One of the first steps in the car buying process is determining what vehicle you should actually buy. This may sound like a simple task at first, but once you begin thinking about it, you will realize just how complicated it can be. We recommend to start your selection process by figuring out your vehicle type. If you have already done so, you can jump to the next recommended step, which is vehicle research. If you are not sure which vehicle type would suit you best, here is what you need to take into account to make a concrete decision.
The first step toward choosing the right vehicle type is knowing which vehicle types actually exist and what their characteristics are. Below are some of the most common vehicle types in North America.
NOTE: Motorcycles and commercial vehicles like vans, limousines and hearses are excluded from this list.
A sedan is a passenger vehicle with four passenger doors and five seating spaces across two rows. The rear seats are usually spacious enough to accommodate at least two adults or three small children. The cargo compartment, known as the trunk, is normally disconnected from the cabin and features a windowless lid. Sedans are the most common vehicle type on the market, which makes them the standard by which all vehicles are judged. These vehicles are best suited for single individuals, childless couples and regular-sized families.
A hatchback is a passenger vehicle with a rear door, called a hatch, which lifts up to allow access to a cargo compartment. Most hatchbacks offer five seating spaces across two rows and can have either two or four passenger doors, though some variants may have only one row. The cargo area is usually connected to the cabin, which allows the user to fold down the second seating row and create more cargo space in the process. The back row (if present) is usually spacious enough to accommodate at least two adults or three small children. As a result, these vehicles are perfectly suited for singles, couples and regular-sized families.
A coupe is a two-door passenger vehicle with a fixed roof. It is shorter than a sedan or hatchback and features either two or five seating spaces across one or two rows. Rear seats in coupes are usually not spacious enough for adults, which means that they are often reserved for light items. The cargo compartment is disconnected from the cabin and features a windowless lid – though some coupes offer a hatchback as an alternative. Coupes are perfectly suited for individuals and couples, but due to their small size, they are unfit for families.
A convertible is a passenger vehicle that comes with a retractable roof that allows the user to alternate between open-air and enclosed modes. In the past, retractable roofs used to consist of an articulated frame covered in a folding textile-based fabric. Today, many convertibles feature retractable hardtops that withdraw and stow themselves in the trunk. These vehicles usually come with two seats and emphasize sporting appearance. Like coupes, they are best suited for singles and couples since they are much shorter than sedans and hatchbacks.
A sport utility vehicle, or SUV, is an automobile that puts a special emphasis on cabin space and cargo capacity. Depending on its size and configuration, an SUV can have four to eight seats across two or three rows. As is the case with hatchbacks, the cargo area is connected to the cabin and features a rear door that lifts up. Many SUVs can also handle rugged terrains thanks to all-wheel drive and have the towing capacity of a pickup truck. What separates these vehicles from hatchbacks and minivans is their bulky, truck-like appearance and high ground clearance.
It is worth noting that crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, are often referred to as SUVs – and vice versa. This is because they look remarkably similar. However, instead of utilising the chassis of a truck, crossovers sit on a car’s platform, meaning that their body and frame are a single piece. As a result, SUVs are believed to be better at handling rough terrains and towing heavy loads, but since this is not always true, we lumped crossovers and SUVs into a single category.
Thanks to their size and capabilities, these vehicles are best suited for families or people who enjoy off-road trips.
A minivan is a small van that exists primarily for personal use. They often feature three seating rows, which means that they can house six to eight passengers, depending on the configuration. Access to the rear seating space usually involves one or two sliding doors, though out-swing variants exist as well. The cargo area is usually connected to the cabin and comes with a rear door that lifts up. Minivans ride higher than hatchbacks and station wagons, but lower than SUVs. These vehicles tend to be associated with comfort and size, which makes them perfect for families.
A station wagon is a sedan with its roof extended rearward over the cabin and cargo area. This roof style allows the vehicle to fit in more cargo in the back. Just like hatchbacks, station wagons have a rear door for accessing the cargo compartment and two seating rows, with five seats in total. The second seating row can fold down, which allows owners to expand the existing cargo space when necessary. The back row is usually spacious enough to accommodate at least two adults or three small children. As a result, these vehicles are perfectly suited for singles, couples and regular-sized families.
A pickup truck is a light vehicle that features an open-top rear cargo area, known as a bed, with low sides and a tailgate. The general purpose of a pickup is to transport goods, not people. As a result, regular cab pickups feature a single row of seats and two doors. However, most pickup trucks feature a front bench instead of chairs, which allows three people to sit at the front. Extended and crew cab pickups have two seating rows, though only crew cab versions have four doors. Bed sizes include standard, short and long. In general, pickups have a very limited appeal since they are best suited for people who need to transport and tow heavy materials on a regular basis.
Keep in mind that vehicle types do not indicate specific dimensions. Sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs and pickup trucks are particularly varied. Sedans usually retain the same amount of seats and doors regardless of their dimensions, while hatchbacks, SUVs and pickup trucks do not.
Typical vehicle sizes are subcompact, compact, midsize and full-size, but the terminology varies from one vehicle type to another, so it is almost impossible to nail them all down. When researching sizes, the best strategy is to count the amount of seats and then rely on vehicle reviews for more information. We provide more tips on how to research a vehicle here.
Now that you know a little about vehicle types and dimensions, you should be able to determine which ones would benefit your life the most. Here are the parameters you can use to make your choice:
One of the most important parameters to consider when choosing a vehicle type is size.
First, you need to determine the amount of passengers you intend to transport. The best way to do so is by counting the number of seats. For instance, if you have a family of three, then you need a vehicle that has at least four seats, which may be a sedan, hatchback, SUV, station wagon or minivan.
The next step is determining how much cargo space you would need. This would likely depend on the size of your family. The more mouths you have to feed, the more space you need for groceries, toys and other items. Minivans, station wagons and SUVs are ideal because they strike a good balance between passenger space and cargo capacity. Hatchbacks and sedans are great too, but they tend to be a bit smaller as far as dimensions are concerned. Pickup trucks are in a realm of their own, because their main purpose is to transport cargo. Four-seat variants can theoretically function as family vehicles, but they cannot surpass dedicated family automobiles like minivans or SUVs, when it comes to overall comfort.
Once you know how much space you need, it is time to take a look at your lifestyle and how a car would fit into it. This means understanding where you live and where you plan to drive.
For instance, if you need a family vehicle, but you live in a heavily-populated urban area where you plan to drive the most, then a hatchback or sedan would probably serve you best. These vehicles are attractive and roomy, while being relatively easy to maneuver in congested streets and park in tight spaces. On the other hand, if you and your family occupy a sparsely-populated suburb, then a station wagon or a compact SUV might serve you better – because your location can handle their slightly bigger size. Alternatively, if you and your family live in the middle of a city, but you do most of your driving alone on highways, then something sturdy, like an SUV or a pickup truck, might do better.
Driving style matters almost as much as lifestyle. If you are looking strictly for a driver-focused experience, then a coupe or a convertible are likely to satisfy you the most as they tend to prioritize performance, handling and speed. If you are looking for something that caters to drivers, but can also fit a family, then you should consider a sedan or a hatchback. Larger vehicles are usually more difficult to control, so unless you really need a full-size SUV with three seating rows, you should probably stick to a compact or midsize vehicle.
Aesthetic preferences matter too, because they can easily sway your opinion one way or the other. For instance, sedans and hatchbacks often tend to be similar in length and cabin dimensions, but you may determine that sedans are more attractive and thus pick a sedan.
The final step is to connect all the dots. Write down your size preferences, location and driving style and then list all the vehicle types that fit your criteria. If you have more than one type listed, then use your aesthetic preferences to make the final choice.
Once you pick your vehicle type, the next step is to begin your vehicle research.
Updated on March 26, 2013
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