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Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for various purposes including regulation, description and categorization, among others. This article details commonly used classification schemes in use worldwide.
- 1 Classification methods
- 2 Size and usage-based vehicle classification systems worldwide
- 3 Microcar / kei car
- 4 A-segment / City car / Minicompact
- 5 B-segment / Supermini / Subcompact
- 6 C-segment / Compact / Small family
- 7 Large family / mid-size
- 8 Saloons / sedans
- 9 Luxury vehicle
- 10 Sports cars
- 11 Off-roaders
- 12 Commercial vehicle
- 13 Location-specific classification
- 14 Other car classification terms
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 External links
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".
Another standard for road vehicles of all types that is used internationally (except for Australia, India, and the U.S.) is ISO 3833-1977.
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.
Size and usage-based vehicle classification systems worldwide
This is a summary table listing several different methods of vehicle classification.
Microcar / kei car
Microcars and their Japanese equivalent— kei cars— are the smallest category of automobile.
Microcars straddle the boundary between car and motorbike, and are often covered by separate regulations to normal cars, resulting in relaxed requirements for registration and licensing. Engine size is often 700 cc (43 cu in) or less, and microcars have three or four wheels.
Examples of microcars and kei cars:
A-segment / City car / Minicompact 
The smallest category of vehicles that are registered as normal cars is called A-segment in Europe, or "city car" in Europe and the United States. The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines this category as "minicompact", however this term is not widely used.
Examples of A-segment / city cars / minicompact cars:
B-segment / Supermini / Subcompact
The size of a subcompact car is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as having a combined interior and cargo volume of between 85–99 cubic feet (2,410–2,800 L). Since the EPA's smaller minicompact category is not as commonly used by the general public, A-segment cars are sometimes called subcompacts in the United States. In Europe and Great Britain, the B-segment and supermini categories do not any formal definitions based on size.
Examples of B-segment / supermini / subcompact cars:
C-segment / Compact / Small family
The largest category of small cars is called C-segment or small family car in Europe, and compact car in the United States.
The size of a compact car is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as having a combined interior and cargo volume of 100–109 cu ft (2.8–3.1 m3).
Examples of C-segment / compact / small family cars:
Large family / mid-size
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
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Also known as "people carriers", this class of cars combines a high-roof, five-door one- or two-box hatchback body configuration with a compact, mid-size or large car platform, engine and mechanicals; car-like handling and fuel economy; unibody construction; front-wheel or all-wheel drive and greater height than sedan or station wagon counterparts. The design offers higher h-point seating, two or three rows of seating, easy passenger and cargo access with sliding wide-opening rear doors and large rear hatch, and a re-configurable interior volume with seats that recline, slide, tumble, fold flat or allow easy removal—enabling users to reprioritize passenger and cargo volumes.
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 the Cadillac CT6.
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, typically 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, New Zealand, South Africa and other nations.
Examples of American muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s:
Examples of Australian muscle cars:
The pony car is a class of American Muscle car automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. It describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image.
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.
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 Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries publishes its own classifications.
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.
In the United States, since 2010 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses a scheme it has developed that takes into account a combination of both vehicle shadow (length times width) and weight.
|US Highway Loss Data Institute classification||Definition|
|Regular Two Door||Two door sedans and hatchbacks|
|Regular Four Door||Four door sedans and hatchbacks|
|Station Wagons||Four doors, a rear hatch and four pillars|
|Minivans||Vans with sliding rear doors|
|Sports||Two seaters and cars with significant high performance features|
|Luxury||Relatively expensive cars that are not classified as sports (price in USD to curb weight in pounds more than 9.0 in 2010) (small cars over $27,000, midsize cars over $31,500, large cars over $36,000, etc.)|
|US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety | Highway Loss Data Institute 'Guide to car size groups' (includes minivans)|
|Shadow (square footage of exterior length × width)|
|Curb Weight||70 to 80 sq ft (6.5–7.4 m2)||81 to 90 sq ft (7.5–8.4 m2)||91 to 100 sq ft (8.5–9.3 m2)||101 to 110 sq ft (9.4–10.2 m2)||>110 sq ft (10.2 m2)|
|2,001 to 2,500 lb (900–1,150 kg)||Mini||Small||Small||Small||Midsize|
|2,501 to 3,000 lb (1,150–1,350 kg)||Small||Small||Midsize||Midsize||Midsize|
|3,001 to 3,500 lb (1,350–1,600 kg)||Small||Midsize||Midsize||Large||Large|
|3,501 to 4,000 lb (1,600–1,800 kg)||Small||Midsize||Large||Large||Very Large|
|>4,000 lb (1,800 kg)||Midsize||Midsize||Large||Very Large||Very Large|
|US IIHS|HLDI Guide to SUV size groups|
|Mini||<=3,000 lb (1,350 kg) and shadow <80 sq ft (7.4 m2)|
|Small||3,001 to 3,750 lb (1,350–1,700 kg)|
|Midsize||3,751 to 4,750 lb (1,700–2,150 kg)|
|Large||4,751 to 5,750 lb (2,150–2,600 kg)|
|Very large||>5,750 lb (2,600 kg) or shadow >115 sq ft (10.7 m2)|
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.
|US NHTSA classification||Code||Curb weight|
|Passenger cars: mini||PC/Mi||1,500 to 1,999 lb (700–900 kg)|
|Passenger cars: light||PC/L||2,000 to 2,499 lb (900–1,150 kg)|
|Passenger cars: compact||PC/C||2,500 to 2,999 lb (1,150–1,350 kg)|
|Passenger cars: medium||PC/Me||3,000 to 3,499 lb (1,350–1,600 kg)|
|Passenger cars: heavy||PC/H||3,500 lb (1,600 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.
|US 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 (2,400 l)|
|Subcompact||85 to 99 cu ft (2,400–2,800 l)|
|Compact||100 to 109 cu ft (2,850–3,100 l)|
|Mid-size||110 to 119 cu ft (3,100–3,350 l)|
|Large||120 cu ft (3,400 l) or more|
|Small station wagons||Less than 130 cu ft (3,700 l)|
|Mid-size station wagons||130 to 159 cu ft (3,700–4,500 l)|
|Large station wagons||160 cu ft (4,550 l) or more|
Other car classification terms
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- 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.
- 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. Occasionally seen as Fixed Head Coupé, or FHC, particularly when referring to a hardtop version of a convertible.
- Flower car
- in US used in the funeral industry to carry flowers for burial services. Typically a coupe-style, forward-passenger compartment with an open well in the rear.
- 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 (sometimes also called "Fixed Head Coupé", or FHC.)
- 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.
- Personal luxury car
- An American car classification describing a highly styled mass produced, luxury vehicle with an emphasis on image over practicality characteristically a two-door coupé or convertible with two-passenger or 2+2 seating.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A term used originally in Australia and New Zealand to describe usually two-wheel-drive, traditionally passenger vehicles with a cargo tray in the rear integrated with the passenger body; as opposed to a pickup whose cargo tray is not integrated with the passenger body.
- 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, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian.
In Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian kombi refers to a van. 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.
- ACRISS Car Classification Code
- Car color
- Car safety and road safety
- Production vehicle
- Truck classification
- Vehicle category
- Vehicle size class
- Car body configurations
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