This article is about passenger car and pickup classifications. For commercial vehicle classifications, see Truck classification.
Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for innumerable purposes including regulation, description and categorization, among others. This article details commonly used classification schemes in use worldwide.
Vehicles can be categorized in numerous ways. For example, a government may 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[where?] 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. In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses a scheme it has developed that takes into account a combination of both vehicle size and other vehicle features such as length and wheelbase.
Highway Loss Data Institute classification
Those cars with significant high performance features
Higher-end cars that are not classified as sports
Length more than 495.3 cm (195 in) and wheelbase more than 279.4 cm (110 in)
Length 457.3–495.3 cm (180–195 in) and wheelbase 266.8–279.4 cm (105–110 in)
Length less than 457.2 cm (180 in) and wheelbase less than 266.7 cm (105 in)
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.
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.
Size and usage-based vehicle classification systems worldwide
This is a summary table listing several different methods of vehicle classification.
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.
This section is outdated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(July 2013)
In 2012, Japan's 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 cars will be less than minicars, but have engine greater than 50cc displacement and able to transport 1 or 2 persons. Ultracompact cars cannot use minicars standard, because of strict safety standards for minicars. The regulation about running capacity and safety performance of ultracompact cars will be published in early autumn. Today, there are cars smaller than ultracompact cars, 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.
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. Currently (2013) sedan variants are generally not available in Europe and are marketed at a lower price than hatchback models in North America.
In Europe, the first superminis were the Fiat 500 of 1957 and the Austin Mini of 1959. Today, superminis are some of the best selling vehicles in Europe.
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.
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. Early compacts had V8 engines of up to 6.6 liters. These are the most popular vehicles in most developed countries.
Examples of hatchback small family cars/compact 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The muscle car term generally refers to rear wheel drivemid-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:
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.
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.
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.
Interior of above conversion van, showing large interior area (Seating removed for clarity)
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.
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.
A 2 door roadster with both a cloth convertible top, and a removable hardtop, coupé roof. (technically not a coupe, but some car companies try and cash in on the cachet the word coupe brings)
A passenger-car derived vehicle with an integral cargo tray.
A loose marketing term to describe a vehicle that blends features of a SUV with features of a car — especially forgoing the body on frame construction of the SUV in favor of the car's unibody or monocoque construction. Crossovers usually borrow drivetrains and other parts from traditional cars in the same manufacturer's line. Crossovers typically employ an FF layout or an FF-based four-wheel drive layout with a transverse engine, rather than an FR layout or an FR-based 4WD layout with a longitudinal engine as is typically used on traditional truck-based SUVs.
Drop Head Coupe
Generally a European term referring to a 2 door, 4 place automobile with a retractable canvas / cloth top with both a padded headliner and rollup windows (as opposed to side curtains).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 carconvertible, 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. This is the most common body style. In the U.S., this term has been used[who?] to denote a car with fixed window frames, as opposed to the hardtop style wherein the sash, if any, winds down with the glass.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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