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Different Car Body Styles Explained

Educational  ·  December 6, 2019

Different Car Body Styles Explained

Pretty much like shoes, cars come in different shapes and sizes. People have varying tastes when it comes to cars. For this reason, the automotive industry has evolved to meet the customers’ needs.

While some customers have a liking for convertibles, others may prefer crossovers. As of the moment, there are many car body styles in the market. It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between car body styles.

It is no surprise that some people confuse these body styles and don't precisely know the body style of their cars. Crossovers and SUVs, sedans and coupes, for instance, are some of the body styles that are commonly misidentified.

Therefore, it is essential to know and differentiate each of these car body styles. Classification of autos using their body style helps one understand their needs. There are other ways of classifying these cars, but today our focus will be on their body styles.

Note that some of the body styles we will discuss below might not be available in your region. Car manufacturers sometimes make specific body styles only for some countries and regions.

Cars are classed according to size, market segment, and other criteria, but for now, let’s tell them apart according to their body styles.

1. Sedan

Also referred to as a saloon in other regions, the sedan is the most popular body style on our roads today. On the front exterior, a bonnet covers the engine and battery. They also have a luggage boot at the rear end. It has a fixed roof with a horizontal roofline that extends well over the second-row seating before sloping down over the boot.

In its interior are two rows of seats. Sedans have four doors and feature a 3-box configuration as they have three separate compartments – an engine, cabin, and boot area.

Generally, sedans are cheaper and offer better mileage as well as handling. Their low centre of gravity and closeness to the ground allow them to negotiate sharp corners with ease, which explains why they are less likely to tip compared to SUVs.

The sedan is an ideal choice if you are looking for a commuter vehicle that can accommodate two or three passengers (not counting yourself as the driver, of course). Their biggest drawback perhaps is that they can't seat more than three passengers without compromising comfort.

If you ride with four or more people regularly and space is an all-important aspect for you, then you should consider other options, such as a crossover.

The Mercedes E500, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Accord are all examples of sedans. 

2. Convertible

Sometimes known as cabriolets, these cars have a distinct feature that distinguishes them from any other car types. Convertibles have retractable or foldable roofs that are either soft or hard, which are either made of canvas, plastic, aluminium or even steel. 

Most convertibles are 2-door cars, although there are 4-door luxury models in the market. They can convert from being open-topped to closed-topped cars hence their name. When retracted, the roof takes up most of the cargo area.

The BMW Z4, Honda S660, and the roadster Mercedes-Benz SL-Class are examples of convertibles.

3. Coupe

Coupes are typical 2-door, low roof cars with a fixed roof, unlike convertibles. In the past, convertibles were called drop-head coupe, but as time went by, the term coupe was exclusively referred to the fixed-roof models. A defining characteristic of coupes is their roofline that starts to slope downward from the B-pillar to the boot. It is different from the sedan's roofline, which slopes down from the C-pillar giving ample headroom for passengers in the second row.   

Coupes are designed to be stylish. Most accommodate only two people, although others have four seats with a 2+2 configuration. The second-row seating, if at all provided, is usually cramped for adult passengers. For these cars, muscle and performance are the main priorities.

Just like convertibles, coupes are preferred by commuters who don't carry along passengers. They are also ideal for couples with no kids and people in relationships. If you have a family and often travel together, you should go for a bigger car such as a crossover.

These cars can either take the 2-box or 3-box style. Some popular coupes are the Ford Mustang, Nissan Fairlady Z, and Mazda RX8.

Sports cars come either as a convertible roadster or sporty coupe, although not all coupes and convertibles are sports cars. These 2-door cars carry a wealthy and lavish tag and come with a balanced chassis, light engine, and steady brakes. They have an abundance of power as well as agile steering. As they are always associated with the wealthy, you expect their interior to be luxurious and well-finished. The S-segment Toyota MR2 is an example of a sports car that has versions in both coupe and convertible body styles.

4. Wagons

Station wagons, aka wagons or estate, have an extended rear. They typically have an extra seat for passengers or cargo space. Wagons were the family choice between the 50s and 70s.

Their roofline extends beyond the rear doors, which have a near-vertical surface. Apart from spacious interiors, they also have better efficiency and higher ground clearance. Wagons were renowned due to their ability to handle rugged terrains back in the day. 

Examples of wagons include Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen, Ford Flex, Kia Carens (aka Rondo), and Subaru Outback.

5. Hatchback 

Hatchbacks are easy to spot from their gradually sloping roofline starting from the B-pillar. They also have a hinged door that swings upwards to open. Hatchbacks can have either three or five doors. The rear door is designed to open upwards to increase the cargo space. They are compact compared to other car types such as SUVs. 

The engines of such car types usually have a distinct cabin while the cargo and passenger areas are fused. They have a passenger capacity of four to five. The backseats of a hatchback can fold flat to give more room for cargo. The seat bottoms of the rear seats can also fold up. Hatchbacks take the 2-box configuration.

If you are looking for a car that offers comfort, safety, and secure handling, the hatchback should be top on your list. Some of the popular hatchbacks on our roads today are Toyota Echo (aka Toyota Vitz and rebranded as Daihatsu Charade), Nissan March, Suzuki Swift, and the Volkswagen Golf.

6. Sport Utility Vehicles

Sport Utility Vehicles abbreviated as SUVs are large. They are sometimes classed as light trucks and have a raised centre of gravity and ground clearance. They provide the driver with a better view of the road. 

Size and comfort are the top priorities when it comes to SUVs. They have a masculine appeal and offer a great experience both on and off-road.

The Toyota Land Cruiser is an excellent example of a sport utility vehicle. Others include the Volkswagen Touareg, Ford Endeavour and Dodge Durango.

7. Crossover 

Crossovers sometimes referred to as Cross Utility Vehicles (CUVare a hybrid of a sedan and SUV. They are built on a sedan platform but borrow some features such as high ground clearance and seating position from the SUV. Unlike SUVs, it's best to limit crossovers to light off-road driving. 

Crossovers are available in different drivetrains. They can take the rear-wheel, four-wheel and all-wheel drivetrain systems. Compared to SUVs, crossovers are cheaper and consume less fuel. They have increased room for cargo as well as better handling.

The Ford Freestyle is a perfect example of a crossover. Other popular crossovers are Jeep Compass, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Peugeot 2008, and Nissan Rogue. 

8. Pickups 

Just like convertibles, pickups are also easily distinguishable from other car body styles because of their open cargo area, called the bed or tray. They can take a two-door or four-door configuration. Two-door pickups are called single cabs while their four-door variants are called double cabs. 

Pickups that take the coupe-style are quite common in Australia and New Zealand. They are commonly referred to as 'utes'.

They are ideal for people who move a lot of cargo on a day to day basis. Perhaps the most familiar pickup on the road is the Isuzu D-Max which is a double-cab. Others are the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado/S-10.

9. Vans

Vans, also known as multi-purpose vehicles, are usually taller than estates. They can accommodate seven or more passengers in their three rows of seats.

They have a boxy shape and square-ish doors. The high headroom and extra space compensate for their lack of sleekness and make vans perfect for transporting people or cargo. 

There are full-size vans, passenger vans, and minivans available in the market. Typical van examples are Nissan Quest LE, Toyota Sienna XLE, Nissan Urvan, and Subaru 360.

If you’re looking for used car body panels and auto parts for these various body styles, especially for models that are no longer in production, check out our sellers’ listings at!


Sam O.

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