If you’re looking for a new car, or you just want to work out the differences between each car type, this guide will take you through the most common shapes and sizes.
Mini or city car
These three or five door models are the most affordable new cars on sale.
They’re cheap to run, so ideal for anyone who wants to keep motoring costs low.
Their diminutive size makes them great in crowded city streets; they’re cheap to run and generally easy to drive and park, while safety has improved greatly with the latest models.
Welcome to Britain’s most popular type of car.
Available with three or five doors, these cars are a bit bigger than city cars. They’re also cheap to buy and run, can be surprisingly well-equipped and are now large enough to serve as a small family’s main car or often as a second car.
Small family hatchback, lower medium or compact family car
This has been the staple diet of British drivers since 1980s. Now, nearly all carmakers offer one in their range – even upmarket brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
There are three and five-door layouts, and both the cabin and boot should be substantially larger and more accommodating than either a supermini or city car. These can make the perfect main family car.
MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle) or people carrier
Drivers typically choose MPVs for their large cabins, big boots and the ability to tailor the layout of the seats to suit what you need to do with the car, such as carry six passengers, or fill it with furniture.
They come in compact, medium and large sizes, and seat between five and seven. Some, like the VW Caravelle, carry eight people. Most come with five doors, some have sliding rear doors.
Large family car, upper medium or saloon
This used to be Britain’s most popular type of car but their popularity has waned as smaller cars have become more capable.
All offer four doors, sometimes five, but four-door only models aren’t as practical as hatchbacks or estates because their boot access makes it difficult to carry bulky objects.
Can’t fit all of your life into a small family hatchback or saloon but don’t need the flexible seating arrangements of an MPV? You need an estate.
These come in various sizes, all with five doors. Some ‐ including the latest Mercedes E-Class and Volvo V90 ‐ even offer an extra pair of seats in the boot, meaning they can carry seven people.
Coupes tend to be based on a saloon or hatch, but sacrifice space in favour of head-turning styling.
They usually offer four seats and a boot, but the back seats will be decidedly snug, because the roof line is low so as to make the car appear more sleek and dramatic.
There are coupes of all shapes and sizes, and therefore budgets.
Four-door coupes are for those who like a car that looks good but, unlike a coupe, has back doors, making it easy to climb in and out of the back seats.
They began as expensive, luxury models but many carmakers are now offering more affordable versions.
Crossover or dual purpose
The ambiguous term ‘crossover’ describes a mix between a hatchback, estate and SUV. They primarily offer the rugged looks of an SUV without the chunky running costs of having four-wheel drive capability.
These make good family cars because they stand quite high off the ground, so are easier to get into and put kids into their child seats.
SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle)
The original SUV was the BMW X5, in 1999. Since then, they have boomed in popularity thanks to their practicality, off-road ability and image.
There are compact, medium and large SUVs, all with five doors and many with four-wheel drive.
Running costs ‐ from fuel consumption to car insurance to tyre bills ‐ can be high, so make sure this is the right car for your needs and budget before taking the plunge.
The SUV-coupe is effectively what happens when you take a large, imposing SUV and make it less practical with even greater visual impact.
The swooping roofline means restricted headroom in the back and usually a smaller boot. There are large and medium-size versions, but as with SUVs the running costs tend to be quite high.
The traditional 4x4 is big, strong, and able to tackle rough terrain should the need arise.
Some offer flexible seating for up to seven people, making them a hit with families with a thirst for adventure.
However, they tend to be very heavy so guzzle fuel and quickly wear through their expensive tyres and brakes.
Cabriolet or convertible
These enable you to lower the roof and catch the sun’s rays at a moment’s notice. They have seating for at least four people, a larger boot and more cabin space than a roadster or sports car.
For serious fun in the sun, a roadster is the only way to go. These two‐seaters feature a folding soft or hard top and are more driver-focused than cabriolets.