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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.
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. 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|
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 vehicle classification.
|Not well-defined / vernacular||Defined by law or regulation||Examples|
|Market segment (American English)||Market segment (British English)||Market segment (Australian English)||US EPA Size Class||Euro NCAP Structural Category||Euro NCAP Class (1997–2009)||Euro Market Segment|
|Microcar||Microcar, Bubble car||N/A||N/A||—||Quadricycle||A-segment mini cars||Bond Bug, Isetta, Mega City, Renault Twizy|
|City car||Microcar||Minicompact||Passenger car||Supermini||Citroën C1, Fiat 500, Hyundai Eon, Peugeot 108, Renault Twingo|
|Supermini||Light car||Subcompact||B-segment small cars||Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 208, Volkswagen Polo|
|Compact car||Small family car||Small car||Compact||Small family car||C-segment medium cars||Honda Civic, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Renault Mégane, Toyota Auris|
|Mid-size car||Large family car||Medium car||Mid-size||Large family car||D-segment large cars||Ford Mondeo, Opel Insignia, Peugeot 508, Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat|
|Entry-level luxury car||Compact executive car||Medium car above $60,000||N/A||Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus ES, Mercedes-Benz C-Class|
|Full-size car||Executive car||Large car||Large||Executive||E-segment executive cars||Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Renault Samsung SM7, Toyota Avalon|
|Mid-size luxury car||Large car above $70,000||N/A||Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Tesla Model S|
|Full-size luxury car||Luxury car||Upper large car above $100,000||N/A||—||F-segment luxury cars||BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera, Maserati Quattroporte|
|Grand tourer||Grand tourer||Sports car||N/A||—||S-segment sports coupés||Aston Martin DB9, Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari GTC4Lusso, Jaguar XK, Maserati GranTurismo|
|Supercar||Supercar||N/A||—||Bugatti Veyron, LaFerrari, Lamborghini Aventador, Pagani Zonda, Porsche 918 Spyder|
|Convertible||Convertible||N/A||—||BMW 6 Series, Chevrolet Camaro, Mercedes CLK, Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos|
|Roadster||Roadster||Two-seater||Roadster sports||BMW Z4, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5, Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK|
|—||Mini MPV||N/A||Minivan||MPV||Small MPV||M-segment multi purpose cars||Citroen C3 Picasso, Ford B-Max, Opel Meriva, Fiat 500L|
|MPV||Compact MPV||People mover||Chevrolet Orlando, Ford C-Max, Opel Zafira, Renault Scenic, Volkswagen Touran|
|Minivan||Large MPV||Large MPV||Chrysler Pacifica (RU), Kia Carnival, Citroën C4 Grand Picasso, Renault Espace, Toyota Sienna|
|Cargo van||Van||Van||Cargo van||—||Chevrolet Express 1500 Cargo, Fiat Ducato/Ram ProMaster, Ford Transit, Renault Master, Volkswagen Transporter|
|Passenger van||Minibus||People mover||Passenger van||—||Chevrolet Express 1500 Passenger, Ford E350 Wagon, Mercedes-Benz Viano|
|Mini SUV||Mini 4x4||Small SUV||Small sport utility vehicle||Off-roader||Small off-road 4x4||J-segment sport utility cars (including off-road vehicles)||Daihatsu Terios, Ford Ecosport, Jeep Renegade, Peugeot 2008, Suzuki Jimny|
|Compact SUV||Compact SUV||Medium SUV||Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage|
|Mid-size SUV||Large 4x4||Large SUV||Standard sport utility vehicle||Large off-road 4x4||Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90|
|Full-size SUV||Upper large SUV||Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade, Toyota Land Cruiser|
|Mini pickup truck||Pick-up||Ute||Small Pickup truck||Pickup||Pick-up||—||Chevrolet Montana, Fiat Strada, Renault Duster Oroch|
|Mid-size pickup truck||Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton/L200, Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux|
|Full-size pickup truck||Pickup||Standard pickup truck||Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra|
|Heavy duty pickup truck||Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ram Heavy Duty, Ford Super Duty, Nissan Titan XD|
|Special purpose vehicle||—||Limousine||Special purpose vehicle||—||—||—||Lincoln MKT Livery|
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's Transport and Tourism Ministry allowed 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.
Examples of kei cars:
Examples of city cars:
Other small cars:
This class is known as supermini in the UK, subcompact in North America. Superminis have three, four or five doors, and even as an estate shape. They 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. Superminis can be premium cars, such as the Citroën DS3, named 2010 Car of the Year by Top Gear Magazine. Superminis are some of the best selling vehicles in Europe with 25% of the market shares (2013). In 2007, the Peugeot 207 has been the most sold car in Europe, whereas the best seller is almost systematically a car from the compact segment.
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 4,250 mm (167 in) long in case of hatchbacks and 4,500 mm (177 in) 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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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".
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".
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 Cadillac CT6, Lincoln Town Car and Maserati Quattroporte.
Examples of grand saloons:
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:
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 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 compact SUVs:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Small Off-Roaders".
Examples of SUVs:
This category is equivalent to the EuroNCAP class "Large Off-Roaders".
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":
Examples of Japanese "vans"
Examples of Chinese "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.
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.
Any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.