Types of car

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

BuyaCar team
Oct 21, 2019

If you're fresh from your first delve into the used car market, or even if you're a long-time trawler of classifieds, making sense of the minefield that is motoring terminolgy can be something of a challenge. 

You probably know what you need that car to do, how many seats it needs and what have you, but does that mean you need a hatchback or a coupe? Well a coupe will traditionally offer seating or two, while a hatchback is more likely to cater for four or five incumbents.

 

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. What you might not know is that these are all one and the same, but depending on which brand you are looking at, they will refer to an estate car with a different term. Less than helpful.

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.

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.

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 Crossover/SUVs

Similar in length and width to superminis, these cars are easier to park because they are taller. This 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 suspensiomn for a comfortable ride and firm suspension to prevent leaning.

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

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 hatchbacks but saloon cars are often quieter and more fun to drive than hatchbacks. Many buyers think they look more stylish. Larger models are more comfortable in the back and typically come with the latest technology and options.

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 than hatchbacks, but often quieter, and sturdier, which can make the car slightly more precise and fun to drive. Some have a slot in the seats so skis or flat-pack furniture can fit, partly poking out into the interior.

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

Crossover/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 carrier/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

Estates

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: no-one knows why they are so popular in rainy Britain. You can choose from a hard-top folding metal roof or soft-top fabric one that’s lighter but less secure. Sportier convertibles tend to be called roadsters. These sunseeking models will also be branded as cabriolets, soft-tops, hardtops, spiders and roadsters, each offering you the chance to catch those rays.

Popular convertibles

Ideal type of car for

✔  Sunny summer days
✔  Country roads
✔  Second car

Not so good for

Rain
Cost-conscious buyers
Practicality

Best-selling examples Mercedes SLC, Mazda MX-5

 

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 

Read more about:

Latest car buying advice

  1. Cash vs finance: how to budget for a car

  2. Cheaper used car tax: road tax rules before April 2017

  3. Second-hand HP (Hire Purchase finance)

What our customers say