Types of car

From city cars to large SUVs - every type of car explained

BuyaCar team
Apr 26, 2021

If you've spent much time at all researching your options for your next car, it will be clear by now that you can't just buy 'a car'. You have to be a bit more specific about the type of car you're looking for. The trouble is, researching for your next car can often be a minefield of jargon and technical speak, and sometimes even the simplest aspects of car buying can be clouded by ambiguous language. 

You probably know what you need your car to do, how many seats you need and what have you, but does that mean you need a hatchback or a coupe? If you need more practicality you'll probably looking at a crossover or an SUV, but is there even a difference between the two? Not anything that's going to affect the way you use it.

Perhaps you need something with a bit more boot space? Well you should go for an estate car, but you could also have a shooting brake, or an avant depending on which brand made it - different manufacturers have an unhelpful habit of using different names for the same thing.

We feel your pain, so we've decided to bring all of that frustration to an end with a one-size-fits-all guide to all of the types of cars you can find and how you can put them to use. Read on for all the info on every type of car from hatchbacks to coupes to SUVs.

Different types of car

Small cars

City cars

Small, light and cheap, city cars are built for urban roads, where they can sneak into tight parking spaces and rarely need to go fast - so there’s no need for a big engine that uses a lot of fuel.

Thanks to their lightness, they can be extremely agile and respond sharply when you turn the steering wheel, making them fun to drive. They also tend to be affordable to, with some excellent value finance deals available.

Popular city cars
What is a 3-door car?

This is a hatchback, which means that the rear of the car, from the bumper to the roof, opens up as one bootlid. As this gives access to the car’s interior, it’s classed as a door. Three-door cars only have one door on each side of the car, so you have to lean the front seats forward to get into the back.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Easy parking
✔  Finance under £100/month
✔  Good fuel economy

Not so good for

More than two people
Luggage space
Motorways

Superminis

Their name might hint at micro dimensions but, in fact, many superminis can carry four adults and a week’s worth of shopping in their boot. Many households won’t need anything more.

And because they can be the only car you'll need, manufacturers are increasingly packing them with all the equipment you's ever want. Touchscreens, the latest phone software such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - even intelligent systems that allow the car to speed up and slow down automatically in response to traffic conditions (adaptive cruise control) are increasingly common.

More luxurious models, such as the Audi A1 and Ford Fiesta Vignale bring even more upmarket features.

Popular superminis
What is a 5 door car?

This is a hatchback with four side doors for front and rear passengers. The bootlid counts as the fifth door, they tend to offer more interior space than three-door cars.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Nimble, fun cornering
✔  Second family car
✔  Value for money

Not so good for

Interior space
Quiet and smooth journeys
Lots of luggage

Small crossovers

Crossovers are generally built on the same base as superminis, meaning they tend to be similar in length and width to those smaller cars, just a bit taller. This makes them easy to drive and park despite their SUV-ish appearance, and what makes this type of car so popular. Because it's taller it, also gives the driver a better view of the road, and usually means more interior space.

However, the extra height can cause the cars to lean in corners, so there's often a compromise to be made between soft suspension for a comfortable ride and firm suspension to prevent leaning. You'll likely have more fun driving a supermini or hatchback.

Popular small crossovers

Ideal type of car for

✔  Visibility
✔  Ease of getting in and out
✔  Driving on rough ground

Not so good for

Boot space
Tough off-road conditions
Driving fun

Family cars

Family hatchbacks

The typical family hatchback will be a bigger version of a supermini, for example the Volkswagen Golf is a larger alternative to the Volkswagen Polo. With their practical hatchback boot, these are built to do everything: the school run, shopping trips and fast motorway journeys. There’s plenty of choice: the best are spacious, economical, comfortable and fun-to-drive. Larger models are best if you’ll have adults in the back.

Popular hatchbacks
What is a hatchback? 

Lift the bootlid of a hatchback and you open up the entire back of the car from bumper to roof, including the rear screen. This makes it easy to load bulky luggage. You can access the interior of the car from the boot, it counts as an extra door, which is why hatchbacks are described as three- or five-door vehicles. Some manufacturers, primarily Audi, will refer to their hatchback models as 'sportbacks' but they are otherwise identical in premise.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Families
✔  Low-cost motoring
✔  Choice of cars

Not so good for

Exciting design
High seating positions
Several suitcases  

Family saloons

Their smaller boot is less easy to load than a hatchback's, but saloon cars are often quieter and more fun to drive. Many buyers think they look more stylish, too. Larger models are typically more comfortable in the back seats thanks to more leg and headroom. Saloons are often considered the posh cars in a manufaturer's range, so they will often be equipped with all the latest technology and features.

The term saloon will sometimes be styled as 'executive saloon'. Within the british market, this refers to mid-sized saloons positioned between the larger and smaller ends of the scale.

Popular saloons
What is a saloon?

The boot in saloon cars is separate to the rest of the interior. With a smaller opening and less luggage space, saloon cars are less practical for carrying bigger items in the boot than hatchbacks, but the fact the cabin is separated from the boot often makes them quieter to sit in. This also gives a saloon car a sturdier frame that can make the car more precise and fun to drive.

Some have a slot in the back seats that can be opened so skis or flat-pack furniture can fit, although this will encroach on the availability of reat seats.

What is a 4 door car?

These are saloon cars, which have boots that are entirely separate from the interior. This means that only the side doors - for front and rear passengers - are counted.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Driving enthusiasts.
✔  Long-distance journeys
✔  Comfort and passenger space

Not so good for

Buyers on a budget
Versatile luggage space
Easy parking

Crossovers/SUVs

Blending the comfort of a family car with the practicality and height of an off-roader, many crossovers come close to offering the best of both worlds. Several have four-wheel drive (these cars may be called SUVs). Crossovers are an an ideal height for installing child seats; families are increasingly buying them over hatchbacks.

Popular large crossovers
What is a crossover?

This usually describes a vehicle with the mechanical parts from a traditional car (like a supermini or family car), which makes them economical and comfortable to drive, crossed with the high driving position and practicality of an off-roader.

What is an SUV? 

The letters stand for sport-utility vehicle. The first SUVs had lots of space for extreme sports equipment and four-wheel drive, so adventurers could reach the best surfing beaches, or hill-tops for paragliding. More details

Ideal type of car for

✔  Practical interior
✔  Passenger visibility
✔  Towing

Not so good for

Driving fun
Bargain prices
Performance 

People carriers/MPVs

These family-sized minibuses, maximise interior space and practicality for a reasonable price. This does mean that they aren’t the most stylish cars on the road, or much fun to drive, but they will carry families and their luggage in comfort, with seven-seat versions available. These are commonly referred to as MPVs in the trade, standing for multi-purpose vehicle.

Popular MPVs

Ideal type of car for

✔  Large families
✔  Bulky luggage (with seats folded)
✔  Value

Not so good for

Style
Driving fun
Performance

Large cars

Luxury cars

Among the most comfortable vehicles you can buy, with the latest technology and luxury fittings in the front and back for owners who like to be chauffeured. In the most upmarket cases, you might find cars of this style named as limousines.

Popular luxury cars

Ideal type of car for

✔  Smooth ride
✔  Being chauffeur driven
✔  Cutting-edge technology

Not so good for

Anyone who has to ask the price
Versatile luggage space
Narrow roads 

Large SUVs

With a barn-sized interior, soft, comfortable air suspension and the ability to tackle tough off-road routes, these are the ultimate in luxury, go-anywhere vehicles. In most cases, these will be equipped with four-wheel drive.

Popular large SUVs

Ideal type of car for

✔  All-weather and surfaces
✔  Vast interior space
✔  Comfort

Not so good for

Parking
Price
Sporty driving 

Cars with extra luggage space

Estate cars

Add a rear extension to a family hatchback and you get an estate car with a huge boot. Ideal for families who need to cram in buggies and bags, modern estates are more stylish than the boxy designs of the past. There's a number of naming variants here, manufacturers are known to brand these cars as fastback, shooting brake, touring, tourer or avant. They sounds exciting, but they all mean a hatchback with a big boot.

Popular estate cars

Ideal type of car for

✔  Families
✔  Carrying flat-pack furniture
✔  Versatile interior

Not so good for

Tight parking spots
Very cheapest running costs
Nimble driving

Pick-ups

Typically fitted with four wheel drive and powerful diesel engines, pick-ups can carry the contents of your garden shed on their large loading area at the back. Their power and grip also makes them great tow cars. Double-cab models have four doors for more practicality.

Popular pick-ups

Ideal type of car for

✔  Large luggage capacity
✔  Off-road
✔  Towing

Not so good for

Comfort
Hi-tech parts
Narrow streets

Best-selling examples Volkswagen Amarok, Nissan Navara

 

Fun cars

Coupes

Style, sportiness and comfort are meant to come together in coupes, which traditionally have big engines, two doors, and a swooping roof. But you can now buy four-door coupes and SUVs, with roofs that sweep down at the back.

Popular Coupes

Ideal type of car for

✔  Looking stylish
✔  Performance and comfort
✔  Couples

Not so good for

Rear space
Luggage
Cost

Sportscars

Sportscars have flamboyant styling and are built with fast acceleration, speed and driving fun in mind, which usually means that they are less comfortable and practical (with only two seats) than a coupe. Their performance can only really be tested at a racing circuit on a track day.

Popular Sportscars

Ideal type of car for

✔  Speed
✔  Fun
✔  Noise

Not so good for

More than two people
Cheap motoring
Shy and retiring drivers 

Convertibles

Convertibles allow you to lower the roof and let the sun in - it's a wonder they're popular at all in rainy Britain. Generally there are two options when it comes to convertible roofs. You can choose from a heavy folding hardtop metal roof or a soft-top fabric one that’s lighter but less secure. Sportier convertibles tend to be called roadsters, but there's no actual difference between the two. 

These sun-seeking models will also be branded as cabriolets, soft-tops, hardtops and spiders, but no matter what you call it, there's little else that can match the experience of driving with the roof down.

Popular convertibles

Ideal type of car for

✔  Sunny summer days
✔  Country roads
✔  Second car

Not so good for

Rain
Cost-conscious buyers
Practicality 

Supercars

Big on noise, speed and power, supercars are even bigger on price. With lightweight materials and sophisticated engine parts, they can accelerate from 0-62mph in around 3sec and reach 200mph. But many owners stick to posing as they cruise around slowly in expensive parts of town.

Popular supercars

Ideal type of car for

✔  Top speed
✔  Hi-tech parts
✔  Getting attention

Not so good for

Fuel economy
Speed bumps
Insurance costs 

Hot hatches

By boosting a hatchback’s engine until it screams under the bonnet, engineers created the hot hatch, which has all the practicality of a family car and performance to rival a Porsche. The best models have upgraded mechanical parts that make the car’s steering more fun and precise in corners.

Popular hot hatches

Ideal type of car for

✔  Driving enthusiasts with a family
✔  Affordable performance
✔  Easy servicing at main dealers

Not so good for

Fuel economy
Comfortable ride
Distinctive interior 

4x4s

Most crossovers and SUVs never stray off road, so they are designed to be best on tarmac. Proper 4x4 off-roaders are most at home when they are axle-deep in mud and are set up to tackle the toughest terrain. This can make them feel a bit bouncy and unsettled on the road.

Popular 4x4s

Ideal type of car for

✔  Farmers
✔  Off-road enthusiasts
✔  Treacherous weather

Not so good for

Comfortable and quiet road use
Fuel economy
Luxury fittings 

 

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