compartment in the middle and the boot at the back.

Cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 have a classic saloon look. Some saloons like the Jaguar XE have a sleeker look and could be mistaken for hatchbacks. And some hatchbacks look more like saloons  – the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe for example.

Regardless of how they look, the defining characteristic of a saloon is a boot that’s separate from the main passenger area of the car, whereas a hatchback has a full-height boot lid that includes the back window.

BMW 3 Series

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What’s the difference between a saloon and a hatchback?

A saloon has a boot lid that hinges beneath the rear window whereas a hatchback has, in effect, a full-height extra door at the back. That’s why a saloon car is often referred to as a ‘four-door’ model, while a hatchback is generally described as a ‘three-door’ or ‘five-door’ model.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

What’s the difference between a saloon and a coupe?

Many coupes are technically saloons in that their boot lid is hinged below the back window. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe is one example. The crucial difference, though, is that saloons have two doors on each side – four doors in total. Coupes only have one door on each side and tend to look sleeker and feel sportier than saloons.

Perhaps confusingly, some carmakers refer to their sleekest saloons as ‘four-door coupes’. Examples include the Mercedes-Benz CLA coupe and the Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

How big are saloons?

Saloons come in a range of sizes. The smallest saloons in the UK are the Audi A3, Fiat Tipo and Mercedes A-Class, all of which are also available as hatchbacks about the same size as a Ford Focus. Incidentally, the Fiat is also the most cost-effective saloon available in the UK.

Go up a size and there are plenty of saloons to choose from, including the Jaguar XE and Volkswagen Passat. Beyond that size, a saloon body is the ‘core’ option for many cars, including the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes S-Class.

Jaguar XE

How practical are saloons?

There are plenty of saloons with big boots and some have back seats that fold down to create more space. But the ultimate practicality of a saloon is always limited compared with a hatchback or an estate.

That’s because a saloon’s boot is only about half the height of the car, so there’s a fixed amount of stuff you can pack in there. Hatchbacks and estates have much more flexible boots. Take out the load cover and you can pack stuff up to the roof if you want to.

It can also be difficult to load bulky items into the boot of a saloon, because the opening is relatively small. That being said, large saloons in particular have boots big enough for the needs of most families. It’s only on those occasional tip runs and two-week holidays that the relative lack of boot space could be an issue.

Volvo S90

What are the advantages of saloons?

The boot being separate from the passenger compartment means saloons are usually quieter than a hatchback or estate while driving. It also means anything left in the boot is more secure, since it’s locked away under a metal, rather than largely glass, boot lid.

The majority of saloons available in the UK are built by premium brands, so they often feel more luxurious than other types of cars. Saloons made by non-premium brands tend to be high-spec models, too.

BMW 5 Series

What are the disadvantages of saloons?

A shortage of choice is one of the drawbacks if you’re looking for a saloon. Apart from the Fiat Tipo there aren’t any small, inexpensive saloons available in the UK, while the range of mid-size saloons sold new is smaller than it was a few years ago.

Their longer bodies and comparatively low seating position in a saloon mean that some people find them trickier to park than, say, a compact SUV, although most saloons have parking sensors, or even cameras, to help out.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class saloon

Why is it called a saloon, anyway?

The word ‘saloon’ comes from the French ‘salon’, which means a large room.

The term ‘saloon car’ was originally used to refer to the luxury carriages on a train. It was adopted by British carmakers in the early part of the 20th Century to describe cars with an enclosed passenger compartment. In other countries, a saloon is usually referred to as a ‘sedan’.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

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