Car Body Types Guide

The demands of the modern world have brought with it new and varied shapes, sizes and styles of vehicle. More so than ever, carmakers are giving customers the chance to tailor their car to their personal needs. 

With so many options, though, it can be hard to make your mind up. To help, we’ll take a look at some of the most common body types, highlighting their pros and cons and explaining who they might be suited to. 

City Cars

There are lots of great things about inner city life, but there’s often a lot of pressure when it comes to space on the roads. Whether that’s squeezing into a tight parking spot, keeping out of the way of gargantuan buses, or avoiding an endless stream of cyclists, lots of people who either live or work in cities prefer to have a small and agile car to zip around town in. 

City Cars are very popular for this reason, usually combining their compact size with an economical engine that has a great fuel consumption for those stop/start city journeys. As long as you don’t need lots of space for luggage or tall passengers in the back - or even any passengers at all – this is a great option for you. 

Examples of a City Car include: 
Smart ForTwo
Toyota Aygo
VW Up!

Supermini

Not small enough to be considered a City Car, or big enough to be termed a family Hatchback. Superminis typically seat four people more comfortably than City Cars, offering more luggage space too. Things can be a squeeze when you start thinking about getting adults into the back seats, but 5-door versions of cars like the Audi A1 mean they can still be suitable for young families. 

Due to their size, Superminis are often most suited to young people and new drivers, as they’re nice and compact and easy to manoeuvre. If you want to start loading up lots of passengers, luggage, or musical instruments like cellos and guitars, a Supermini may not be for you. 

Examples of a Supermini include: 
Audi A1
MINI 5-Door Hatch
VW Polo

Hatchback

Although we typically associate Hatchbacks with cars like the VW Golf, the term actually applies to any car where the whole rear end opens, including back window and boot. This gives you great access to storage space, making Hatchbacks very practical and popular at the same time. Whether your dog’s domain is in the boot, or you need plenty of luggage room either for holidays or your weekly shop, Hatchbacks are perfect for a huge range of motorists, effectively freeing up the whole back end of your car. 

They’re hugely versatile too, as you can get a nice and compact hatch like a Toyota Yaris, or something like the New Mercedes A-Class, offering elegance, luxury, athleticism and practicality all at once. 

Examples of a Hatchback include:
BMW 1 Series
Audi A3

Coupé

With a name derived from the French verb meaning ‘to cut’, Coupés generally have a sleek and sporty appearance, especially at the rear. They typically have two doors and are shortened - or cut - variants of Saloon body styles. Coupés are popular for their looks, but the compromise you make is on space and practicality. Cars like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé and Audi A5 Sportback raise their heads again here, as they’re essentially Coupés that have been enlarged to offer four doors and a practical Hatchback boot. 

Usually, however, Coupés have a smaller body, fewer doors and a closed boot, meaning you’re a little restricted when it comes to space for passengers and luggage. This isn’t an issue for plenty of people though, making Coupés highly desirable cars for younger people without children, and older people looking for something a little sportier once the kids have flown the nest. 

Examples of a Coupé include:
Audi A5 Coupé
BMW 2 Series Coupé
Mercedes C-Class Coupé

Convertible

Also known as Cabriolets, Convertibles come either with a soft or hard top. In the past, you had to take the top off yourself manually, but these days most Convertibles take care of it automatically with the push of a button. Most commonly found with two doors, they’re hugely desirable for their good looks and the unbeatable feeling of having an open roof on a nice day. The compromise is again on space and practicality, with the added issue of the roof needing somewhere to retreat to when it’s down. This gives you even less space for luggage, so Convertibles aren’t ideal as a family car - unless you go for a drop-top SUV like the Range Rover Evoque Convertible

If you see the term ‘Roadster’ regarding a Convertible, it usually refers to 2-seaters like the Porsche Boxster. If you’re thinking about going with one of these cars, you need to decide whether you can manage without any rear seats, and probably much room in the boot too. For this reason, they’re usually popular with younger people, although treating yourself to a Convertible once your children have grown up is something of a rite of passage for plenty of others. 

Examples of a Convertible include:
Jaguar F-Type Convertible
Audi TT
Mercedes-Benz SLC 

Saloon

Saloons come in plenty of different shapes and sizes, but they all seat at least four people and have a separate boot. Because of the boot, you might see them described as ‘three-box’ cars. The first box is the engine bay, the second the cabin, and the third the boot. This is different to a Hatchback where there are only two boxes, and means that while Saloons are great for rear passengers, they’re less practical when it comes to luggage. 

Plenty of Saloons have decent-sized boots, making them suitable as a family car. They also tend to have large wheelbases, which produces a smooth and comfortable ride for everyone on board. The question about whether a Saloon’s going to be suitable for you pretty much rests on what that boot means to you. 

Examples of a Saloon include:
BMW 3 Series Saloon
Lexus IS
Mercedes E-Class Saloon

Estate

Often based on Saloons or Hatchbacks in order to provide more space, Estates are very popular family cars. Whereas a Saloon’s roof starts to slope after the rear windows, an Estate’s continues back past the rear wheels, with the longer shape giving you a much bigger boot. This means they’re great for moving large items around, such as furniture, ladders or your kids’ sports gear. Estates are incredibly practical, and there’s also more space up top for when you want to attach a roof box or other luggage to your roof rails. 

If you’re prioritising practicality over looks, you won’t be bothered about the aesthetic comparison between Estates and Saloons. Some may consider Estates at a disadvantage in a beauty contest though. Apart from that, the only other downside concerns handling, as the longer roof upsets the weight distribution and balance of the car. However, as you’re probably not planning to drive like Lewis Hamilton, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern either. 

Examples of an Estate include:
Audi A4 Avant
BMW 5 Series Touring
VW Passat Estate

SUV

Sports utility vehicles have high ride heights, lots of space and a degree of off-road ability. They’re designed primarily for the road though, compared to outright 4x4s centred around tackling rough terrain. This means SUVs usually offer surprisingly good handling considering their size, which is useful for driving in towns and cities. They don’t handle as well as Coupés or Saloons, but you wouldn’t expect that from such large vehicles. 

One popular subset of this body type is the Crossover. These are SUV models that combine their large size with a sportier, more Coupé like shape. In many cases, you can expect sportier handling, too. 

The major draw with SUVs is the space you get for passengers and luggage, with big Hatchback boots offering access to a large cargo area - especially when you put the rear seats down. SUVs can also offer a greater degree of safety compared to smaller cars, which is one of the reasons they’re so popular with families. 

Examples of an SUV include:
BMW X5
Jaguar F-Pace
Range Rover Sport

MPV

The body type that screams practicality over any other, multi-purpose vehicles are also commonly known as people carriers. Somewhat resembling a van but with rear doors and windows as well as either one or two rows of rear seating, the clue really is in the name. MPVs are perfect for carrying people, with lots of head room thanks to their shape. They also give you plenty of cargo space with a Hatchback boot, making MPVs hugely popular for families. 

The benefits are almost universally centred on space, but the body shape does affect handling and looks. The increased size can also have an impact on fuel economy compared to the smaller models that MPVs are often based on. However, those are likely to be small issues when you factor in all that space for yourself, your kids, their friends and all their things. 

Examples of an MPV include:
BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer
VW Sharan
VW Touran


With so many adaptations and variants across the market, there are other body types to look out for. Grand tourers are generally big, luxurious Coupés, while SUV-Coupés like the BMW X6 have really broken the mould. Whether you need some clarification or you’d like to take a closer look at one of the models mentioned here, why not pop into your nearest Inchcape dealership for a chat?