Innovation


Car body types explained.

4 November 2020

Do you know your coupé from your cabriolet? What about your sedan from your estate? We break down the most common car body styles. 

Innovation


Car body types explained.

4 November 2020

Do you know your coupé from your cabriolet? What about your sedan from your estate? We break down the most common car body styles. 

Coupé is a tricky little term, and not just because it’s pronounced so differently by French and English speakers and The Beach Boys (who sing, confusingly, of what sounds like “a Little Deuce Coop”, which actually refers to a car, rather than a home for chickens).

In the world of cars, a coupé (or “koo-pay”) was long thought to describe a vehicle with a sloping, sporty roofline and just two doors (the term, which translates from the French word for “cut”, was first used to describe horse-drawn carriages that carried only two passengers).

But then, in 2002, Mercedes-Benz shocked the world, and lexicographers, by unveiling the Vision CLS concept, featuring an “innovative coupé body with four doors and generous interior space”.

This created a whole new kind of motor vehicle, and the idea was widely copied, although it’s still best represented by Mercedes-Benz, with cars like the snarling AMG GT 4-Door Coupe, the stylish CLA and the super-premium CLS.

In short, it’s no surprise that the various body shapes and types of cars can be confusing, even though most of them are slowly being dwarfed out of existence by our preference for the one-size-suits-all SUV.

Minus the coupé, then, here is our definitive list of body styles.

Sedan

A red car

The classic sedan has four doors, a boot at the back, enough space for a family of four, and is best typified by the legendary Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Image: Daimler.

This one you know, because it’s what you might call the standard car, the shape a child might draw on a pencil case. Four doors, a boot at the back, enough space for a family of four, and best typified by the legendary Mercedes-Benz C-Class (although you can also go smaller, with the A-Class Sedan, or bigger, through E-Class and S-Class). A larger, more luxurious sedan such as the S-Class may also be known as a ‘saloon’.

Hatch

A silver hatchback

A hatch is a five-door car that looks like a sedan from the front, but has a cut-off, shapely rear end – such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Image: Daimler.

Much like the Beach Boys “Coop”, a hatch – shortened from the more descriptive hatchback – is nothing to do with birds.

A hatch is also referred to as being a five-door car and describes a vehicle that looks like a sedan from front on, but has a cut-off, shapely rear end – like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class – which features a large rear door, or hatch, rather than just a boot.

The goal is to provide more rear storage space, even in smaller-sized vehicles, although there are bigger hatches, such as the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, as well.

Estate

A blue station wagon

An estate is basically a longer, bigger version of a hatch, offering a large tailgate/fifth door at the rear, and maximum boot space. Image: Daimler.

Yes, just saying you’ve got one makes you sound like landed gentry, but in Benz speak this is what we used to call a station wagon, which is basically a longer, bigger version of a hatch – or a stretched sedan, if you prefer – offering a large tailgate/fifth door at the rear, and maximum boot space. The C-Class Estate is just about the most attractive wagon money can buy, while the more adventurous, dirt-road adventurers love the E-Class All-Terrain variant.

SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles)

A silver SUV

SUVs come in many shapes and sizes, from the sweet little GLA (pictured) to the enormous and adventurous G-Class. Image: Daimler.

Many moons ago, these giant family haulers were only driven by people who looked permanently sunburnt and yearned for the outback, but today they make up almost half of all new-car sales in Australia.

Everybody wants the high-riding seating position and excellent vision that an SUV delivers, and that’s why they now come in so many shapes and sizes, from the sweet little GLA city SUV to the enormous and adventurous G-Class.

Utes

A red ute

A ute’s defining feature is the huge rear tray, traditionally used for tradies’ tools but now just as likely to carry kids’ bikes, toys or surfboards. Image: Daimler.

Another area of growth in the car market over the past decade or so has been utes, or what we used to call pick-up trucks, until we joined the Americans in falling head over giant wheels in love with them.

A ute is basically a workhorse that’s somehow become a family truck. It can have either two doors or four, two seats or five, but its defining feature is the huge rear tray, traditionally used for a tradies’ tools but now just as likely to carry kids’ bikes, toys or surfboards. The Mercedes-Benz X-Class is the ute for people who want both style and practicality.

Cabriolets and Roadsters

A white convertible

Cabriolet and roadster are both words that mean “convertible”, as in a car with a roof that can be dropped to expose the cabin to the elements. Image: Daimler.

Now, just for one final touch of confusion, which we can quickly dispel, Cabriolet and Roadster are both words that mean “convertible”, as in a car with a roof – either soft fabric or solid metal – that can be dropped/converted to expose the cabin to the glorious elements (and closed again if it rains).

A yellow convertible

The main difference between a roadster and a cabriolet is that the latter has rear seats while a roadster is made only for two. Image: Daimler.

The difference between the racy-looking SL Roadster, or the even fiercer Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster, and the C-Class, E-Class and S-Class cabriolets is that the latter have rear seats, while a roadster is made only for two.

By Stephen Corby