Quick Explainer: Car Body Types

Samantha Henman

It’s a wide, wild world of cars out there, with about 160 brands from small to large, each offering a variety of models, and versions of models, and so on, and so on, until your brain explodes. Or at least, until mine does. But one of the main ways that cars are categorized are by car body types. You know the words: pickup, sedan, SUV, station wagon, just to name a few—but do you know what they all mean?


Car Body Types: A Short Guide

Over the years, as car models change size and features, some of their meanings have become skewed. Luckily, we’ve come up with this handy guide to keep you on the right track when it comes to car body types.

Sedan

The sedan is basically the platonic ideal of a car, with the main features being four wheels and a trunk. They come in a variety of sizes, but some of the most popular models are the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Accord. Once you start messing with the number of doors and the trunk, it’s no longer a sedan, but more on that later…

2011 Toyota Corolla

SUV

It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but there was a time when SUVs were relatively rare. Spotting a Jeep Cherokee or Ford Explorer out on the road in the 90s was something of a rare treat, but now, they’re everywhere. They usually have a hatchback trunk and more ground clearance than sedans. Not only does this make them taller, but it also makes them a great choice for off-roading.

Jeep Cherokee

Minivan

If it’s tall, fits a clown-cars’ worth of children, and is found near a soccer field or Costco, you’ve got a minivan. While full-sized and cargo vans have existed for a long-time, the minivan really picked up the pace in the 80s as baby boomers had broods of their own. The Dodge Caravan and later, the Honda Odyssey, ruled the road.

Today’s minivans aren’t just for families. Adaptable seating and large cargo areas make them a great choice for work vehicles as well.

A classic Dodge Caravan

Pickup Truck

Speaking of work vehicles, we associate the pickup truck with rugged blue-collar types, but the appeal of an open cargo bed and towing capabilities has brought all types of people into the pickup fold. Contrary to what you may think, not all pickup trucks are big heavy examples like the Dodge Ram. Pickups are also made in smaller, more city-friendly sizes, like the Ford Ranger.

Ford Ranger

Station Wagon

Before the minivan was the family car of choice, there was the station wagon. Like a sedan but with a bigger, hatchback trunk, station wagons are still kicking around today. Thanks to a more modern styling, contemporary examples like the Subaru Outback and the Audi A4 have shaken off the retro connotations of the station wagon.

Subaru Outback

Hatchback

People use the words “hatchback” and “compact” to describe a wide variety of cars, but if it’s both these things combined, it’s definitely a textbook hatchback. And what’s not to like about the excellent cargo space for its size and fuel efficiency? Some classic models are the Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Civic.

An older and newer model of Volkswagen Golf.

Coupe

No wonder the Beach Boys wrote a song about them. While they were specifically singing about a 1932 Ford Model B, the coupe has universal appeal. Traditionally, it’s defined by the fact that it has just two doors, but many also associate it with a low, sleek appearance. From classics like the Chevrolet Corvette to newer examples like the Audi TT, coupe means cool.

With all that said, the best-selling coupe of all time? None other than the iconic Volkswagen Beetle.

Chevrolet Corvette

Convertible

What’s cooler than being cool? Driving in a convertible, duh. It sounds cliché, but once you’ve tried it, you won’t forget the feeling of the wind in your hair. There’s just something special about a convertible. While there are plenty of classic examples, like the Cadillac Eldorado, the name can also apply to any car where a majority of the roof either retracts or can be removed.

As different as they seem, both the extra-rugged Jeep Wrangler and the extra-tiny Mazda Miata are convertibles!

Mazda Miata

Sports Car

There’s a lot of crossover between the coupe, the convertible, and the sports car, but the major difference lies under the hood. And in the price tag. Sports cars are generally two-door, with a very powerful engine, and very, very sporty looks. While the aforementioned Corvette is a great example, so are even more expensive specimens like the Porsche 911 or basically any Ferrari.

Porsche 911
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