What Are The Different Car Body Types?

May 13, 2016 by Joe Newman | Guides | Choose a used car

When you’re buying a used car, there can often be a lot of jargon thrown your way. Ever wondered what those words such as ‘hatchback’, ‘saloon’ or ‘MPV’ actually mean? They’re all different body types. Here we cut through these often baffling terms and tell you what defines each.

What is a Hatchback car?

Perfect for: Everyone

These are cars that have a sloping back-door, which includes the rear window. Easily the most popular body type in the UK, hatchbacks can be hugely varied in terms of size, price and use. Therefore, it’s helpful to break them down into the following:

City Cars

Perfect for: Urbanites, or those who dislike difficult parking

  • Easy to park
  • Fuel efficient
  • Great value
  • Not as spacious as some
  • Not always suited to motorway
  • Less comfortable than some

As the name suggests, these are cars specifically designed for urban driving. Characterised by a very short wheelbase, space-efficient interior layout and very short bumpers, examples include models such as the Smart ForTwo, VW Up and Peugeot 108. These cars are perfect if you’re doing the majority of your driving around the city or are simply looking for mobility on a budget. However, if you’re doing regular motorway or long distance driving, you might want to consider a more refined and spacious alternative.


Perfect for: Those who have recently passed or just require great-value motoring


  • Highly affordable
  • Easy to park
  • Nimble handling


  • Restricted space
  • Not the most refined
  • Can feel cheap at low-end

With primary examples including the Vauxhall Corsa, Toyota Corolla and Ford Fiesta, this is the most popular car body type available in the UK. With good reason. Slotting in between city cars, such as the Smart ForTwo and larger family hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus, these cars provide a great blend of space, performance and value. Unlike a city car, two or three passengers will comfortably fit in the back - great for your mates if it’s your first car, but also for family motoring if you're on a limited budget.

Family Hatchback

Perfect for: Anyone who wants a well-rounded option


  • Great all-rounders
  • Fun to drive
  • Accessible boot


  • Not as spacious as an MPV
  • Not as cheap as a supermini
  • Not as luxurious as a saloon

The 'family hatchback' class of cars is probably one of the best all-round options you can go for. Cars of this body type usually provide the perfect balance between great performance, when you’re out on the road, and the practical space you may require. If budget isn’t a key consideration, more premium brands such as Audi, BMW and Lexus have all got in on the act, creating high-end hatchbacks that offer a little bit more luxury. However, those with larger families may want to opt for a saloon, estate or MPV, as these will be able to offer you more adequate boot and cabin space.

What is a Saloon car?

Perfect for: Executives, families or even the Queen


  • Fantastically comfortable
  • Luxurious options available
  • Look great


  • Not as spacious an MPV
  • Restrictive boot loading
  • Not best value

Called a sedan in the United States, a saloon car has a ‘three box’ design. This means the car is built by three identifiable parts that, together, create the car: the bonnet, the cabin and a separate boot compartment. Saloons are ideal if you’ve got a medium-sized family and require space, security and luxury in equal measure. There is also a huge variety of saloon cars, aimed at every end of the market, so there’s always going to be an option to fit your budget and requirements. Varying from mainstream examples, such as the Ford Mondeo, to the ultra-high-end, such as the Rolls Royce Phantom.

What is an Estate car?

Perfect for: Large families, dog owners or anyone who needs flexible space.


  • Huge amounts of space
  • Accessible boot loading
  • Good value for money


  • Not as stylish as saloon
  • Can suffer from sluggish handling
  • Don't have off-road ability of an SUV

Estate cars are usually based on saloons or hatchbacks and are defined by their large tailgate and extended boot compartment. This means you can carry more stuff and it’s easier to load. Plus, if you fold the rear seats down, you’ve essentially got yourself as much space as you’d probably consider adequate in any small-sized van. Probably the most famous examples of estate cars can be found from Swedish manufacturer, Volvo, with models such as the V60 and V70 forever pushing the boundaries at the top of the class. 

What is an MPV car?

Perfect for: Families and those who's key concern is space


  • Hugely spacious
  • Flexible seating
  • Value for money


  • Not the best to drive
  • Not as stylish as alternatives
  • Don't have off-road ability of an SUV

Multi-purpose-vehicles, people carriers or MPVs have grown massively in popularity over the last 20 years. Also often called minivans, they’re essentially cars the size of vans. Ideal for larger families, no matter how many kids you have, you’ll be able to find an MPV that suits your space requirements. As well as space, however, MPVs usually offer clever cabin storage solutions, flexible seating and slide side doors. They typically come in a large (sometimes called ‘grand’) 7-seat variety and a smaller 5-seat option. Classic examples are the Citroen C4 Picasso, the Ford Galaxy and the Renault Scenic.

What is an SUV car?

Perfect for: Large families and those who live in rural areas


  • Great for off-roading
  • Really spacious
  • Good view of the road


  • More expensive to run
  • Not the most environmental
  • Not as good on the tarmac as other options

SUV or 'Sports utility vehicle' is a broad term that describes a car with off-road credentials. This can vary from the tarmac-focused 'crossover' - usually hatchbacks with jacked-up suspension, such as the Ford EcoBoost, to the ultimate SUV, the all-terrain Range Rover. Characterised by a large boot, cabin and jacked up suspension, SUVs provide enough space to comfortably fit a family, while providing a better view of the road than an MPV. And, as manufacturers are acutely aware that more often than not SUVs are used on the road, they're designed to carve a great balance between handling equally well on and off the tarmac.

What is a Coupe car?

Perfect for: People who love driving


  • Great handling
  • Speedy models available
  • Look fantastic


  • Lack practicality
  • Costly running costs
  • Less space than alternatives

The actual definition of coupe cars differs significantly depending on the manufacturer. Although, typically, a coupe is characterised by having 2 doors, a sloping roof and, in contrast to a convertible, a fixed one. If your next car is all about owning a machine that allows you to indulge in your love of driving, there are very few options better than a coupe. They're not just about driving, though, they're also about making a statement. In short, if you drive a coupe, you're going to look pretty damn cool. With examples ranging from more mainstream offers such as the Vauxhall Astra GTC, right up to the supercar territory of Ferrari, there's a coupe for you, whatever your budget.    

What is a Convertible car?

Perfect for: Anybody who loves the sunshine


  • Great handling
  • Roof comes down
  • Look great


  • Not ideal for winter
  • More expensive than coupes
  • Often handle worse than coupes

Sometimes used interchangeably with the term 'Cabriolet' or 'Drop-top', a convertible is any car where you can drop the roof, feel the wind in your hair and enjoy the summertime sunshine. Usually, but not always, based on a coupe, convertibles are hugely popular in the UK and it's not difficult to see why. There's no better way to enjoy good weather on 4 wheels. What's more, because of their rampant popularity, manufacturers are now producing convertible models for all ends of the market. This means, whatever your budget, there's a drop-top option for you. Examples range from cheaper models such as the Peugeot 107 convertible, right through to supercar cabriolets, such as the Porsche 911 Targa.