Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for innumerable purposes including regulation, description and categorization, among others. This article details commonly used classification schemes in use worldwide.
Vehicles can be categorized in numerous ways. For example, by means of the body style and the "level of commonality in vehicle construction as defined by number of doors and roof treatment (e.g., sedan, convertible, fastback, hatchback) and number of seats" that require seat belts to meet safety regulations.
Regulatory agencies may also establish a vehicle classification system for determining a tax amount. In the United Kingdom, a vehicle is taxed according to the vehicle's construction, engine, weight, type of fuel and emissions, as well as the purpose for which it is used. Other jurisdictions may determine vehicle tax based upon environmental principles, such as the user pays principle. In another example, certain cities in the United States in the 1920s chose to exempt electric-powered vehicles because officials believed those vehicles did not cause "substantial wear upon the pavements."
In an example from private enterprise, many car rental companies use the ACRISS Car Classification Code to describe the size, type and equipment of vehicles to ensure that rental agents can match customer needs to available vehicles, regardless of distance between the agent and the rental company or the languages spoken by either party. In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses a scheme it has developed that takes into account a combination of both vehicle size and other vehicle features such as length and wheelbase.
|Highway Loss Data Institute classification||Definition|
|Sports||Cars with significant high performance features|
|Luxury||Higher-end cars that are not classified as sports|
|Large||Length more than 495.3 cm (195 in) and wheelbase more than 279.4 cm (110 in)|
|Midsize||Length 457.3 to 495.3 cm (180–195 in) and wheelbase 266.8 to 279.4 cm (105–110 in)|
|Small||Length less than 457.2 cm (180 in) and wheelbase less than 266.7 cm (105 in)|
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) separates vehicles into classes by the curb weight of the vehicle with standard equipment including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning, if so equipped.
|NHTSA classification||Code||Curb weight|
|Passenger cars: mini||PC/Mi||1,500 to 1,999 lb (680–907 kg)|
|Passenger cars: light||PC/L||2,000 to 2,499 lb (907–1,134 kg)|
|Passenger cars: compact||PC/C||2,500 to 2,999 lb (1,134–1,360 kg)|
|Passenger cars: medium||PC/Me||3,000 to 3,499 lb (1,361–1,587 kg)|
|Passenger cars: heavy||PC/H||3,500 lb (1,588 kg) and over|
|Sport utility vehicles||SUV||–|
The United States Federal Highway Administration has developed a classification scheme used for automatically calculating road use tolls. There are two broad categories depending on whether the vehicle carries passengers or commodities. Vehicles that carry commodities are further subdivided by number of axles and number of units, including both power and trailer units.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has developed a classification scheme used to compare fuel economy among similar vehicles. Passenger vehicles are classified based on a vehicle's total interior passenger and cargo volumes. Trucks are classified based upon their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Heavy duty vehicles are not included within the EPA scheme.
|EPA car class||Total passenger and cargo volume (cu. ft.)|
|Two-seaters||Any (designed to seat only two adults)|
|Minicompact||Less than 85 cu ft (2,407 l)|
|Subcompact||85 to 99 cu ft (2,407–2,803 l)|
|Compact||100 to 109 cu ft (2,832–3,087 l)|
|Mid-size||110 to 119 cu ft (3,115–3,370 l)|
|Large||120 cu ft (3,398 l) or more|
|Small station wagons||Less than 130 cu ft (3,681 l)|
|Mid-size station wagons||130 to 159 cu ft (3,681–4,502 l)|
|Large station wagons||160 cu ft (4,531 l) or more|
A similar set of classes is used by the Canadian EPA. The Canadian National Collision Database (NCDB) system defines "passenger car" as a unique class, but also identifies two other categories involving passenger vehicles—the "passenger van" and "light utility vehicle"—and these categories are inconsistently handled across the country with the boundaries between the vehicles increasingly blurred.
Size and usage-based vehicle classification systems worldwide
This is a summary table listing several different methods of vehicle classification.
Straddling the boundary between car and motorbike, these vehicles have engines under 1.0 litre, typically seat only two passengers, and are sometimes unorthodox in construction. Some microcars are three-wheelers, while the majority have four wheels. Microcars were popular in post-war Europe, where their appearance led them to be called "Bubble cars". More recent microcars are often electric powered.
Examples of microcars:
In 2012, Japan's Transport and Tourism Ministry allowed local government to use ultracompact cars as transport for residents and tourists in their limiting areas. The size of ultracompact cars will be less than minicars, but have engine greater than 50cc displacement and able to transport 1 or 2 persons. Ultracompact cars cannot use minicars standard, because of strict safety standards for minicars. The regulation about running capacity and safety performance of ultracompact cars will be published in early autumn. Today, there are cars smaller than ultracompact cars, called category-1 motorized vehicles which it has 50cc displacement or less and only one seat for the driver.
A city car is a small automobile intended for use in urban areas. Unlike microcars, a city car's greater speed, capacity and (in perception at least) occupant protection are safer in mixed traffic environments and weather conditions. While city cars can reach highway speeds, that is not their intended use. In Japan, city cars are called kei cars. Kei cars have to meet strict size and engine requirements: engines have a maximum displacement of 660 cc and the car's length must be under 3400 mm.
Examples of kei cars:
Examples of city cars:
Other small cars:
This class is known as supermini in the UK, subcompact in North America. Superminis have three, four or five doors, and even as an estate shape. They are designed to seat four passengers comfortably. Current supermini hatchbacks are approximately 3900 mm long, while saloons and estate cars are around 4200 mm long. Currently (2013) sedan variants are generally not available in Europe and are marketed at a lower price than hatchback models in North America.
In Europe, the first superminis were the Fiat 500 of 1957 and the Austin Mini of 1959. Nowadays, superminis can be some premium cars, like the Citroën DS3, named 2010 Car of the Year by Top Gear Magazine. Superminis are some of the best selling vehicles in Europe with 25% of the market shares (2013). In 2007, the Peugeot 207 has been the most sold car in Europe, whereas the best seller is almost systematically a car from the compact segment.
In Australia, the motoring press tends to distinguish between a light car such as the Daihatsu Charade or early models of the Holden Barina, and slightly larger models such as the Ford Fiesta which is considered to be a small car. As the general size of vehicles in this class has gradually increased, the category of light car has almost disappeared.
Examples of superminis/subcompact cars:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Superminis".
Small family car/compact car
Small family/compact cars refer to the hatchbacks and shortest saloons and estate cars with similar size. They are approximately 4,250 mm (167 in) long in case of hatchbacks and 4,500 mm (177 in) in the case of saloons and estate cars. Compact cars have room for five adults and usually have engines between 1.4 and 2.2 litres, but some have engines of up to 2.5 litres. Some early "muscle" compacts had optional V8 engines of up to 6.6 liters. These are the most popular vehicles in most developed countries.
Examples of hatchback small family cars/compact cars:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Small Family Cars". In Australia, this class is generally referred to as being small-medium sized cars.
Large family / mid-size
Traditionally, mid-size cars are drawn with a sedan shape, nevertheless some designers introduced some innovations during the 2010s, like the Citroën DS5 which is a hatchback large family car. This joins the general trend of making the design in a more sportive way and with a more cross-over approach, like liftback for SUV or four doors sportive sedan coupés.
Saloons / sedans
Large family / mid-size
A class described as "large family" in Europe and "mid-size" in the USA, these cars have room for five adults and a large trunk (boot). Engines are more powerful than small family/compact cars and six-cylinder engines are more common than in smaller cars. Car sizes vary from region to region; in Europe, large family cars are rarely over 4,700 mm (15.4 ft) long, while in North America, Middle East and Australasia they may be well over 4,800 mm (15.7 ft).
Examples of large family cars/mid-size cars:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Large Family Cars". These are known in Australia as Medium sized cars.
Full size / large
This term is used most in North America, Middle East and Australia where it refers to the largest affordable sedans on the market. Full-size cars may be well over 4,900 mm (16.1 ft) long.
Examples of full-size cars:
Crossover SUVs are derived from an automobile platform using a monocoque construction with light off-road capability and lower ground clearance than SUVs. They may be styled similar to conventional "off-roaders", or may be look similar to an estate car or station wagon.
Examples of crossover SUVs:
Minivans / MPVs
Also known as "people carriers", this class of cars resembles tall estate cars. Larger MPVs may have seating for up to eight passengers. (Beyond that size, similar vehicles tend to be derived from vans (see below) and in Europe are called minibuses.)
Being taller than 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 than hatchbacks or estate cars.
Examples of mini MPVs:
Examples of compact MPVs:
Both categories are equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Small MPVs".
Examples of large MPVs / minivans:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "MPVs".
These are luxurious equivalents to mid-size and compact cars. Rear seat room and trunk space are smaller than executive cars simply because of their smaller overall size.
Examples of compact premium cars/entry-level luxury cars:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Large Family Cars".
These are luxurious equivalents to full-size cars. This also refers to the largest hatchbacks within the similar length in this class, such as the Porsche Panamera.
Examples of executive cars/mid-luxury cars:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Executive Cars".
Full-size luxury / Grand saloon
Also known as full-size luxury cars, grand saloons, or premium large cars, while "Oberklasse" is used in Germany. Typically a four-door saloon (sedan). These are the most powerful saloons, with six, eight and twelve-cylinder engines and have more equipment than smaller models. Vehicles in this category include some of the models from the flagship lines of luxury car brands, such as Cadillac CT6, Lincoln Town Car and Maserati Quattroporte.
Examples of grand saloons:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Executive Cars".
Estate cars / station wagons
A station wagon (also known as an estate or estate car) is an automobile with a body style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design—to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume.
Examples of estates/station wagons:
A hot hatch is a high-performance hatchback, based on standard superminis or small family cars with improved performance, handling and styling. Hot hatches are very popular in Europe, where hatchbacks are by far the most common body style for this size of car. In North America, sport compacts are usually sold as saloons or coupés rather than hatchbacks.
Examples of hot hatches:
Sports saloon / sports sedan
Examples of sports saloons/sedans:
Examples of sport compact saloons/sedans:
The term "sports car" does not appear to have a clear definition. It is commonly used to describe vehicles which prioritise acceleration and handling; however, some people claim it is also defined as a vehicle with two seats.
A Sports car (sportscar or sport car) is a small, usually two-seat, two-door automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling. Sports cars may be spartan or luxurious but high maneuverability and minimum weight are requisite.
Examples of sports cars:
Larger, more powerful and heavier than sports cars, these vehicles typically have a FR layout and seating for four passengers (2+2). These are more expensive than sports cars but not as expensive as supercars. Grand Tourers encompass both luxury and high-performance. Some grand tourers are hand-built.
Examples of grand tourers:
Supercar is a term generally used for ultra-high-end exotic cars, whose performance is superior to that of its contemporaries. The proper application of the term is subjective and disputed, especially among enthusiasts.
Examples of supercars:
The muscle car term generally refers to rear wheel drive mid-size cars with powerful V8 engines, manufactured in the U.S. Some definitions limit it to two-door vehicles; however, others include four-door body style versions. Although opinions vary, it is generally accepted that classic muscle cars were produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Muscle cars were also produced in Australia and other nations.
Examples of American muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s:
Examples of Australian muscle cars:
Examples of pony cars:
A body design that features a flexibly operating roof for open or enclosed mode driving. Also known as a cabriolet or roadster (if a 2-seater). Historically, convertibles used folding roof structures with fabric or other flexible materials. Some designs have roofs made of metal or other stiff materials that retract into the body.
Examples of cabriolets:
Off-road vehicles, or "off-roaders" are sometimes referred to as "four-wheel drives", "four by fours", or 4x4s — this can happen colloquially in cases where certain models or even an entire range does not possess four-wheel drive.
Sport utility vehicle
Sport utility vehicles are off-road vehicles with four-wheel drive and true off-road capability. They most often feature high ground clearance and an upright, boxy body design. Sport Utilities are typically defined by a body on frame construction which offers more off-road capability but reduced on-road ride comfort and handling compared to a cross-over or car based utility vehicle.
Examples of compact SUVs:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Small Off-Roaders".
Examples of SUVs:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Large Off-Roaders".
In some countries, the term "van" can refer to a small panel van based on a passenger car design (often the estate model / station wagon); it also refers to light trucks, which themselves are sometimes based on SUVs or MPVs. (But note that those retaining seats and windows, while being larger and more utilitarian than MPVs, may be called "minibuses".) The term is also used in the term "camper van" (or just "camper") — equivalent to a North American recreational vehicle (RV).
In the United States, the term "van" refers to vehicles that, like European minibuses, are even larger than large MPVs and are rarely seen being driven for domestic purposes — except for "conversion vans". These possess extremely large interior space and are often more intended for hauling cargo than people. Most vans use body-on-frame construction and are thus suitable for extensive modification and coachwork, known as conversion. Conversion vans are often quite luxurious, boasting comfortable seats, soft rides, built-in support for electronics such as television sets, and other amenities. The more elaborate conversion vans straddle the line between cars and recreational vehicles.
Examples of North American "vans":
Examples of European "vans":
Examples of Japanese "vans"
Other car classification terms
- A generic South African term for light pickup truck.
- refers to cars made in the early 1900s in Europe. Baquet means bath tub. These cars had two rows of raised seats similar to horse-drawn carriages. Baquets usually did not have front doors, a top, or windshield.
- A Buggy is an automobile with wheels that project beyond the vehicle body.
- Cabrio coach
- Normally a two-door body design with special form of car roof, where a retractable textile cover amounts to a large sunroof.
- A 2-door, 2- or 4-seat car with a fixed roof. Its doors are often longer than those of an equivalent sedan and the rear passenger area smaller; the roof may also be low. In cases where the rear seats are very small and not intended for regular use it is called a 2+2 (pronounced "two plus two"). Originally, a coupé was required to have only one side window per side, but this consideration has not been used for many years.
- Coupé utility
- A passenger-car derived vehicle with an integral exterior cargo area.
- Crossover (or CUV)
- A loose marketing term to describe a vehicle that blends features of a SUV with features of a car — especially forgoing the body on frame construction of the SUV in favor of the car's unibody or monocoque construction. Crossovers usually borrow drivetrains and other parts from traditional cars in the same manufacturer's line. Crossovers typically employ an FF layout or an FF-based four-wheel drive layout with a transverse engine, rather than an FR layout or an FR-based 4WD layout with a longitudinal engine as is typically used on traditional truck-based SUVs.
- Drop Head Coupe
- Generally a European term referring to a 2-door, 4 place automobile with a retractable canvas / cloth top with both a padded headliner and rollup windows (as opposed to side curtains).
- British name for a station wagon.
- A design where the roof slopes at a smooth angle to the tail of the car, but the rear window does not open as a separate "door".
- Flower Car
- in US, similar to ute in Australia, i.e. generic for Chevy El Camino, Ford Ranchero, GMC Sprint/Diablo, etc.
- Incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged liftgate—and features such as fold-down rear seats to enable flexibility within the shared passenger/cargo volume. As a two-box design, the body style typically includes A, B and C-pillars, and may include a D-pillar.
- Originally a removable solid roof on a convertible; later, also a fixed-roof car whose doors have no fixed window frames, which is designed to resemble such a convertible.
- A converted car (often a station wagon), light truck or minivan usually used to transport the dead. Often longer and heavier than the vehicle on which they are usually based. Can sometimes double up as an ambulance in some countries, such as the United States, especially in rural areas.
- Originally, a car with a tapered rear that cuts off abruptly.
- A limousine with the passenger section covered by a convertible top.
- Leisure activity vehicle
- A small van, generally related to a supermini, with a second or even a third seat row, and a large, tall boot.
- A broad marketing term for a hatchback, which incorporates a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a top-hinged liftgate.
- By definition, a chauffeur-driven car with a (normally glass-windowed) division between the front seats and the rear. In German, the term simply means a sedan.
- Term for a boxy wagon-type of car that is smaller than a conventional minivan; often without rear sliding door(s). Examples are Citroën Picasso, Renault Scénic, Toyota Yaris Verso or Mercedes-Benz A-Class. In Japan, this term is used for Kei car based vans.
- Designed to carry fewer people than a full-size bus, generally up to 16 people in multiple rows of seats. Passenger access in normally via a sliding door on one side of the vehicle. One example of a van with a minibus version available is the Ford Transit.
- Multi-purpose vehicle, a large car or small bus designed to be used on and off-road and easily convertible to facilitate loading of goods from facilitating carrying people.
- A configuration where the third box of a three-box styling configuration is less pronounced — especially where the rear deck (third box) is short or where the rear window is upright.
- People carrier or people mover
- European name to describe what is usually referred to in North America as a Minivan.
- A Phaeton is a style of open car or carriage without proper weather protection for passengers.
- Pickup truck (or pickup)
- A light-duty, open-bed truck.
- Usually a prefix to coupé, fastback, or hardtop; completely open at the sides when the windows are down, without a central pillar, e.g. the Sunbeam Rapier fastback coupé.
- Originally an open car like a roadster, but with a soft top (cloth top) that can be raised or lowered. Unlike a convertible, it had no roll-up side windows. Now often used as slang for a convertible.
- Retractable Hardtop
- aka Coupé convertible or Coupé Cabriolet. A type of convertible forgoing a foldable textile roof in favor of a multi-segment rigid roof retracts into the lower bodywork.
- Originally a two-seat open car with minimal weather protection — without top or side glass — though possibly with optional hard or soft top and side curtains (i.e., without roll-up glass windows). In modern usage, the term means simply a two-seat sports car convertible, a variation of spyder.
- A car seating four or more with a fixed roof that is full-height up to the rear window. Known in British English as a saloon. Sedans can have 2 or 4-doors. This is the most common body style. In the U.S., this term has been used to denote a car with fixed window frames, as opposed to the hardtop style wherein the sash, if any, winds down with the glass.
- Sedan delivery
- North American term for a vehicle similar to a wagon but without side windows, similar to a panel truck but with two doors (one on each side), and one or two rear doors
- Sport utility vehicle (SUV)
- Derivative of a pickup truck or 4-wheel-drive vehicle, but with fully enclosed passenger cabin interior and carlike levels of interior equipment.
- Spyder (or Spider)
- Similar to a roadster but originally with less weather protection.Nowadays it simply means a convertible with two seater only. The name comes from the old carriages with two seats and no roof, whose small central cabin and big wheels at the corners are reminiscent of a spider.
- Initially a vehicle used to carry shooting parties with their equipment and game; later used to describe custom-built wagons by high-end coachbuilders, subsequently synonymous with station wagon or estate; and in contemporary usage a three or five-door wagons combining features of a wagon and a coupé.
- Station wagon
- A variant of a sedan/saloon, (also known as estate or estate car) or with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume; access at the back via a third or fifth door instead of a trunk lid; flexible configurations to vary passenger or cargo volume; and two or three rows of seating — in a two-box design with a A, B & C-pillar, as well as a D pillar.
- A derivative of the Targa top, called a T-bar roof, this fixed-roof design has two removable panels and retains a central narrow roof section along the front to back axis of the car (e.g. Toyota MR2 Mark I.)
- Targa top
- A semi-convertible style used on some sports cars, featuring a fully removable hard top roof panel which leaves the A and B pillars in place on the car body.
- Town car (US)
- Essentially the inverse of the landaulet, a historical body style in which the front seats were open and the rear compartment closed, normally with a removable top to cover the front chauffeur's compartment. In Europe the style is also known as Sedanca de Ville, often shortened to Sedanca or de Ville. Note that the modern Lincoln Town Car derives its name, but nothing else, from this style.
- Australian/New Zealand English term for the vehicles with a cargo bed at the rear ("Pickup" in British and in US English).
- Wagon delivery
- North American term (mainly U.S. and Canada). Similar to a sedan delivery, with four doors.
- In North America "van" refers to a truck-based commercial vehicle of the wagon style, whether used for passenger or commercial use. Usually a van has no windows at the side rear (panel van), although for passenger use, side windows are included. In other parts of the world, 'van' denotes a passenger-based wagon with no rear side windows.
Some non-English language terms are familiar from their use on imported vehicles in English-speaking nations even though the terms have not been adopted into English.
- Italian term for a roadster with no roof. The name, roughly "small boat", comes from an exclamation when the Ferrari 166MM Touring was shown.
- Italian term for a sedan.
- French term for a sedan.
- Italian term for a sport coupé.
- French term for a station wagon.
- Brazilian Portuguese term for a station wagon (specially in the state of Rio de Janeiro). Spanish term also used in Argentina and Uruguay.
- Portuguese term for a station wagon. Not used in Brazilian Portuguese.
- Portuguese nickname for a limousine (the same word for Sword – long piece of metal). Not used in Brazilian Portuguese.
- Spanish and Polish term for a van, in the latter language almost always used in its diminutive form furgonetka.
- Portuguese alternative term (less used) for a van. Used in Brazilian Portuguese, most often for vans but sometimes for panel van variants of passenger cars.
- is a German abbreviation of "Kombinationswagen" (Combination Car) and it is German name for station wagon. Since Germany is a major producer of cars for many European countries, the term Kombi in this meaning is also used in Swedish, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Slovenian, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian. In Afrikaans and in Australia, Kombi is also used to refer to a Volkswagen Microbus. In Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay the word specifically refers to the VW Microbus.
- Brazilian Portuguese term either designating a van (especially as spoken in the city of São Paulo) or a station wagon (in the city of Rio de Janeiro).
- Spanish term for a sedan. Literally means tourism, used mostly in Latin American countries and Spain.
- ACRISS Car Classification Code
- Car color
- Car safety and road safety
- Production vehicle
- Truck classification
- Vehicle category
- Vehicle size class
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