Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for innumerable purposes including regulation, description and categorization, among others. This article details commonly used classification schemes in use worldwide.
Vehicles can be categorized in numerous ways. For example, a government may establish a vehicle classification system for determining a tax amount. a vehicle is taxed according to the vehicle’s construction, engine, weight, type of fuel and emissions, as well as the purpose for which it is used. Other jurisdictions may determine vehicle tax based upon environmental principles, such as the user pays principle. In another example, certain cities in the United States in the 1920s chose to exempt electric-powered vehicles because officials believed those vehicles did not cause “substantial wear upon the pavements.
1. Micro car
Straddling the boundary between car and motorbike, these vehicles have engines under 1.0 litre, typically seat only two passengers, and are sometimes unorthodox in construction. Some microcars are three-wheelers, while the majority have four wheels. Microcars were popular in post-war Europe, where their appearance led them to be called “Bubble cars”. More recent microcars are often electric powered.
Examples of micro cars:
• Tata Nano
A hatchback is a car body configuration with a rear door. that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area. Hatchbacks may feature fold-down second row seating, where the interior can be flexibly reconfigured to prioritize passenger vs. cargo volume. Hatchbacks may feature two- or three-box design.
While early examples of the body configuration can be traced to the 1930s, the Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the term itself to 1970. The hatchback body style has been marketed worldwide on cars ranging in size from superminis to small family cars, as well as executive cars and some sports cars.
3. Ultra compact car
In 2012, Japan’s Transport and Tourism Ministry will allow local government to use ultracompact cars as transport for residents and tourists in their limiting areas. The size of ultracompact cars will be less than minicars, but have engine greater than 50cc displacement and able to transport 1 or 2 persons. Ultracompact cars cannot use minicars standard, because of strict safety standards for minicars. The regulation about running capacity and safety performance of ultracompact cars will be published in early autumn. Today, there are cars smaller than ultracompact cars, called category-1 motorized vehicles which it has 50cc displacement or less and only one seat for the driver
4. City car
A city car is a small automobile intended for use in urban areas. Unlike microcars, a city car’s greater speed, capacity and (in perception at least) occupant protection are safer in mixed traffic environments and weather conditions. While city cars can reach highway speeds, that is not their intended use. In Japan, city cars are called kei cars.Kei cars have to meet strict size and engine requirements: engines have a maximum displacement of 660 cc and the car’s length must be under 3400 mm.
Examples of kie cars:
• Daihatsu Move
• Honda Life
• Suzuki Cervo
Examples of city cars:
• Fiat Panda
• Maruti 800
5. Supermini/subcompact car
This class is known as supermini in the UK, subcompact in North America. Superminis have three, four or five doors, and even as an estate shape. They are designed to seat four passengers comfortably. Current supermini hatchbacks are approximately 3900 mm long, while saloons and estate cars are around 4200 mm long. Currently (2013) sedan variants are generally not available in Europe and are marketed at a lower price than hatchback models in North America.
In Europe, the first superminis were the Fiat 500 of 1957 and the Austin Mini of 1959. Nowadays, superminis can be some premium cars, like the Citroën DS3, named 2010 Car of the Year by Top Gear Magazine. Superminis are some of the best selling vehicles in Europe with 25% of the market shares (2013). In 2007, the Peugeot 207 has been the most sold car in Europe, whereas the best seller is almost systematically a car from the compact segment.
In Australia, the motoring press tends to distinguish between a light car such as the Daihatsu Charade or early models of the Holden Barina, and slightly larger models such as the Ford Fiesta which is considered to be a small car. As the general size of vehicles in this class has gradually increased, the category of light car has almost disappeared.
Examples of superminis/subcompact cars:
• Opel Corsa
• Peugeot 208
• Volkswagen Polo
6. Family Car
Small family car/compact car
Small family/compact cars refer to the hatchbacks and shortest saloons and estate cars with similar size. They are approximately 4,250 mm (167 in) long in case of hatchbacks and 4,500 mm (177 in) in the case of saloons and estate cars. Compact cars have room for five adults and usually have engines between 1.4 and 2.2 litres, but some have engines of up to 2.5 litres. Some early “muscle” compacts had optional V8 engines of up to 6.6 liters. These are the most popular vehicles in most developed countries.
Examples of hatchback small family cars/compact cars:
• Peugeot 308
• Toyota Auris
• Volkswagen Golf
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class “Small Family Cars”. In Australia, this class is generally referred to as being small-medium sized cars.
Large family / mid-size
A class described as “large family” in Europe and “mid-size” in the USA, these cars have room for five adults and a large trunk (boot). Engines are more powerful than small family/compact cars and six-cylinder engines are more common than in smaller cars. Car sizes vary from region to region; in Europe, large family cars are rarely over 4700 mm long, while in North America, Middle East and Australasia they may be well over 4800 mm.
Full size / large
This term is used most in North America, Middle East and Australia where it refers to the largest affordable sedans on the market. Full-size cars may be well over 4900 mm long.
Examples of full-size cars:
• Dodge Charger
• Chevrolet Impala
• Holden Commodore
Crossover SUVs are derived from an automobile platform using a monocoque construction with light off-road capability and lower ground clearance than SUVs. They may be styled similar to conventional “off-roaders”, or may be look similar to an estate car or station wagon.
Examples of crossover SUVs:
• Tata Aria
• Nissan Pathfinder
• Chevrolet Equinox
Minivans / MPVs
Also known as “people carriers”, this class of cars resembles tall estate cars. Larger MPVs may have seating for up to eight passengers. (Beyond that size, similar vehicles tend to be derived from vans (see below) and in Europe are called minibuses.)
Being taller than a family car improves visibility for the driver (while reducing visibility for other road users) and may help access for the elderly or disabled. They also offer more seats and increased load capacity than hatchbacks or estate cars.
Examples of mini MPVs:
• Citroën C3 Picasso
• Ford B-Max
• Nissan Note
Examples of large MPVs / minivans:
• Ford S-Max
• SEAT Alhambra
Luxury vehicle is a marketing term for a vehicle that provides luxury — pleasant or desirable features beyond strict necessity — at increased expense.
The term suggests a vehicle with higher quality equipment, better performance, more precise construction, comfort, higher design, technologically innovative modern, or features that convey an image, brand, status, or prestige, or any other ‘discretionary’ feature or combination of them. The term is also broad, highly variable and relative. It is a perceptual, conditional and subjective attribute that may be comprehended differently by different people; “what may be luxury for one may be premium for another.
In contemporary usage, the term may be applied to any vehicle type— including sedan, coupe, hatchback, station wagon, and convertible body styles, as well as to minivans, crossovers, or sport utility vehicles and to any size vehicle, from small to large—in any price range. Moreover, there is a convergence in the markets and a resulting confusion of luxury with high price: where there may have been a clear difference in price between luxury and others, there is no longer an absolute separation between premium and luxury, with what may be premium brands now more expensive than the equivalent so-called luxury ones.
These are luxurious equivalents to mid-size and compact cars. Rear seat room and trunk space are smaller than executive cars simply because of their smaller overall size.
Examples of compact premium cars/entry-level luxury cars:
• Audi A4
• BMW 3 Series
• Buick Regal
These are luxurious equivalents to full-size cars. This also refers to the largest hatchbacks within the similar length in this class, such as the Porsche Panamera.
Examples of executive cars/mid-luxury cars:
• Peugeot 607
• BMW 5 Series
• MG Magnette
Full-size luxury / Grand saloon
Also known as full-size luxury cars, grand saloons, or premium large cars, while “Oberklasse” is used in Germany. Typically a four-door saloon (sedan). These are the most powerful saloons, with six, eight and twelve-cylinder engines and have more equipment than smaller models.
Examples of grand saloons:
• Audi A8
• Cadillac XTS
• Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Estate cars / station wagons
A station wagon (also known as an estate or estate car) is an automobile with a body style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design—to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume.
Examples of estates/station wagons:
• Hyundai i40 Tourer
• Jaguar XF Sportbrake
• Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake
A hot hatch is a high-performance hatchback, based on standard superminis or small family cars with improved performance, handling and styling. Hot hatches are very popular in Europe, where hatchbacks are by far the most common body style for this size of car. In North America, sport compacts are usually sold as saloons or coupés rather than hatchbacks.
Examples of hot hatches/sport compacts:
• Honda Civic Type R
• Renault Megane RS
• Fiat 500 Abarth
Sports saloon / sports sedan
These are high-performance versions of saloons. Sometimes originally homologated for production based motorsports (touring cars or rally cars) and like regular saloons, seats four or five people.
Examples of sports saloons/sedans:
• BMW M5
• Mazdaspeed6/Mazda 6 MPS
• Dodge Charger
Examples of sport compact saloons/sedans:
• Dodge SRT-4
• Subaru WRX
• Mitsubishi EVO
The term “sports car” does not appear to have a clear definition. It is commonly used to describe vehicles which prioritise acceleration and handling; however, some people claim it is also defined as a vehicle with two seats.
A Sports car (sportscar or sport car) is a small, usually two-seat, two-door automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling. Sports cars may be spartan or luxurious but high maneuverability and minimum weight are requisite.
Examples of sports cars:
• Toyota 86
• Nissan 350Z
• Mazda MX-5
Larger, more powerful and heavier than sports cars, these vehicles typically have a FR layout and seating for four passengers (2+2). These are more expensive than sports cars but not as expensive as supercars. Grand Tourers encompass both luxury and high-performance. Some grand tourers are hand-built. Examples of grand tourers:
• Aston Martin V8
• Lexus SC300/400
• Ferrari 612 Scaglietti
Supercar is a term generally used for ultra-high-end exotic cars, whose performance is superior to that of its contemporaries. The proper application of the term is subjective and disputed, especially among enthusiasts.
Examples of supercars:
• McLaren P1
• Lamborghini Reventón
• Bugatti Veyron 16.4
The muscle car term generally refers to rear wheel drive mid-size cars with powerful V8 engines, manufactured in the USA. Some people define it as a 2-door vehicle;however, others include 4-door vehicles in the definition. Although opinions vary, it is generally accepted that classic muscle cars were produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Muscle cars were also produced in Australia and other nations.
Examples of American muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s:
• Ford Torino
• Plymouth Road Runner
• Pontiac GTO
Examples of Australian muscle cars:
• Ford Falcon
• Holden Monaro
• Valiant Charger
The pony car is a class of American automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. It describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image.
Examples of pony cars:
• AMC Javelin
• Chevrolet Camaro
• Dodge Challenger
A body design that features a flexibly operating roof for open or enclosed mode driving. Also known as a cabriolet or roadster (if a 2-seater). Historically, convertibles used folding roof structures with fabric or other flexible materials. Some designs have roofs made of metal or other stiff materials that retract into the body.
Examples of cabriolets:
• Honda S2000
• Volkswagen Eos
• Volvo C70
Off-road vehicles, or “off-roaders” are sometimes referred to as “four-wheel drives”, “four by fours”, or 4x4s — this can happen colloquially in cases where certain models or even an entire range does not possess four-wheel drive.
Sport utility vehicle
Sport utility vehicles are off-road vehicles with four-wheel drive and true off-road capability. They most often feature high ground clearance and an upright, boxy body design. Sport Utilities are typically defined by a body on frame construction which offers more off-road capability but reduced on-road ride comfort and handling compared to a cross-over or car based utility vehicle.
Examples of compact SUVs:
• Land Rover Freelander
• Jeep Patriot
• Toyota FJ Cruiser
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class “Small Off-Roaders”.
Examples of SUVs:
• Land Rover Discovery
• Jeep Grand Cherokee
• Mahindra Scorpio
A commercial vehicle is any type of motor vehicle used for transporting goods or paid passengers. The European Union defines “commercial motor vehicle” as any motorised road vehicle, that by its type of construction and equipment is designed for, and capable of transporting, whether for payment or not: (1) more than nine persons, including the driver; (2) goods and “standard fuel tanks”. This means the tanks permanently fixed by the manufacturer to all motor vehicles of the same type as the vehicle in question and whose permanent fitting lets fuel be used directly, both for propulsion and, where appropriate, to power a refrigeration system. Gas tanks fitted to motor vehicles for the direct use of diesel as a fuel are considered standard fuel tanks
In some countries, the term “van” can refer to a small panel van based on a passenger car design (often the estate model / station wagon); it also refers to light trucks, which themselves are sometimes based on SUVs or MPVs. (But note that those retaining seats and windows, while being larger and more utilitarian than MPVs, may be called “minibuses”.) The term is also used in the term “camper van” (or just “camper”) — equivalent to a North American recreational vehicle (RV).
In the United States, the term “van” refers to vehicles that, like European minibuses, are even larger than large MPVs and are rarely seen being driven for domestic purposes — except for “conversion vans”. These possess extremely large interior space and are often more intended for hauling cargo than people. Most vans use body-on-frame construction and are thus suitable for extensive modification and coachwork, known as conversion. Conversion vans are often quite luxurious, boasting comfortable seats, soft rides, built-in support for electronics such as television sets, and other amenities. The more elaborate conversion vans straddle the line between cars and recreational vehicles.
Examples of North American “vans”:
• Dodge Ram Van
• Ford E-Series
• GMC Savana
Examples of European “vans”:
A Buggy is an automobile with wheels that project beyond the vehicle body.
Normally a two-door body design with special form of car roof, where a retractable textile cover amounts to a large sunroof.
A 2-door, 2- or 4-seat car with a fixed roof. Its doors are often longer than those of an equivalent sedan and the rear passenger area smaller; the roof may also be low. In cases where the rear seats are very small and not intended for regular use it is called a 2+2 (pronounced “two plus two”). Originally, a coupé was required to have only one side window per side, but this consideration has not been used for many years.
A passenger-car derived vehicle with an integral exterior cargo area.
Crossover (or CUV)
A loose marketing term to describe a vehicle that blends features of a SUV with features of a car — especially forgoing the body on frame construction of the SUV in favor of the car’s unibody or monocoque construction. Crossovers usually borrow drivetrains and other parts from traditional cars in the same manufacturer’s line. Crossovers typically employ an FF layout or an FF-based four-wheel drive layout with a transverse engine, rather than an FR layout or an FR-based 4WD layout with a longitudinal engine as is typically used on traditional truck-based SUVs.
Drop Head Coupe
Generally a European term referring to a 2-door, 4 place automobile with a retractable canvas / cloth top with both a padded headliner and rollup windows (as opposed to side curtains).
A design where the roof slopes at a smooth angle to the tail of the car, but the rear window does not open as a separate “door”.
in US, similar to ute in Australia, i.e. generic for Chevy El Camino, Ford Ranchero, GMC Sprint/Diablo, etc.
Incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged liftgate—and features such as fold-down rear seats to enable flexibility within the shared passenger/cargo volume. As a two-box design, the body style typically includes A, B and C-pillars, and may include a D-pillar.
Originally a removable solid roof on a convertible; later, also a fixed-roof car whose doors have no fixed window frames, which is designed to resemble such a convertible.
A converted car (often a station wagon), light truck or minivan usually used to transport the dead. Often longer and heavier than the vehicle on which they are usually based. Can sometimes double up as an ambulance in some countries, such as the United States, especially in rural areas.
Originally, a car with a tapered rear that cuts off abruptly.
A limousine with the passenger section covered by a convertible top.
A broad marketing term for a hatchback, which incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a top-hinged liftgate.
By definition, a chauffeur-driven car with a (normally glass-windowed) division between the front seats and the rear. In German, the term simply means a sedan.
Term for a boxy wagon-type of car that is smaller than a conventional minivan; often without rear sliding door(s). Examples are Citroën Picasso, Renault Scénic, Toyota Yaris Verso or Mercedes-Benz A-Class. In Japan, this term is used for Kei car based vans.
Designed to carry fewer people than a full-size bus, generally up to 16 people in multiple rows of seats. Passenger access in normally via a sliding door on one side of the vehicle. One example of a van with a minibus version available is the Ford Transit.
Multi-purpose vehicle, a large car or small bus designed to be used on and off-road and easily convertible to facilitate loading of goods from facilitating carrying people.
A configuration where the third box of a three-box styling configuration is less pronounced — especially where the rear deck (third box) is short or where the rear window is upright.