Styles. Shapes. Sizes. Coming To Terms With What A Car Is Called

What’s In A Name?

Cars are classified according to basic descriptions, specifications, common standards (among countries and manufacturers), insurance data, safety requirements, other regulations (to determine tax amounts, e.g.), within a wide range of naming and defining categories. Some terms and descriptors are very common and easy to recognize, others a little more arcane.

Whether you’re shopping for a car, collecting cars, or if just reading the latest car news gets your engine fired up, here’s a brief refresher course. 

Convertibles and Retractable Roofs

Historically, the French cabriolet (where the word “cab” or “taxi cab” comes from) defined a light 2-wheeled one-horse carriage, drawn by a horse, that featured a folding leather hood (the word originally meant a jumping or leaping goat, appropriate for the carriages that had springy suspensions). Today, it’s a bit of a fancier word that refers to an auto body style that can go from open-air to all-enclosed. . .in other words, a convertible.
Depending on make and model, a convertible can have a rigid frame covered with a flexible, folding fabric, a retractable hardtop, a completely detachable roof, or removable panels. There’s also the ‘semiconvertible’ design, called a cabrio coach, with a retractable or removable top. In this case, the coach retains fully framed windows on its doors and side glass.

Convertibles do provide good visibility, besides that SoCal wind-in-your-hair, sun-on-your-face experience, but there are some convertible ‘cons’ too, including potentially reduced structural rigidity and aerodynamics, potentially less cargo and/or interior space, and reduced safety considerations (not to mention difficulty hands-free talking on a cell phone when the top’s down).

As an example, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-class Cabriolet (based on the C-class coupe; see below) is a family of models ranging from base design, four-cylinder C300, available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, to the all-wheel-drive, six-cylinder C43 AMG, and two rear-drive, eight-cylinder iterations, the Mercedes-AMG C63 and C63 S. All C-class cabriolets are turbocharged with automatic transmissions.

Sedans and Such

The French also gave us coupé (from “cut”; a coupe is shorter than a sedan), a body style recognizable by its two doors and fixed roof.
Manufacturers have come up with a dizzying list of names to describe features and details, and to market these sleeker, sportier cars (“club coupe,” “business coupe,” “berlinetta,” “quad coupe” and more). Their popularity may have dwindled in competition with SUVs and trucks, but there’s no denying coupes can be very cool. See the 2017 Ford Mustang array for examples.

Sedan is the name for a closed car design that has two or four doors and a front and rear seat (continuing our pattern, it’s also the name of a French city). A “sedan” can sound stodgy, but they are popular because they’re practical–for required seating situations–comfortable and efficient. They’re available in small, medium and large, with or without luxury features, even in the ‘high performance’ range. Sedans are represented by the smaller (‘subcompact’) Ford Fiesta and Honda Civic, the midsize range (Ford Fusion, Kia Optima), and premium, luxury nameplates like BMW.
Finishes, features and of course, prices, are appropriate to what you like and what you’re looking for–from basic transportation on up.

SUVs, Crossovers

Built to transport big groups of people, l ots of cargo, or both at varying times, four-wheel-drive Sport Utility Vehicles are constructed on a truck chassis (body-on-frame), are similar to a station wagon, can go on or off-road, and may have towing capacity.

A crossover is built on a car platform (unibody construction) and combines in varying configurations, features of an SUV and a passenger vehicle.
Both designs have become so popular, and “interchangeable” as marketing terms and in consumers’ minds, that Wikipedia says, “SUV” is used to describe nearly anything with available all-wheel drive and raised ground clearance.” Today’s front-, rear- or all-wheel drive configurations are sought after for their sportiness, passenger room, cargo capacity, and general spirit of go-anywhere adventure. The Ford Explorer, Toyota RAV4 and Jeep Cherokee are just a few of the dozens and dozens of makes and models available.

Speaking of “subcompacts” (see above), the list of car classes (largely determined by curb weight and cubic feet of cargo volume for passenger vehicles), further includes compacts, mini-compacts, mid-size, station wagons, and more (more than there’s room for here). If you are in the market for a new, or gently-used car, study up before buying to make sure you get exactly what you want, need and are comfortable with.
And keep watching this space for anything, everything wheels- and car-related.

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