What Types of Cars are There?

There are many important factors to consider when you are looking to buy a car. With so many options, you may be wondering what types of cars are out there and which one is right for you.

There are several different makes and models which are divided into different categories based on the car body type. The main styles of car bodies are sedans, vans, wagons, hatchbacks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), pickup trucks, and coupes. Several of these also have subcategories, which I will discuss in more detail below.

What types of cars are there.

I will breakdown each body type and discuss their features and limitations as well as list some of the most prevalent makes and models.

What to Know Before Looking

When comparing cars, there are several different considerations. The comfort that each type offers is vital for most potential buyers. There is also the utility, which is the work that the vehicle can do — i.e. towing and hauling. Finally, there is performance, which looks at the power of the engine, the suspension which affects how smooth the ride is, and whether the car is front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel (AWD), or four-wheel drive (4WD).

Before we compare each of these car types lets discuss a few of the essential components:

Engine Power

Engine power is commonly measured by the number of cylinders it has. More cylinders generally equate to more power, which means the engine can move more weight. The most common types are 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinders, although 10-cylinder engines are also available in vehicles such as trucks.

The Suspension

The suspension is what makes for a smooth or bumpy ride in a car. A soft suspension absorbs bumps and makes for a smoother ride and a stiff suspension makes for a rougher ride but gives better feedback from the road and is better at handling corners.

The suspension can also help lift the vehicle up and away from the ground. A higher suspension is useful for off-roading because the underside of the car doesn’t hit the terrain.

The power of the engine, the cargo space, and the suspension determine the vehicle’s utility. Engine power aids towing, while a high suspension is suitable for off-roading.

Front-wheel Drive

Front-wheel drive is when the engine supplies power to the front two wheels but not the others. It is the most economical system due to simplicity because the front wheels are closest to the engine.

They are also the most fuel-efficient because the engine only has to push power a short distance to two wheels. Having the weight of the engine over the drive wheels also means the car has better traction, especially in slippery conditions.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Rear-wheel drive vehicles have power supplied to only the back two wheels. Their advantage is that they have more even weight distribution because part of the drivetrain is in the rear end of the car. Rear-wheel drive also improves hauling and towing because the powered wheels are closer to where the cargo is in the back of the vehicle.

However, having the drivetrain distributed results in a hump inside the vehicle that runs down the middle and takes up valuable interior space.

A good explanation of the differences can be found in the article below.

AWD

AWD supplies power to all four wheels of the vehicle. This type of drivetrain offers improved traction and power on paved and well-groomed dirt and gravel roads. AWD vehicles are not meant for off-roading.

4WD

4WD vehicles also supply power to all four wheels. However, they usually have a low and high range. The low range is when you need maximum torque to tackle steep terrain or heavy-duty towing in an off-roading capacity. 4WD is made for off-roading conditions.

AWD & 4WD

AWD & 4WD are both more complicated drive systems. Their complexity means they add to the purchase price (approx. $1,500 – $4000), and they are more costly to maintain. Thus, you should only choose these options if you will need them in your day-to-day use.

This video does an excellent job of explaining the difference between the different types of drivetrains.

Different Types of Cars

Ok, now that you are familiar with some of the basics. Let’s take a look at the different types of cars and how they compare. At the end, I will discuss which type is best for which driver.

Amazon also has an excellent section for comparing cars, which can be found here. On their site, you can sort and compare cars by the features we will be talking about here as well as many more, including top-rated/reviewed.

Included in each section is a link to the Amazon page for that type of car.

Sedans

Different types of sedans are grouped by size. They include subcompact, compact, mid-size, full-size, and sport—also called performance saloons.

Sedan type of a car.

These vehicles are fantastic for small families. They are also suitable for daily commutes, running errands, and light towing. Sedans are generally fuel-efficient, especially the hybrid and electric models.

Common makes and models are also inexpensive to maintain as their parts are cheap, and their systems are usually simple.

Because their suspension rides at a medium height, they are generally meant for roads. Still, they can handle grass, gravel or dirt trails, and shallow mud.

Most luxury cars are four-door sedans and cost $40,000+. The luxury and full-size models often have larger engines that offer more power but also reduced fuel efficiency.

Sedans on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • Chevrolet Impala
  • Honda Acord
  • Toyota Camry
  • Ford Taurus & Crown Victoria

Performance

  • Subcompact/compact/mid-size:
    • Most have 4-cylinder engine (low power but fuel-efficient)
    • Most have front-wheel drive
  • Full size/luxury:
    • Turbocharged v4 or v6 (more power but less efficient)
    • Most are front- or rear-wheel drive

Utility

  • Medium height soft suspension
  • Trunk/boot sizes are variable but can handle medium to larger sized objects
    • Some have backseats that fold down to increase carrying capacity
  • Can tow objects of equal or lesser size
  • Light off-roading

Comfort

  • Seats 4-5 people
  • Standard visibility
  • Average ride
  • Average comfort (except luxury models which offer above-average comfort)

Van/Minivan

These are usually low-cost vehicles that are great for families due to their large number of seats and ample cargo space.

Minivan type of a car.

They are among the highest in comfort as all that space means a lot of legroom. They also sport features such as screens in the back so passengers can watch movies and shows.

Minivans also have a lot of insulation, which cuts down road noise. All of these features make them great for longer journeys like road trips.

Because they are bigger, they are usually less fuel-efficient than sedans or other smaller vehicles. So, they are not the best type of vehicle for daily commuters.

Minivans on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • Honda Odyssey
  • Nissan Quest
  • Dodge caravan

Performance

  • 4- and 6-cylinder engines (not a lot of power for a big vehicle)
  • Not great for winter in ice/snowy environments
  • No off-roading

Utility

  • Can handle low weight towing
  • Ample cargo space
  • Front-wheel drive

Comfort

  • Seats 7-9 people
  • Mini TV screens
  • A lot of legroom
  • Big windows and a higher ride give excellent visibility
  • Smooth ride
  • Quiet rides

Wagon/waggon (AKA Station Wagon)

Similar to minivans, these cars are family-friendly and have a lot of space inside. They do not offer as much legroom as minivans and usually have fewer entertainment options.

Wagon car body type.

They can compete with SUVs for cargo capacity, but they are lower to the ground, which makes them easier to handle and safer.

They are generally not as fuel-efficient as sedans. However, they are more efficient than larger vehicles like minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

Wagons on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • Subaru Outback
  • Dodge Magnum
  • Volvo V60
  • Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

Performance

  • 6-/4- cylinder engine (low power)
  • Low riding suspension

Utility

  • Can handle low weight towing
  • Ample cargo space
  • Many have AWD and can handle rain as well as light snow and ice
  • No off-roading

Comfort

  • Seats 7-9 people
  • Medium amount of legroom
  • Big windows give superb visibility
  • Smooth ride
  • Quiet rides

Hatchback

Hatchbacks are well respected in the auto industry for their performance. They are well-rounded vehicles. Many have a soft suspension with a well-powered engine, for their size, making them suitable for off-roading. 

Hatchback body type.

They also come in at a lower price point than many of the other off-road options like SUVs and pickup trucks.

These vehicles come in models that have 2 or 4 passenger doors. However, because they have a large hatch in the back that gives access to roomy cargo spaces, they are usually said to have 3 or 5 doors, respectively.

Hatchbacks on Amazon

Make and models:

  • Ford focus
  • Volkswagen Golf
  • Hyundai Veloster

Performance

  • V4 turbocharged (good power to weight ratio)
  • AWD, rear-, or front-wheel drive
  • Suspension range from stiff to super soft

Utility

  • Rally style off-roading with soft suspension models
  • Medium amount of cargo space
  • Can handle lightweight towing

Comfort

  • Seats 5-7 people
  • Visibility is decent on most models
  • Lower suspension makes them feel more sporty
  • Smooth ride with soft suspension models

SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle)

SUVs offer a balance between cargo and towing capacity while still providing ample room for passengers. They have above-average performance, comfort, and utility.

SUV car body type.

If you want one vehicle, but you need a more powerful engine to handle towing larger items, you need ample cargo space, and you want to seat a lot of people in a comfortable environment, then the SUV category is where you want to start looking.

Like pickup trucks, their powerful engines mean they are not fuel-efficient. As such, you should only consider an SUV if you will make regular use of the powerful engine daily.

Many are AWD or 4WD and can handle most weather conditions.

SUVs on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • ACURA MDX
  • Ford Explorer
  • Honda CRV
  • Toyota RAV-4
  • Mazda CX9

Performance

  • 4-/6-cylinder, some are turbocharged (decreases fuel efficiency)
  • Most are AWD or 4WD
  • High, soft suspension

Utility

  • Ample cargo space
  • Can tow medium-sized objects
  • Can handle some off-roading, rougher gravel/dirt trails

Comfort

  • Seats 5-7 people
  • High suspension gives excellent visibility
  • Smooth ride
    • Note: high, soft suspension with a powerful engine means they are prone to body roll

Pickup Truck

Pickup trucks are built with utility in mind. Different varieties include pickup trucks, full-size, extended cab and crew cab.

Pickups can handle most weather, most terrains, and hauling most items. They are generally rear-wheel drive or 4WD, which improves their towing ability.

Pickup truck car body type.

4WD models are also great options for off-roading as they have plenty of power to pull you through rough terrain and up mountainsides.

They have large open beds in the back that can fit large items. They are best if you are buying a vehicle intended to do regular work as they are big and hard to drive around town.

The crew cab and extended cab models have more seating inside, seating 6. The crew cab is the largest size, which has four full-sized doors and the most interior space. Extended cabs have slightly less space inside but still seat 6 people. Extended cabs may have no rear doors, half-sized rear doors, or full-sized rear doors.

Pickup Trucks on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • Ford F150
  • RAM 1500
  • Nissan Titan
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Chevrolet Silverado

Performance

  • Large displacement engines V6/8/10 (a lot of power)
  • 4WD or rear-wheel drive
  • High ride suspension

Utility

  • Powerful = a lot of towing power to move all kinds of things
  • Big cargo bed with no roof = can haul everything from construction equipment to recreational vehicles/equipment (jetski, dirt bikes, quad, boat etc.)
  •  

Comfort

  • Seats 2-6
  • Smooth ride in soft suspension models
  • High suspension gives good visibility

Coupe

These are two-door sporty cars. They are focused on performance, especially acceleration, and handling. They are enjoyable to drive but not practical for much else. Some have a backseat, but they are small and having only two doors means they are hard to get into.

Coupe car body type.

They have powerful engines that are not fuel-efficient, but they do go fast! Their engines are tuned for acceleration, so even though they have power, they are not suitable for towing. Using them for towing could damage the engine.

They are usually rear-wheel drive as this gives them better control in dry conditions, especially when accelerating. However, they do not handle any other weather conditions well.

Their suspensions ride low to the ground, making them a no-go for off-roading. Some have issues with bigger speed bumps. They are also stiff, which means you feel every bump. However, this gives you good feedback from the road, which you need when going at high speed.

They have small trunks/boots that can handle groceries, and that is about it.

Coupes on Amazon

Makes and models:

  • Ford Mustang
  • Dodge challenger
  • Chevrolet Camero
  • Toyota 86
  • Hyundai Genesis

Performance

  • 4-/6-/8-cylinder (a lot of power for a lightweight car)
  • Usually rear-wheel drive
  • Low, stiff suspension

Utility

  • Small storage compartments
  • Low, stiff suspension
  • Despite the power, not suited for towing

Comfort

  • Seats 2 comfortably (some seat 4 uncomfortably)
  • Bumpy ride
  • Visibility variable

Which Car Type is Right for You?

There are a lot of variables to consider when buying a car and a lot of options out there, which can make choosing the right one seem insurmountable. To break it down, you want to consider what your primary use for the vehicle will be.

If towing and hauling is your main concern, then you will definitely want a truck. They are built to work. Pickup trucks are large and powerful, which enables them to get the work done. However, it also means they are hard to drive around the city and harder to park, especially in cramped urban settings. Trucks are also hard on fuel consumption and can be costly.

If you need a balance between towing and hauling capacity and the ability to transport people in a comfortable environment, SUVs are likely where you want to look. They have large cargo areas that are good for medium to larger sized objects; you can load up strollers, luggage, or even pets. They can tow larger sized objects like medium-sized trailers or recreational vehicles like dirt bikes, jet skis, and snowmobiles.

If a comfortable ride for a lot of people with ample cargo space is what you need, you’ll want to look at minivans or wagons. They have largo cargo spaces and a lot of legroom for your passengers.

The minivan is king in the comfort world, offering amenities like screens in the back for watching movies and shows. They are great for road trips!

If you want a smaller vehicle for getting around in the city that still has generous space for your cargo, a wagon is a good option.

If you are looking for an excellent vehicle for off-roading that can handle any terrain, trucks or SUVs are the best option.

If you want a vehicle that can go from city to off-road trail, the hatchback is a great option. They are powerful for their size, have soft suspensions for smooth rides on and off the road.

If you want a car that is for your daily commute, running errands, or getting a smaller family around the city, then the Sedan is your best option. They are small in size, generally comfortable, fuel-efficient, and inexpensive in purchase and maintenance costs. For added comfort, check out the luxury sedans.

Finally, if you want something fast and fun to drive, you might want to look at coupes. Keep in mind that they are only really suited for someone who is single or a couple with no kids.

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