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|This article may contain original research. (August 2008)|
Cars may be classified by a number of different criteria and objectives. However, comprehensive classification is elusive, because a vehicle may fit into multiple categories, or not completely satisfy the requirements for any. This article details the commonly used classifications and definitions.
There are numerous ways of categorizing passenger vehicles. Where applicable, the equivalent Euro NCAP classifications are also used. Numerous jurisdictions establish vehicle classification systems for tax purposes according to their construction, engine, weight, type of fuel and emissions, as well as the purpose for which they are used. Car-related taxation is based on a sustainable environmental policy known as the user pays principle and there are many differences between different nations and jurisdictions regarding vehicle class taxes and fees. For example, the power of classification was used by cities in the 1920s to exclude taxation of electric-powered vehicles because officials believed they did not cause "substantial wear upon the pavements."
For research into safety, the Highway Loss Data Institute takes into account a combination of both vehicle size and other vehicle features with all passenger cars that do not fit the definition of either "sports" or "luxury", are classified on the basis of both vehicle length and wheelbase.
|Sports||Those 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 457.3–495.3 cm (180–195 in) and wheelbase 266.8–279.4 cm (105–110 in)|
|Small||Length less than 457.2 cm (180 in) and wheelbase less than 266.7 cm (105 in)|
The 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||1,500–1,999 lb (680–907 kg)|
|Passenger cars: light||PC/L||2,000–2,499 lb (907–1,134 kg)|
|Passenger cars: compact||PC/C||2,500–2,999 lb (1,134–1,360 kg)|
|Passenger cars: medium||PC/Me||3,000–3,499 lb (1,361–1,587 kg)|
|Passenger cars: heavy||PC/H||3,500 lb (1,588 kg) and over|
|Sport utility vehicles||SUV||-|
Another vehicle classification scheme has been developed by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration for automatically calculating road use tolls. There are two broad categories depending on whether the vehicle carries passengers or commodities, with non-passenger vehicles 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 another set of classification guidelines that are based on the vehicle's total interior passenger and cargo space.
|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||85–99 cu ft (2,407–2,803 l)|
|Compact||100–109 cu ft (2,832–3,087 l)|
|Mid-size||110–119 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||130–159 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. In Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries publishes its own classifications.
This is a summary table listing several different methods of passenger automobile classification.
|American English||British English||Euro Car Segment||Euro NCAP 1997 - 2009||Euro NCAP||Examples|
|Microcar||Microcar, Bubble car||A-segment mini cars||Quadricycle||—||Bond Bug, Isetta, Mega City, REVAi/G-Wiz|
|Subcompact car||City car||Supermini||Passenger car||Ford Ka, Smart Fortwo, Toyota Aygo, Volkswagen Up|
|Supermini||B-segment small cars||Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 207, Fiat 500|
|Compact car||Small family car||C-segment medium cars||Small family car||Chevrolet Citation, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, AMC Pacer, Dodge Dart (2013)|
|Mid-size car||Large family car||D-segment large cars||Large family car||Ford Mondeo, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Opel Insignia, Chevrolet Malibu, IKCO Samand|
|Entry-level luxury car||Compact executive car||Acura TSX, Alfa Romeo 159, Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series|
|Full-size car||Executive car||E-segment executive cars||Executive car||Ford Taurus, Ford Crown Victoria, Holden Commodore, Chevrolet Impala|
|Mid-size luxury car||Lincoln MKZ, Lexus GS, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, Volvo S80, Chrysler 300, Cadillac CTS|
|Full-size luxury car||Luxury car||F-segment luxury cars||—||Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Cadillac XTS, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS, Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes S-Class|
|Grand tourer||Grand tourer||—||Jaguar XK, Ferrari FF, Maserati GranTurismo|
|Supercar||Supercar||—||Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari Enzo, Pagani Zonda, Lamborghini Aventador|
|Convertible||Convertible||—||BMW 6 Series, Mercedes CLK, Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos, Chevrolet Camaro|
|Roadster||Roadster||Roadster sports||Roadster||Audi TT, Honda S2000, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5, Porsche Boxster|
|—||Mini MPV||M-segment multi purpose cars||Small MPV||MPV||Ford B-Max, Citroen C3 Picasso, Opel Meriva, Renault Modus, Renault Kangoo|
|MPV||Compact MPV||Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic, Citroën C4 Picasso, Opel Zafira, Škoda Roomster|
|Minivan||Large MPV||Large MPV||Ford S-Max, Ford Galaxy, Renault Espace, Peugeot 807, Chrysler Town and Country|
|Mini SUV||Mini 4x4||J-segment sport utility cars (including off-road vehicles)||Small Off-Road 4x4||Off-roader||Ford Ecosport, Daihatsu Terios, Mitsubishi Pajero iO, Suzuki Jimny, Jeep Wrangler|
|Compact SUV||Compact SUV||Ford Escape, Ford Kuga, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Chevy Equinox, Jeep Liberty|
|Mid-size SUV||Large 4x4||Large Off-Road 4x4||Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Volkswagen Touareg, Chevrolet Tahoe|
|Full-size SUV||Ford Explorer, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Suburban, Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser|
|Mini pickup truck||Pick-up||—||Pick-up||Pickup||Chevrolet Montana, Fiat Strada, Volkswagen Saveiro|
|Mid-size pickup truck||Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton/L200, Nissan Navara|
|Full-size pickup truck||Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra|
|Heavy Duty pickup truck||Ford Super Duty, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram Heavy Duty|
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 Transport and Tourism Ministry will allow local government to use ultracompact cars as transport for residents and tourists in their limiting areas. The size of ultracompact car will be less than minicars, but has engine greater than 50cc displacement and capable for one or two person(s). Ultracompact car cannot use minicars standard, because of strict safety standards for minicars. The regulation about running capacity and safety performance of ultracompact car will be published in early autumn. Today, there are car smaller than ultracompact cars is 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 Europe, subcompact in North America. Superminis have three, four or five doors and 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.
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/compact cars refer to the hatchbacks and shortest saloons and estate cars with similar size. They are approximately 4250 mm long in case of hatchbacks and 4500 mm 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. 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.
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, and originated from the Volkswagen Golf GTI. In North America, sport compacts are usually sold as saloons or coupés rather than hatchbacks.
Examples of hot hatches/sport compacts:
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 4700 mm long, while in North America, Middle East and Australasia they may be well over 4800 mm.
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.
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".
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 4900 mm long.
Examples of full-size 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".
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.
Examples of grand saloons:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Executive Cars".
Examples of sports saloons/sedans:
Examples of sport compact saloons/sedans:
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:
As a side note, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake are not real shooting brakes, since they have 4 doors. Proper shooting brakes only have 2 doors and a rear wagon-type hatch.
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. 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 USA. Some people define it as a 2-door vehicle, however others include 4-door vehicles in the definition. 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:
The pony car is a class of American 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 car that features a flexibly operating roof for open or enclosed mode driving. Also known as a cabriolet or roadster.
Examples of convertibles:
Off-road vehicles, or "off-roaders" are sometimes referred to as "four-wheel drives", "four by fours", or 4x4s — this sometimes happens colloquially in cases where certain models or even an entire range does not possess four-wheel drive.
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 SUVs:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Large Off-Roaders".
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:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Small Off-Roaders".
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".
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":
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.
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