Car classification

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Car classification is a somewhat subjective subject, as many vehicles fall between classes or even outside all of them. Not all car types are sold in all countries and names differ in some cases between British and American English. The following are commonly used classifications. Where applicable, the relevant EuroNCAP classifications are shown.

United States EuroNCAP Euro size Example
Microcar - Microcar Smart Fortwo
 - Supermini A class Fiat Panda
Subcompact B class Ford Fiesta
Compact Small family car C class Ford Focus
Mid-size Large family car D class Volkswagen Passat
Full-size E class Chrysler 300
Luxury Executive car F class Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Sports - Sports Porsche 911
Convertible - Cabriolet BMW 3-Series
Roadster Roadster Roadster BMW Z4
 - Small MPV MIni MPV Opel Meriva
 - Compact MPV Renault Scénic
Minivan MPV Large MPV Toyota Previa
Crossover SUV Small Off-Roader - Honda CR-V
SUV Large Off-Roader - Jeep Grand Cherokee


Main article Microcar
Main article Bubble car

Straddling the boundary between car and motorbike, these vehicles have engines of only a few hundred ccs, typically seat only 2 people, and are generally unorthodox in construction. Many only have three wheels. They are especially associated with post-war Europe, where their appearance led them to be called Bubble cars. A contrast to the traditional microcar is the modern Smart Fortwo.

Examples of microcars:


Main article Hatchback

City car

Main article City car

A city car is a small car intended for use in urban areas. Unlike microcars, city car's greater speed and occupant protection allow relative safety in mixed traffic environments and in all weather conditions. While it may be capable of freeway speeds this is not the main purpose of the car.

In Japan, a specially restricted type of these (under 3.40m long) are called the keicar, where taxes and insurance are lower.

Examples of city cars:

Supermini / Subcompact car

Main article Supermini car
Main article Subcompact car

This class, known as superminis in Europe and subcompact cars in North America, covers the not-so-small hatchbacks and the smallest sedans. These vehicles are the smallest cars widely sold in the North American market. They have usually three, four or five doors and are designed to seat comfortably four adults and a child, but can take five adults. Current supermini hatchbacks are around 3.90m long and sedans 4.20m long.

In Europe, the first superminis were the Fiat 500 of 1957 and the Austin Mini of 1959. Today, superminis are some of the biggest selling cars in Europe.

Examples of superminis / subcompact cars:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Superminis'.

Small family car / Compact car

Main article Family car
Main article Compact car

Compact cars are usually referred to the longest hatchbacks or the smallest family cars. Nowadays they are about 4.25 m long, have room for five adults and their engines are usually around 1.6 L to 2.0 L.

Examples of hatchback small family cars / compact cars:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Small Family Cars'.

Sedan/saloon and station wagon / estate

Main article: Sedan (car) (aka saloon)
Main article: Station wagon (aka estate)

Family car

Main article Family car

Longer than hatchbacks, they have room for five adults and a larger boot, depending on the size. The most popular layouts are sedan/saloon and station wagon/estate. This class makes up the largest percentage of vehicles in most developed countries.

Examples of sedan/estate small family cars / compact cars:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Small Family Cars'.

Examples of large family cars / mid-size cars:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Large Family Cars'.

Lincoln Town Car

Executive car / Luxury car

Main article Luxury car
Main article Executive car

An executive car or luxury car are typically four-door sedan/saloon cars. They are usually very roomy, powerful, and luxurious, which is a reason why they are more expensive than "standard" sedans.

Examples of executive cars / mid-size luxury cars:

Examples of full-size luxury cars:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Executive Cars'.

Sportive cars

VW Golf GTI Cabriolet

Hot hatch / sport compact

Main article Hot hatch
Main article Sport compact

A hot hatch or sport compact is a high-performance hatchback based on standard superminis or small family cars, with improved straight line performance, handling and styling. Hot hatches make up a large section of the market for hatchbacks.

Examples of hot hatches:

Sports sedan / saloon

Main article Sports sedan

These are high performance versions of sedans. Originally homologated for production based motorsports (touring cars) and like sedans, seats four people.

Examples of sports sedans / saloons:

A Honda NSX

Sports car

Main article Sports car

This small lightweight class combines performance and handling. Often inspired by racing vehicles. This class ranges from sporty vehicles such as the MX-5 to derivatives of true racing thoroughbreds such as the Lotus Elise.

Examples of sports cars:

Jaguar XK8

Grand tourer

Main article Grand tourer

Larger, more powerful and heavier than sports cars, these vehicles typically have a FR layout and seating for four or 2+2. They are more expensive than sports cars but not than supercars, and often combine modern technology with hand-built construction.

Examples of grand tourers:

Lamborghini Gallardo


Main article Supercar

They are ultra-high performance cars, typically very expensive, luxurious, and exceptionally fast. Supercars typically contain cutting-edge technology, and may be assembled partly or completely by hand.

Examples of supercars:

See also: List of supercars

Muscle car

Main article Muscle car

The Muscle car produced in the US and Australia. The first muscle cars appeared in the mid 1960s and died off in the US during the early 1970s due to a combination of spiralling insurance costs and the 1973 energy crisis. Muscle cars achieved continued popularity in Australia until the early 1980s. A smaller offshoot, the pony car, still exists in the form of the Ford Mustang. The epitome of brute-force power, these cars shoe-horned giant engines into mid-sized cars which were often, from the factory, inadequate to handle the power and performance; handling was subordinate to straight-line acceleration.

Examples of US muscle cars:

Examples of Australian muscle cars:

Cabriolet / convertible

*Main article Cabriolet *Main article Convertible

Also called an open saloon, roadster or drop-head coupe, this type of car has a roof (fabric, vinyl, metal or glass) which can be folded away. Convertibles were very popular in hotter places before the advent of automotive air-conditioning, but also in colder climates (so that in summer the driver can enjoy driving oper-air the few warm days). 2-seater convertible sports cars are commonly named roadster or spyders.

Examples of cabriolets / convertibles:


Main article 4x4

Also know as off-roaders, there are two general trends among them: SUVs and crossover SUVs.


Main article SUV

SUVs are off-road vehicles with a body-on-frame chassis, all-wheel drive and true offroad capability. SUVs have severe problems with crash incompatibility, and are typically of more primitive design than smaller cars. Combined with serious handling issues in some vehicles due to the high centre of gravity, this makes them a dangerous vehicle in inexperienced hands.

Examples of 4x4s / SUVs:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Large Off-Roaders'.

Crossover SUV

Main article Crossover SUV

Crossover SUVs have a monocoque construction and relatively normal ground clearance. Some of them use electronic systems like traction control and pneumatic/hydraulic suspension, which give them good capability in many off-road situations, particularly sand and graded roads.

Examples of crossover SUVs:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Small Off-Roaders'.

Minivan / MPV

Main article Minivan
Main article Multi-purpose vehicle

Also known as people carriers, this class of cars resemble family cars but are taller with a shorter hood/bonnet and are designed for maximum practicality. The larger minivans may have seating for seven or eight people.

The increased height of these vehicles above 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 over their similar low-roof models.

Citroën Xsara Picasso

Examples of mini MPVs:

Examples of compact MPVs:

Both categories are equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'Small MPVs'.

Dodge Grand Caravan

Examples of large MPVs / minivans:

This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class 'MPVs'.


Brass Era car

Main article Brass Era car

Personal luxury car

Main article Personal luxury car

Recreational vehicle

Main article Recreational vehicle

Vintage car

Main article Vintage car

See also

External links