C-segment is a car size classification defined by the European Commission as the third-smallest segment (above the A-segment and B-segment) in the European market. The C-segment corresponds approximately to the Compact Car segment in North America and the Small Family Car in British English terminology.
The C-segment includes only hatchback, sedan and Station Wagon configurations — as the European Commission reserves the M-segment for Multi-Purpose Cars and J-segment for Sport Utility Cars (including Off-road Vehicles), Light Commercial Vehicles, compact Sport Utility Vehicles (C-SUVs), compact Crossover Utility Vehicles (C-CUVs).
As the "segment" terminology became more common in the United States, in 2012 the New York Times described the differences, saying "today's small cars actually span three main segments in the global vehicle market. The tiny A-segment cars include the Chevy Spark and Smart Fortwo. They're extremely short and very light. Slightly larger are B-segment cars like the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonic. The A- and B-cars are known as subcompacts. In the C-segment — typically called compacts — are the largest of the small cars. Examples include the Toyota Corolla, a perennial sales leader, as well as the Ford Focus, Citroën C4, Citroën DS4, Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Peugeot 308 and Peugeot 408 sedan, Renault Mégane and Renault Fluence or Volkswagen Golf and Jetta."
The modern C-segment market in Europe can be traced back to the launch of the Renault 6, the first successful hatchback of this size, in 1968. The hatchback bodystyle was first introduced by Renault with the 1964 Renault 16, awarded 1965 Car of the year in Europe. A review in the English Motoring Illustrated in May 1965 stated: "The Renault Sixteen can thus be described as a large family car but one that is neither a four door saloon and nor is it quite an estate. But, importantly, it is a little different." Even the later similar-sized cars like the Ford Escort, Vauxhall Viva, Austin Allegro and Hillman Avenger were still only available as saloons or estates, as were most continental competitors. Yet, the hatchback bodystyle became progressively the most popular format in this sector of the European market from the middle of the 1960s till the early 1980s. Some carmakers later created the liftback bodystyle like the Peugeot 309. This change in the favoured bodystyle also saw front-wheel drive replace rear-wheel drive as the norm in the C-segment.
The 1964 Renault R8 Gordini (and the 1967 Renault R8 S) is known as the first sportive compact car for a public consumption price. The Renault R8 Gordini offered a more powerful engine with speed to 180 km/h and an innovative four-wheel disc brake system. Compact size cars often bring a performance more akin to that of a sports car than a family car. From the middle of the 1970, a dozen of year after the Renault R8 Gordini, a few rivals were launched. Popularity of this type of car multiplied across Europe during the 1980s, with offerings including the Ford Escort XR3i, Peugeot 309 GTi, Vauxhall Astra/Opel Kadett GTE, MG Maestro and today the reference : the Renault Mégane Renault Sport.
The C-segment includes the Volkswagen Golf, currently the most popular car in Europe. Basically the Golf, together with other 5 models (Ford Focus, Opel Astra with its Vauxhall twin, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Skoda Octavia makes the half of the market. VW Group dominates the segment with a 35% share, covering the market with its brands VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat.
Luxury brands such as BMW (1 Series), Audi (A3) and Mercedes (brand-new A-class) are getting more and more popularity in the segment since years, differently from what is happening in other minor segments like A-segment and B-segment.
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Other models in the segment includes:
- "Regulation (EEC) No 4064/89 - Merger Procedure". Office for Official Publications of the European Communities L-2985 Luxembourg.
- "Taking the ‘Cheap’ Out of the Small Car". The New York Times, September 9, 2012, Phil Patton.
- Motoring Illustrated, May 1965
- Auto Plus (Auto Bild group) n°1362, 10 to 17 of october 2014 - 1964 : "1964 : Renault 8 Gordini, the first 'GTi'".
- "Europe 9 months 2013: Discover the Top 344 best-selling models!". Best Selling Cars.