Last updated February 15, 2022
There’s a bewildering choice of car body types available in today’s car market as manufacturers offer buyers ever more diversified options to meet their needs. This guide will help you navigate the often-confusing categories and identify the different car body types, what each type is best suited to and whether it’s the right choice.
Examples: Volkswagen up!, Kia Picanto, Fiat 500
Generally the smallest car type, city cars are typified by short bumpers, wheels located at the chassis’ edges and maximised cabin space. Given their compact dimensions, they’re suited to city driving, which often entails frequent stopping and starting, however, their strong fuel economy often offsets this. They’re usually highly affordable and cheap to insure too. Despite their advantages, city cars are impeded by their limited seat and boot space, while their modest engines can struggle with lengthy trips on the motorway.
Examples: Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo
Striking a balance between city cars and larger family hatchbacks, superminis typically seat five and offer increased capacity compared to city cars. Like city cars, superminis may struggle with weightier cargo and don’t offer the same practicality as a hatchback.
Examples: Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Mercedes A-Class
One of the largest car body types before a saloon, hatchbacks are characterised by a unitary boot lid and rear windscreen that moves simultaneously. You may have to compromise on passenger space and boot storage (espcially for family use), although models including the Honda Civic may offer ample space on both counts.
Examples: Nissan Note, Mercedes B-Class, Dacia Duster
Mini-MPVs feature a slightly raised driving position, easy access, and hip-height seat bases, making them popular with older drivers and those with young children. They tend to be pricier than regular hatchbacks, however, there are some cheaper alternatives available on the market.
Examples: Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Touran, Renault Grand Scenic
MPVs are practical vehicles that tend to offer a generous amount of space. Larger models, such as the Ford Galaxy have seven seats, usually with the rear rows folding flat into the floor to create a van-like load bay. MPVs offer a smooth driving experience and are generally more affordable than SUVs, making them excellent family vehicles.
Examples: Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series
Often described as three-box cars: engine bay (box 1), cabin (box 2) and separate boot (box 3), saloons have longer wheelbases and often have more legroom than hatches, which may make them more comfortable. However, many saloons have less storage space than some large hatchbacks due to the shape of the boot.
Examples: Audi A6 Avant, Volvo V60
Estates are longer cars based on specific saloons or hatchbacks. Where a saloon’s rear window ends at the cabin, an estate’s extends to the boot lid, increasing cargo room. However, while estate cars have more boot space than their equivalent saloon, some may prefer the saloon’s sleeker look.
Examples: Audi A7, Mercedes CLS, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe
Seizing the desirability of coupes compared to saloons, many premium manufacturers make four-door coupes. These cars are essentially low-profile saloons with streamlined roofs or coupes with longer wheelbases, an extra pair of doors and occasionally extra seats to boost practicality. However, the lower roofs can compromise headroom for rear passengers.
Examples: Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Citroen C4 Cactus
Crossovers combine the hatchback body type with chunky SUV styling and a raised ride height. Like MPVs, this facilitates easy entry for older people and parents with child seats. They’re also usually more fuel-efficient and may be better to drive on regular roads than their larger 4×4 counterparts as they tend not to include heavy off-roading extras.
Examples: Nissan X-Trail, Kia Sorento, Mercedes GLE
SUVs are geared towards road-driving, making them more comfortable and stable on long straight roads than their 4x4 counterparts. While there isn’t a veritable distinction between SUVs and crossovers, the former are generally larger with more power and cargo capacity.
Examples: Mercedes GLE Coupe, BMW X6
Like SUVs, SUV coupes feature high driving positions and chunky styling but with tapered coupe-like roofline, trading their practicality for looks. While their streamlined roofs equate to less interior space than regular SUVs, SUV coupes can boast impressive off-road credentials and generous cargo capacities.
Examples: Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Land Cruiser
Ideal for country-dwellers and off-roaders, 4x4s bolt their off-road components to a ladder frame running underneath the car, making them a formidable force when traversing rugged terrain. Their large, robust chassis facilitate practicality, but their considerable weight makes them less agile and stable than SUVs on the road, which negates fuel economy.
Examples: Audi TT, Mercedes E-Class Coupe
Coupes are essentially two-door versions of saloons with a hard roof. Smaller dimensions and fewer doors equate to less interior space, making them less practical than hatchbacks and saloons. However, any negatives can be offset by their low centre of gravity and slimmer shape, which yield a lighter weight than saloons, usually resulting in improvements in handling, braking, acceleration, and fuel economy.
Examples: Audi A5 Cabriolet and BMW 4 Series Convertible
Convertibles are coupes with a retractable fabric or metal cover instead of a hard roof. These cars prioritise style, and few things beat a convertible for fun in the sun! However, aesthetics aside, convertibles may be impractical in terms of space and storage capacity, further exacerbated when the roof is retracted.
Examples: Porsche Boxster, Mazda MX-5
Roadsters constitute a convertible sub-category, but while a roadster is a convertible, a convertible isn’t necessarily a roadster. The term roadster defines a sport-optimised car with an open-top, two doors and two seats. Like their convertible ancestors, a two-seat layout, limited cargo space and lack of weatherproofing negate their practicality.
Examples: Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB11
Grand tourers are typically large, luxury coupes made for continent-crossing missions. They combine stunning looks with premium performance and their back seats tend to be more practical than your average coupe. Note that while their colossal engines provide plenty of power, fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs can be high.