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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.
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
|Euro NCAP Class||Euro Market Segment|
|N/A||N/A||—||Quadricycle||Bond Bug, Isetta, Mega City, Renault Twizy|
|City car||City car||City car||Minicompact||Supermini||A-segment mini cars||Citroën C1, Fiat 500, Hyundai Eon, Peugeot 108, Renault Twingo|
|Subcompact car||Supermini||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, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf|
|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||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||Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Tesla Model S|
|Full-size luxury||Luxury saloon||N/A||F-segment luxury cars||BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera, Audi A8|
|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||—||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||Small MPV||M-segment multi purpose cars||Citroën C3 Picasso, Ford B-Max, Opel Meriva, Fiat 500L|
|MPV||Compact MPV||People mover||Chevrolet Orlando, Ford C-Max, Opel Zafira, Renault Scénic, 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||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||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, Dodge Ram Heavy Duty, Ford Super Duty, Nissan Titan XD|
|Special purpose vehicle||—||Limousine||Special purpose vehicle||—||—||Lincoln Navigator L|
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:
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:
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:
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:
In Europe, the third largest category for passenger cars is called D-segment or large family car.
In the United States, the equivalent term is mid-size or intermediate cars. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a mid-size car as having a combined passenger and cargo volume of 110–119 cu ft (3.1–3.4 m3).
Examples of D-segment / large family / mid-size cars:
In Europe, the second largest category for passenger cars is E-segment / executive car, which are usually luxury cars.
In other countries, the equivalent terms are full-size car or large car, which are also used for relatively affordable large cars that aren't considered luxury cars.
Examples of non-luxury 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.
The premium compact class is the smallest category of luxury cars. It became popular in the mid-2000s, when European manufacturers— such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz— introduced new entry level models that were smaller and cheaper than their compact executive models.
Examples of premium compact cars:
A compact executive car is a premium car larger than a premium compact and smaller than an executive car. Compact executive cars are equivalent size to mid-size cars and are part of the D-segment in the European car classification.
In North American terms, close equivalents are "luxury compact" and "entry-level luxury car", although the latter is also used for the smaller premium compact cars.
Examples of compact executive cars:
An executive car is a premium car larger than a compact executive and smaller than an full-size luxury car. Executive cars are classified as E-segment cars in the European car classification.
In the United States and several other countries, the equivalent categories are full-size car (not to be confused with the European category of "full-size luxury car") or mid-size luxury car.
Examples of executive cars:
The largest size of luxury car is known as a luxury saloon in the United Kingdom and a full-size luxury car in the United States. These cars are classified as F-segment cars in the European car classification.
Vehicles in this category are often the flagship models of luxury car brands.
Examples of luxury 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:
Cars which prioritise handling or straight-line acceleration are often loosely grouped as sports cars or performance cars. These cars can either be built on unique platforms or be upgraded versions of regular cars. Common types of sports/performance cars are summarised below.
A grand tourer (GT) is a car that is designed for high speed and long-distance driving, due to a combination of performance and luxury attributes. The most common format is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-door coupé with either a two-seat or a 2+2 arrangement.
The term derives from the Italian language phrase gran turismo which became popular in the English language from the 1950s, evolving from fast touring cars and streamlined closed sports cars during the 1930s.
Examples of grand tourers:
Hot hatch (shortened from hot hatchback) is a high-performance version of a mass-produced hatchback car.
The term originated in the mid-1980s, however factory high-performance versions of hatchbacks have been produced since the 1970s.
Front-mounted petrol engines, together with front-wheel drive, is the most common powertrain layout, however all-wheel drive has become more commonly used since around 2010. Most hot hatches are manufactured in Europe or Asia.
Examples of hot hatches:
Muscle car is an American term for high-performance cars, usually rear-wheel drive and fitted with a large and powerful V8 engine. The term originated for 1960s and early 1970s special editions of mass-production cars which were designed for drag racing.
Examples of muscle cars:
Pony car is an American class of automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mustang in 1964. It broke all post-World War II automobile sales records, "creating the 'pony car' craze soon adopted by competitors." The term describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image
Examples of pony cars:
A sports car, or sportscar, is a small, usually two-seater automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling. The term "sports car" was used in The Times, London in 1919. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, USA's first known use of the term was in 1928. Sports cars started to become popular during the 1920s.
Sports cars may be spartan or luxurious, but high maneuverability and light weight are requisite. Sports cars are usually aerodynamically shaped (since the 1950s), and have a lower center of gravity than standard models. Steering and suspension are typically designed for precise control at high speeds. Traditionally sports cars were open roadsters, but closed coupés also started to become popular during the 1930s, and the distinction between a sports car and a grand tourer is not absolute.
Examples of sports cars:
A sports sedan — also known as "sports saloon" — is a subjective term for a sedan/saloon car which is designed to have sporting performance or handling characteristics.
In the United Kingdom, the term super saloon is used instead of sports saloon. However, super saloon can also be used to describe a racing car that is based on a road-going family car, for example the New Zealand Super Saloon car racing series.
Examples of sports sedans:
A supercar — also called exotic car — is a loosely defined description of certain high-performance sportscars. Since the 1990s or 2000s, the term "hypercar" has come into use for the highest performing supercars.
Examples of supercars:
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.
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|
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.