Car classification

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Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for various purposes including regulation, description, and categorization of cars.


The International Standard ISO 3833-1977 Road vehicles – Types – Terms and definitions also defines terms for classifying cars. [1]

Summary of classifications

The following table summarises the commonly used terms of market segments and legal classifications.

Euro Car Segment [2] Euro NCAP Class US EPA
Size Class [3]
Other common
segment terms
Quadricycle Microcar
Bubble car
Bond Bug, Smart ForTwo, Isetta,
Mega City, Renault Twizy
A-segment mini cars Supermini MinicompactCity car
Kei car (JP)
Chevrolet Spark, Fiat 500, Kia Picanto,
Suzuki Alto, Renault Twingo
B-segment small cars Subcompact Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Opel Corsa,
Peugeot 208, Volkswagen Polo
C-segment medium cars Small family car Compact Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus,
Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf
Subcompact executive Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series,
Lexus CT, Mercedes-Benz A-Class
D-segment large cars Large family car Mid-size Ford Mondeo, Toyota Camry, Peugeot 508,
Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat
Compact executive (U.K.)
Entry-level luxury (U.S.)
Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series,
Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class
E-segment executive cars Executive Large Full-size car (U.S.) Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus,
Holden Caprice, Toyota Avalon
Mid-size luxury (U.S.) Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CT5,
Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Tesla Model S
F-segment luxury cars Full-size luxury (U.S.)
Luxury saloon (U.K.)
Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ,
Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera
S-segment sports coupés Supercar Bugatti Chiron, LaFerrari, Lamborghini Aventador,
Pagani Huayra, Porsche 918 Spyder
Convertible Chevrolet Camaro, Mercedes-Benz CLK,
Volvo C70, Volkswagen Eos, Opel Cascada
Roadster sports Two-seater Roadster
Sports car
BMW Z4, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5,
Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK
M-segment multi purpose cars Small MPV Minivan Mini MPV Citroën C3 Picasso, Kia Venga, Ford B-Max,
Opel Meriva, Fiat 500L
Compact MPV Chevrolet Orlando, Ford C-Max, Suzuki Ertiga,
Renault Scénic, Volkswagen Touran
Large MPV People mover (AU) Chrysler Pacifica (RU), Kia Carnival, Renault Espace,
Toyota Sienna, Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
J-segment sport utility cars Small off-road 4x4 Small SUV Mini 4x4 (U.K.)
Mini SUV (U.S.)
Daihatsu Terios, Ford EcoSport, Jeep Renegade,
Peugeot 2008, Suzuki Jimny
Compact 4x4 (U.K.)
Compact SUV
Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V,
Peugeot 3008, Kia Sportage
Large off-road 4x4 Standard SUV Large 4x4 (U.K., AU)
Mid-size SUV (U.S.)
Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee,
Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
Full-size SUV (U.S.)
Large 4x4 (U.K.)
Upper Large SUV (AU)
Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover, Chevrolet Suburban,
Toyota Land Cruiser, Mercedes-Benz GLS

Market segments

Microcar / kei car

2018 Aixam Crossline 2018 Aixam Crossline Premium GT CVT 600cc Front.jpg
2018 Aixam Crossline

Microcars and their Japanese equivalent— kei cars— are the smallest category of automobile. [4]

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.

Microcars are most popular in Europe, where they originated following World War II. The predecessors to micro cars are voiturettes and cycle cars. Kei cars have been used in Japan since 1949.

Examples of microcars and kei cars:

A-segment / City car / Minicompact

2014-present Citroen C1 2018 Citroen C1 Urban Ride 1.0 Front.jpg
2014–present Citroën C1

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.

The equivalents of A-segment cars have been produced since the early 1920s. However, the category increased in popularity in the late 1950s when the original Fiat 500 and BMC Mini were released.

Examples of A-segment / city cars / minicompact cars:

B-segment / Supermini / Subcompact

Renault Clio 2019 Renault Clio RS Line TCE Automatic 1.3.jpg
Renault Clio

The next larger category small cars is called B-segment Europe, supermini in the United Kingdom and subcompact in the United States.

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). [5] 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 have any formal definitions based on size.

Early supermini cars in Great Britain include the 1977 Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Chevette.

In the United States, the first locally-built subcompact cars were the 1970 AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto. [6]

Examples of B-segment / supermini / subcompact cars:

C-segment / Small family / Compact

Volkswagen Golf Volkswagen Golf VIII IMG 2609.jpg
Volkswagen Golf

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). [5]

Examples of C-segment / compact / small family cars:

D-segment / Large family / Mid-size

Toyota Camry 2018 Toyota Camry (ASV70R) Ascent sedan (2018-08-27) 01.jpg
Toyota Camry

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:

E-segment / Executive / Full-size

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Dodge Charger

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 are not considered luxury cars.

Examples of non-luxury full-size cars:

F-segment / Luxury saloon / Full-size luxury

See Luxury saloon / full-size luxury section below.

Minivans / MPVs

Minivan is an American car classification for vehicles that are designed to transport passengers in the rear seating rows, have reconfigurable seats in two or three rows. The equivalent terms in British English are multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), people carrier, and people mover. Minivans are often of the "one-box" or "two-box" body configuration, high roofs, flat floors, sliding doors for rear passengers, and high H-point seating.

Mini MPV

Opel Meriva (2011-2017) Meriva B Facelift Front.jpg
Opel Meriva (2011–2017)

Mini MPV is the smallest size of MPVs and the vehicles are often built on the platforms of B-segment hatchback models.

Examples of Mini MPVs:

Compact MPV

Ford C-Max (2011-2019) 2018 Ford C-Max facelift Front.jpg
Ford C-Max (2011–2019)

Compact MPV is the middle size of MPVs. The compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and large MPV (minivan) size classes.

Compact MPVs remain predominantly a European phenomenon, although they are also built and sold in many Latin American and Asian markets.

Examples of Compact MPVs:

Large MPV

Renault Espace I (1984-1991) Renault Espace1 1984 front 20140122.jpg
Renault Espace I (1984–1991)

The largest size of minivans is also referred to as "large MPV" and became popular following the introduction of the 1984 Renault Espace and Dodge Caravan. Since the 1990s, the smaller compact MPV and mini MPV sizes of minivans have also become popular. If the term "minivan" is used without specifying a size, it usually refers to a large MPV.

Examples of Large MPVs:

Luxury vehicles

Premium compact

2012-2020 Audi A3 Audi A3 SportBack 2017 (front).jpg
2012–2020 Audi A3

The premium compact class (also called subcompact executive) 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. [8]

Examples of premium compact cars:

Compact executive / luxury compact

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2019 Lexus IS

A compact executive car or a compact luxury 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" [9] [10] [11] [12] and "entry-level luxury car", [13] [14] [15] although the latter is also used for the smaller premium compact cars. [16] [17]

Examples of compact executive cars:

Executive / mid-size luxury

2018 BMW 5 Series 2018 BMW 520d M Sport Automatic 2.0 (1).jpg
2018 BMW 5 Series

An executive car is a premium car larger than a compact executive and smaller than a 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:

Luxury saloon / full-size luxury

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2019 Mercedes-Benz S350d L AMG Line Executive 3.0 Front.jpg
Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The largest size of a 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. [18]

Examples of luxury saloons:

Sports / performance cars

Cars that prioritize handling or straight-line acceleration are called sports cars or performance cars. However the term "sports car" is also sometimes used specifically for lightweight two-seat cars. Sports/performance cars can either be built on unique platforms or be upgraded versions of regular cars.

Common categories of sports/performance cars are:

The definitions for these categories are often blurred and a car may be a member of multiple categories.

Sports car

Jaguar E-Type SeriesoneJag.jpg
Jaguar E-Type

Sports cars are designed to emphasize handling, performance, or the thrill of driving. Sports cars originated in Europe in the early 1900s, with one of the first recorded usages of the term "sports car" being in The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom in 1919. [19] Sports cars started to become popular during the 1920s. [20] The term was originally used for two-seat roadsters (cars without fixed roofs). However, since the 1970s the term has also been used for cars with fixed roofs (which were previously considered grand tourers). [21]

Examples of sports cars:

Sports sedan / sports saloon

Holden (HSV) GTS 2014 HSV GTS (Gen-F) sedan (17489403444).jpg
Holden (HSV) GTS

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.

Examples of sports sedans:

Supercar / hypercar

Lamborghini Countach Lamborghini Countach - Flickr - Alexandre Prevot (6) (cropped).jpg
Lamborghini Countach

A supercar – also called an 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:

SUVs / off-road vehicles

Passenger vehicles with off-road capability or styling features are often categorized as either off-road vehicles, sports utility vehicles, or crossover SUVs. There are no commonly agreed boundaries between these categories, and usage of the terms varies between countries.

Off-road vehicle

Jeep Wrangler (2018-present) 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited Multijet 2.1 Front.jpg
Jeep Wrangler (2018–present)

The earliest type of passenger vehicle is called an "off-roader", "four-by-four" or "four-wheel drive". Off-road vehicles usually more focussed on off-road capability than SUVs and crossover SUVs (often compromising their on-road ride quality or handling). [22] Common features of off-road vehicles are four-wheel drive, high ground clearance, a body-on-frame (separate chassis) construction and low-range gearing.

Examples of off-road vehicles:

Sport utility vehicle

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Ford Explorer (2020–present)

A sports utility vehicle (SUV) combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.

There is no commonly agreed definition of an SUV, and usage varies between countries. Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light-truck chassis. However, a broader definition considers any vehicle with off-road design features as an SUV. In some countries — such as the United States — SUVs have been classified as "light trucks", resulting in more lenient regulations compared to passenger cars.

The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons / carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Most SUVs produced today use unibody construction (as per passenger cars). However, in the past, many SUVs used body-on-frame construction.

Examples of SUVs:

Crossover SUV

Skoda Kodiaq 2018 Skoda Kodiaq Scout TDi SCR 4X4 2.0 Front.jpg
Skoda Kodiaq

A crossover SUV— also called crossover or CUV— is a type of sports utility vehicle (SUV) that uses a unibody construction. Crossovers are often based on a platform shared with a passenger car, as a result, they typically have better comfort and fuel economy, but less off-road capability (many crossovers are sold without all-wheel drive) than truck-based SUVs, though more so than passenger cars.

There are various inconsistencies about whether vehicles are considered crossovers or SUVs, therefore the term SUV is often used as a catch-all for both crossovers and SUVs.

Examples of crossover SUVs:

Government classification methods

These classifications can be based on body style (e.g. sedan, coupe or hatchback), number of doors or seating capacity. [23]

Government departments often create classification schemes for the purposes of taxation or regulating vehicle usage (e.g. vehicles that require a specific licence or are restricted to certain roads). Some jurisdictions may determine vehicle tax based upon environmental principles, such as the user pays principle. [24]


In Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries publishes its own classifications. [25]


A similar set of classes is used by the Canadian EPA. [26] 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. [27]

United Kingdom

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. [28]

United States

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 footprint (length times width) and weight. [29]

US Highway Loss Data Institute classificationDefinition
Regular two doorTwo-door sedans and hatchbacks
Regular four doorFour-door sedans and hatchbacks
Station wagonsFour doors, a rear hatch, and four pillars
MinivansVans with sliding rear doors
SportsTwo seaters and cars with significant high-performance features
LuxuryRelatively 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) [30]
Shadow (square footage of exterior length × width)
Curb weight70 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)MiniSmallSmallSmallMidsize
2,501 to 3,000 lb (1,150–1,350 kg)SmallSmallMidsizeMidsizeMidsize
3,001 to 3,500 lb (1,350–1,600 kg)SmallMidsizeMidsizeLargeLarge
3,501 to 4,000 lb (1,600–1,800 kg)SmallMidsizeLargeLargeVery large
>4,000 lb (1,800 kg)MidsizeMidsizeLargeVery largeVery large
US IIHS|HLDI Guide to SUV size groups [31]
Curb weight
Mini<=3,000 lb (1,350 kg) and shadow <80 sq ft (7.4 m2)
Small3,001 to 3,750 lb (1,350–1,700 kg)
Midsize3,751 to 4,750 lb (1,700–2,150 kg)
Large4,751 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. [32]

US NHTSA classificationCodeCurb weight
Passenger cars: miniPC/Mi1,500 to 1,999 lb (700–900 kg)
Passenger cars: lightPC/L2,000 to 2,499 lb (900–1,150 kg)
Passenger cars: compactPC/C2,500 to 2,999 lb (1,150–1,350 kg)
Passenger cars: mediumPC/Me3,000 to 3,499 lb (1,350–1,600 kg)
Passenger cars: heavyPC/H3,500 lb (1,600 kg) and over
Sport utility vehiclesSUV
Pickup trucksPU

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. [33]

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. [5]

US EPA car classTotal passenger and cargo volume (cu. ft.)
Two-seatersAny (designed to seat only two adults)
MinicompactLess than 85 cu ft (2,400 L)
Subcompact85 to 99 cu ft (2,400–2,800 L)
Compact100 to 109 cu ft (2,850–3,100 L)
Mid-size110 to 119 cu ft (3,100–3,350 L)
Large120 cu ft (3,400 L) or more
Small station wagons Less than 130 cu ft (3,700 L)
Mid-size station wagons130 to 159 cu ft (3,700–4,500 L)
Large station wagons160 cu ft (4,550 L) or more

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". [34]

North American market segments

Several other segment descriptions, listed below, are used in North America. Cars from these segments may also be sold in other countries. However, usage of the terms is mostly specific to within North America.

Muscle car

1970 AMC The Machine 1970 AMC The Machine 2-door muscle car in RWB trim by lake.JPG
1970 AMC The Machine

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 the 1960s and early 1970s special editions of mass-production cars which were designed for drag racing.

Examples of muscle cars:

Pony car

Ford Mustang (1965-1973) 1966 Ford Mustang T-5 car.JPG
Ford Mustang (1965–1973)

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:

Personal luxury car

1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau.jpg
1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

A personal luxury car is a North American market segment for premium coupé or convertible produced from 1952–2007. These two door cars prioritized comfort, styling and a high level of interior features. [37] Not prioritizing maximum interior space, interior volumes are equivalent size to mid-size cars and are part of the D-segment in the European car classification, and exterior dimensions can exceed F-segment.

The segment rose to popularity following the success of the 1958-60 Ford Thunderbird, which sold 200,000 units. [38] Personal luxury cars from General Motors and Chrysler respectively include the Buick Riviera and Chrysler Cordoba. [39]

Examples of personal luxury cars:

Sport compact

Dodge Neon SRT-4 DodgeSRT4.jpg
Dodge Neon SRT-4

A sporting version of an affordable compact car or a subcompact car. There is no precise definition and the description is applied for marketing purposes to a wide variety of models.

Cars began to be marketed as sport compacts in the mid-1980s when it was used for option packages on American-built coupes. Since then, it has also been used for standalone sports car models and cars imported from Europe and Asia.

The European equivalent is a hot hatch. However, sport compacts are not restricted to just hatchback body styles.

Examples of sport compact cars:

European market segments

Several other segment descriptions, listed below, are used in Europe. Cars from these segments may also be sold in other countries. However, usage of the terms is mostly specific to within Europe.

Grand tourer

Maserati GranTurismo 2018 Maserati GranTurismo Sport Automatic 4.7 Front.jpg
Maserati GranTurismo

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

Peugeot 205 GTI (1993-1998) Pug205gti vorn.jpg
Peugeot 205 GTI (1993–1998)

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:

See also

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JAC Motors is a Chinese automobile and commercial vehicle manufacturer. The company is based in Hefei, Anhui Province, China.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trumpchi</span> Chinese automotive brand by GAC Group

Trumpchi is an automotive marque owned by the Chinese automaker GAC Group. It was launched in December 2010. The Trumpchi brand is operated in Chinese domestic market while it is rebranded as GAC in oversea markets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Compact crossover SUV</span> Second smallest vehicle size class

Compact crossover SUV is an automobile classification used mainly in North America to describe a segment of crossover SUV, a type of sport utility vehicle, between subcompact crossover SUV and mid-size crossover SUV.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Subcompact crossover SUV</span> Smallest sport utility vehicle vehicle class

Subcompact crossover SUV is an automobile segment used to describe the smallest segment of crossover SUV, a type of sport utility vehicle, below the compact crossover SUV. Subcompact crossover SUVs are usually based on a platform of a subcompact passenger car, although some high-end subcompact crossover models are based on a compact car (C-segment). The segment started to gain traction during early to mid-2010s when the number of models and sales figures rapidly increased in major markets such as North America and Europe. In 2019, around 22 percent of SUV global sales were contributed by subcompact crossovers.


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