Car Categories

Compacts, Crossovers and Cabriolets: So, what car is it anyway?

Saloons. Hatchbacks. Crossovers. The pileup is endless and often confusing!

Long, long ago – the seventies or eighties to be precise – it was easy to name a car by its category. It was either a sedan or a station wagon, or as the Grease generation would readily point out, a convertible. In the following two decades or so, so much has changed and so many have turned up in the amazing world of cars, it’s almost chaotic when you try deciding what kind of car is yours.

From the names that are merely namesake to totally new species and genres, the car industry has fed the motorist with choices in terms of style and functionality! So, here is a quick reference guide to do without tossing a coin when it comes to naming your car or your neighbour’s.

Cars and categories


The earliest prototype of a car as we know it, this is how kids used to draw a car before the hatchback entered. Known as a sedan in the US, the saloon has an elongated body and an enclosed boot space that is separate from the passenger cabin. Most of the large cars belong to this category.

Estate/Station Wagon

In countries like the U.S., most homemakers prefer this kind for the school run and household errands. Known as the station wagon in the US, an estate is a saloon car whose ample boot area is an extension of the passenger compartment itself. The boot space makes it a good family car and a great airport taxi.


A hatchback is just like a saloon till we reach out for the rear. Access to its boot is through a large rear door with a window that together lifts up. Hatchbacks are available in three or five door versions, and many hatchback models, such as the Chevrolet Aveo, Peugeot 207 or Ford Focus come in saloon versions too. Thanks to their relative compactness, they form 70% of congested markets like India.


Preferred by cool guys with a sporty temperament and enjoyed in the more temperate seasons, a convertible car features a roof that can be retracted and folded away. They are often referred to as open top and can have two or four doors.


A cabriolet is a convertible car with a soft-top, which is usually made of vinyl or canvas. Sometimes a Cabriolet is called a Spyder, for example the Audi R8 V10 Spyder. Cabriolet is French for convertible.

Coupe Cabriolet

If a cabriolet is a convertible with a soft top, a coupe cabriolet or CC is one with a retractable hard top. The roof is normally made of steel, aluminium, carbon fibre or plastic materials. A CC has four seats and only two doors (VW Passat CC is a notable exception). From Renault and Ford to BMW, almost everyone has coupe cabriolet models under its roof.

Coupe Roadster

This is a coupe cabriolet with a retractable hardtop but only two seats instead of four. The Mazda MX5 Roadster has been a popular model in recent years.


A roadster is a two seat car that has a retractable roof, normally a soft top. A coupe roadster is the hard top version.

Cross Cabriolet

A cross cabriolet is a fusion of an SUV (see below) and a cabriolet. The 2011 Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet is the only model so far. The car is based on the four-wheel drive Murano crossover and features a soft top roof and two doors.

City Car

Just what the name suggests. It is a car designed for use in urban commute, they are compact and highly manoeuvrable, and best of all can squeeze into tight parking spots. The category sometimes gets referred to as subcompacts or superminis.


Somewhere in between a supermini and a mid-sized car, such as a saloon or hatchback. In Europe, they would make up the C-Segment. The Mazda 3 or Renault Fluence would perhaps fit into this category.


Meant for those who wish to own the superior feeling of an SUV without compromising too much on sedan comfort. A product of the last decade, a crossover is a combination of two different types of vehicle. Usually, an SUV is crossed with a hatchback, city car or MPR. Examples vary from the Volkswagen Tiguan, a compact SUV, to the Peugeot 3008 which a mix of hatchback and SUV.

Hot Hatch

Hot hatch is a fond reference to a three or five door hatchback that doubles up as a ‘high performance’ car. They are usually equipped with a turbocharger and offer a sporty drive. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is commonly touted as the original hot hatch, and still remains a hot favourite.


MPV is short for Multi-Purpose Vehicle. It is a large car that can seat 7 or more people. Flexible seating and ample storage space make them a favourite with families. The Peugeot 5008 or the Toyota Previa are good examples.


Smaller than a hatchback but bigger than a city car, superminis have become increasingly popular. Superminis is a European term, whilst subcompact is the North American equivalent. The supermini class includes the BMW Mini, Citroen C1, Renault Clio and Toyota Yaris. For ease of day to day reference, they end up being called hatchbacks though.


A Sports Utility Vehicle, or SUV for short, is a combination of an MPV and 4×4. Originally designed for off-roaders, they have quickly gained popularity among super-mums doing the school run. The high riding position, spacious interior and powerful engines allow them to take short-cuts to get to school on time plus give the lady drivers a sense of heightened security.

Four by Four

Often shortened to 4×4, this is a vehicle designed to distribute the power from the engine among all the four wheels, as opposed to conventional two wheel drive cars. They are made for off-roading and are ideal for adverse climate and terrains – sand, snow or ice, the 4 x 4 helps you discover further. This is also the favourite vehicle of the Middle East driver!

What is to be noted is that many of these category names are used interchangeably, sometimes depending on the attribute of the vehicle it describes and often, due to casual convenience or plain ignorance!

Part of the information is adapted from

4 Responses to Car Categories

  1. Sunil Blessent Roche says:

    Hi Mr. Koshy,

    I have been listening to you on hit FM on and off with Mithun’s show. I have always heard you speak about the high end cars and sports cars which are way behind our understanding. Actually coming to pint, I would like to seek your kind and expert advice about our new purchase of car. Please suggest with the details narrated below.
    1. Budget : 100,000
    2. Preferred car : KIA Sorento
    But my friends say that with the same amount you could go for any other brand or even opt for Prado – used car in good condition from retail used car showr rooms. Now I am confused. I prefer to ise brand new. Please suggest.


    • Sudeep Koshy says:

      Hi Sunil, Thank you for being a listener too. You see, the show is meant to be entertaining and informative, and I hope to give a glimpse of different cars including the latest and the exotic ones. If you noticed, all four weeks of Ramadan, the cars chosen were popular people’s choices in crossovers – thus keeping a balance. Now, about Sorrento, Kia might be trailing Toyota or Nissan in resale in this region but it is a highly regarded brand worldwide these days. So if you like the Sorrento, go for it by all means. Insisting on longer warranty periods will let you breathe easy.

  2. Nahas says:

    Hello Sudeep,

    Could you please give review on Ford Ecosport model, i will need to travel daily from Alain to Dubai covering a distance of 260 kms daily.


    • Sudeep Koshy says:

      Hi Nahas, I happened to drive a few hundred kilometers in a rented three year old EcoSport. It was an average car ticking regular boxes with moderate fuel efficiency. I will try to review a new Ecosport to be fair to the vehicle. Have you taken a test drive yet?

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