Types of car

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

BuyaCar team
Feb 27, 2019

It's no wonder that choosing a car can be confusing. Manufacturers aren't just coming up with new types of car; they are calling them by different names too.

For example, estate, shooting brake, tourer and avant are basically the same shape of car - one with a big boot.

You'll find details and explanations of all of the major types of car below, along with some less common ones too, divided into categories for size and purpose.

There are also links to advice on the best models of each type of car, as well as to the latest deals. Alternatively, click below to compare price on all current cars.

Small cars

City car

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.

Ideal type of car for

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

Not so good for

More than two people
Luggage space

Best-selling city cars Fiat 500, Hyundai i10, VW up!


Supermini / Small car

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.

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

Best-selling superminis Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Mini Hatchback  


Small Crossover / SUV

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.

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

Best-selling small crossovers Nissan Juke, Audi Q2, Vauxhall Mokka  


Family cars

Family hatchback

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.
Also known as: sportback

Ideal type of car for

✔  Families
✔  Low-cost motoring
✔  Choice of cars

Not so good for

Exciting design
High seating positions
Several suitcases

Best-selling family hatchbacks
Medium: Ford Focus, VW Golf
Large: Vauxhall Insignia, VW Passat  


Family saloon

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
Also known as: executive saloon

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

Best-selling family saloons
Medium: BMW 3-series, Jaguar XE
Large: Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-series


Crossover / SUV

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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Practical interior
✔  Passenger visibility
✔  Towing

Not so good for

Driving fun
Bargain prices

Best-selling crossovers / SUVs
Medium: Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga
Large: Volvo XC90, Audi Q7


People carrier

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.
Also known as: MPV (multi-purpose vehicle)

Ideal type of car for

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

Not so good for

Driving fun

Best-selling people carriers Citroen C4 Picasso, Ford C-Max, Vauxhall Zafira Tourer


Large cars

Luxury car

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.
Also known as: limousine

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

Best-selling luxury cars Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8, BMW 7 Series


Large SUV

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.
Also known as: luxury 4x4, Chelsea tractor

Ideal type of car for

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

Not so good for

Sporty driving

Best-selling examples Range Rover, Mercedes GLS


Cars with extra luggage space


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.
Also known as: fastback, shooting brake, touring, tourer, avant

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

Best-selling estate cars Skoda Superb estate, Mazda 6 Tourer



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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Large luggage capacity
✔  Off-road
✔  Towing

Not so good for

Hi-tech parts
Narrow streets

Best-selling examples Volkswagen Amarok, Nissan Navara


Fun cars


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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Looking stylish
✔  Performance and comfort
✔  Couples

Not so good for

Rear space

Best-selling examples BMW 4-series, Ford Mustang



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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Speed
✔  Fun
✔  Noise

Not so good for

More than two people
Cheap motoring
Shy and retiring drivers

Best-selling examples Porsche 718 Cayman, Mercedes AMG-GT



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.

Also known as: cabriolet, soft-top, hardtop, spider, roadster

Ideal type of car for

✔  Sunny summer days
✔  Country roads
✔  Second car

Not so good for

Cost-conscious buyers

Best-selling examples Mercedes SLC, Mazda MX-5



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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Top speed
✔  Hi-tech parts
✔  Getting attention

Not so good for

Fuel economy
Speed bumps
Insurance costs

Best-selling supercars Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari 488 GTB


Hot hatch

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.

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

Best-selling hot hatches Renaultsport Megane, Ford Focus RS



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.

Ideal type of car for

✔  Farmers
✔  Off-road enthusiasts
✔  Treacherous weather

Not so good for

Comfortable and quiet road use
Fuel economy
Luxury fittings

Best-selling 4x4s Jeep Wrangler, Mitsubishi Shogun



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. More details

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. More details

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. More details

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

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. More details

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. More details

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.

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