Cars can come in a large variety of different body styles. Some are still in production, while others are of historical interest only. These styles are largely (though not completely) independent of a car's classification in terms of price, size and intended broad market; the same car model might be available in multiple body styles (or model ranges). For some of the following terms, especially relating to four-wheel drive / SUV models and minivan / MPV models, the distinction between body style and classification is particularly narrow.

Please note that while each body style has a historical and technical definition, in common usage such definitions are often blurred. Over time, the common usage of each term evolves. For example, people often call 4-passenger sport coupés a "sports car", while purists will insist that a sports car by definition is limited to two-place vehicles.

Body work[]

In automotive engineering, the bodywork of an automobile is the structure which protects:

  • The occupants
  • Any other payload
  • The mechanical components.

In vehicles with a separate frame or chassis, the term bodywork is normally applied to only the non-structural panels, including doors and other movable panels, but it may also be used more generally to include the structural components which support the mechanical components.


There are three main types of automotive bodywork:

  • The first automobiles were designs adapted in large part from horse-drawn carriages, and had body-on-frame construction with a wooden frame and wooden or metal body panels. Wooden-framed motor vehicles remain in production to this day, with many of the cars made by the Morgan Motor Company still having wooden structures underlying their bodywork.
  • A steel chassis or ladder frame replaced the wooden frame. This form of body-on-frame construction is still common for commercial vehicles.
  • Monocoque, or unibody construction, in which the "chassis" is part of, and integrated with the metal body. It provides support to all the mechanical components, as well as protection for the vehicle occupants. Although there is no separate complete frame or chassis, many monocoque/unibody designs now often include subframes. Steel monocoque construction is now the most common form of car bodywork, although aluminum and carbon fiber may also be used.

Less common types include tube frame and space frame designs used for high-performance cars. There have also been various hybrids, for example the Volkswagen Beetle had a chassis, consisting of the floor pan, door sills and central tunnel, but this chassis relied on the stiffening provided by the bodywork, a technique sometimes called semi-monocoque construction.

Non-structural body panels have been made of wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass and several more exotic materials.

Body styles[]

There are several common car body styles:

Styles in current use[]

4x4 or 4WD ("four-by-four" or "four-wheel drive")
A four-wheeled vehicle with a drivetrain that allows all four wheels to receive power from the engine simultaneously. The terms are usually (but not exclusively) used in Europe to describe what is referred to in North America as a sport utility vehicle or SUV (see below).
Cabrio coach or Semi-convertible
A form of car roof, where a retractable textile cover amounts to a large sunroof. Fundamental to various older designs such as the Citroën 2CV; sometimes an option on modern cars.
A term for a convertible (see below).
A body style with a flexible textile folding roof or rigid retracting roof — of highly variable design detail — to allow driving in open or enclosed modes.
A 2-door, 2- or 4-seat car with a fixed roof. Its doors are often longer than those of an equivalent sedan and the rear passenger area smaller; the roof may also be low. In cases where the rear seats are very small and not intended for regular use it is called a 2+2 (pronounced "two plus two"). Originally, a coupé was required to have only one side window per side, but this consideration has not been used for many years.
Coupé utility (ute)
the coupé utility is a passenger-car derived vehicle with coupé passenger cabin lines and an integral cargo bed.
Crossover (or CUV)
A loose marketing term to describe a vehicle that blends features of a SUV with features of a car — especially forgoing the body on frame construction of the SUV in favor of the car's unibody or monocoque construction.
Estate car
British name for a station wagon.
A design where the roof slopes at a smooth angle to the tail of the car, but the rear window does not open as a separate "door".
A style of car roof. Originally referred to a removable solid roof on a convertible; later, also a fixed-roof car whose doors have no fixed window frames, which is designed to resemble such a convertible.
Identified by a rear door including the back window that opens vertically to access a storage area not separated from the rest of the passenger compartment. May be 3 or 5-door and 2 to 5 seats, but generally in the US the tailgate isn't counted making it a 2-door and 4-door.
A converted luxury car usually used to transport the dead. Often longer and heavier than the vehicle on which they are usually based. Can sometimes double up as an ambulance in some countries, such as the United States, especially in rural areas.
Leisure activity vehicle
A small van, generally related to a supermini, with a second or even a third seat row, and a large, tall boot.
A style of coupé with a hatchback; this name is generally used when the opening area is very sloped (and is thus lifted up to open).
By definition, a chauffeur-driven car with a (normally glass-windowed) division between the front seats and the rear. In German, the term simply means a sedan.
Designed to carry fewer people than a full-size bus, generally up to 16 people in multiple rows of seats. Passenger access in normally via a sliding door on one side of the vehicle. One example of a van with a minibus version available is the Ford Transit.
North American term for a boxy wagon-type of car usually containing three or four rows of seats, with a capacity of six or more passengers. Often with extra luggage space also. As opposed to the larger van, the minivan was developed primarily as a passenger vehicle, though is more van-like than a station wagon. In Britain, these are generally referred to as people carriers.
Multi-purpose vehicle, a large car or small bus designed to be used on and off-road and easily convertible to facilitate loading of goods from facilitating carrying people.
A cross between the smooth fastback and angled sedan look. It is a sedan type with a separate trunk compartment.
People carrier or people mover
European name to describe what is usually referred to in North America as an Minivan.
Pickup truck a.k.a pickup
A small, medium, or large-sized truck, though smaller in every case than a Semi tractor truck. The passenger cabin is wholly separated from the cargo bed.
Usually a prefix to coupé, fastback, or hardtop; completely open at the sides when the windows are down, without a central pillar, e.g. the Sunbeam Rapier fastback coupé.
Originally an open car like a roadster, but with a soft top (cloth top) that can be raised or lowered. Unlike a convertible, it had no roll-up side windows. Now often used as slang for a convertible.
Retractable Hardtop
aka Coupé convertible or Coupé Cabriolet. A type of convertible forgoing a foldable textile roof in favor of a multi-segment rigid roof retracts into the lower bodywork.
Originally a two-seat open car with minimal weather protection — without top or side glass — though possibly with optional hard or soft top and side curtains (i.e., without roll-up glass windows). In modern usage, the term means simply a two-seat sports car convertible, a variation of spyder.
A car seating four or more with a fixed roof that is full-height up to the rear window. Known in British English as a saloon. Sedans can have 2 or 4-doors. This is the most common body style. In the U.S., this term has been used to denote a car with fixed window frames, as opposed to the hardtop style wherein the sash, if any, winds down with the glass.
Sedan delivery
North American term for a vehicle similar to a wagon but without side windows, similar to a panel truck but with two doors (one on each side), and one or two rear doors . Often shortened to delivery; used alone, "delivery" is presumed to be a sedan delivery. No longer manufactured.
Sport utility vehicle (SUV)
Derivative of a pickup truck or 4-wheel-drive vehicle, but with fully-enclosed passenger cabin interior and carlike levels of interior equipment.
Spyder (or Spider)
Similar to a roadster but originally with less weather protection. The term originated from a small two-seat horse cart with a folding sunshade made of four bows. With its black cloth top and exposed sides for air circulation, the top resembled a spider. Nowadays it simply means a convertible sports car.
Shooting brake
A two-door estate car; generally for vintage or extremely expensive vehicles. They were vehicles for the well-off shooter and hunter, giving space to carry shotguns and other equipment. Usually made to order by coachbuilders. The term is occasionally revived.
Station wagon
A car with a full-height body all the way to the rear; the load-carrying space created is accessed via a rear door or doors. Sometimes shortened to just wagon.
Surrey top
Similar to the Porsche Targa top, the surrey top was developed by Triumph in 1962 for the TR4.
A derivative of the Targa top, called a T-bar roof, this fixed-roof design has two removable panels and retains a central narrow roof section along the front to back axis of the car (e.g. Toyota MR2 Mark I.)
Targa top
A semi-convertible style used on some sports cars, featuring a fully removable hard top roof panel which leaves the A and B pillars in place on the car body. (e.g. Fiat X1/9). Strictly, the term originated from and is trademarked by Porsche for a derivate of its 911 series, the Porsche 911 Targa, itself named after the famous Targa Florio rally. A related styling motif is the Targa band, sometimes called a wrapover band which is a single piece of chrome or other trim extending over the roof of the vehicle and down the sides to the bottom of the windows. It was probably named because the original Porsche Targa had such a band behind its removable roof panel in the late 60s.
Australian/New Zealand English term for the Coupe Utility body style (see above). Sometimes used informally to refer to any utility vehicle, particularly light trucks such as a pickup truck. In American English, sport-ute is sometimes used to refer to an SUV (see above).
In North America "van" refers to a truck-based commercial vehicle of the wagon style, whether used for passenger or commercial use. Usually a van has no windows at the side rear (panel van), although for passenger use, side windows are included. In other parts of the world, 'van' denotes a passenger-based wagon with no rear side windows.
Wagon delivery
North American term (mainly U.S. and Canada). Similar to a sedan delivery, with four doors. Sometimes shortened to delivery; used alone, "delivery" is presumed to be a sedan delivery. No longer manufactured.

Non-English terms[]

Some non-English language terms are familiar from their use on imported vehicles in English-speaking nations even though the terms have not been adopted into English.

Italian term for a roadster. The name means, roughly, "small boat".
Italian term for a sedan.
French term for a sedan.
Italian term for a sport coupé.
French term for a station wagon.
Portuguese term for a station wagon. Not used in Brazilian Portuguese.
Portuguese nickname for a limousine (the same word for Sword - long piece of metal). Not used in Brazilian Portuguese.
Portuguese term for a van. Not used in Brazilian Portuguese.
Portuguese alternative term (less used) for a van. Used in Brazilian Portuguese.
Russian, Bulgarian, German, Portuguese, Hebrew and Greek term for a sport utility vehicle. Originally from the English-language jeep, of which the name's origins can be researched on the Jeep page.
is a German abbreviation of "Kombinationswagen" (Combination Car) and it is German name for station wagon. Since Germany is a major producer of cars for many European countries, the term Kombi in this meaning is also used in Russian, Swedish, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian. In Afrikaans, Kombi is also used to refer to a Volkswagen Microbus
Danish term for Minivan.
Danish term for station wagon.
Spanish term for a sedan. Literally means tourism, used mostly in Latin American countries.

Alternative names[]

Car manufacturers sometimes invent names for the body styles of their cars for the purpose of differentiating themselves from other manufacturers. These names are often, but not always, adaptations of other words and terms. The body styles themselves correlate closely to those listed above.

Name used by Honda in the 1990s for its station wagon/estate models.
A name used by German maker Audi for their station wagon/estate car models.
A generic South African term for light pickup truck.
A term used by Peugeot and Citroen to describe estates
El Camino
(Spanish) In English: "the road". A trademark of Chevrolet, the 1959 El Camino was a half-car (front) and half-truck (back) with low walls surrounding the bed. In other words, it used the coupé utility body style. El Camino is used by some in the US as a generic term for any passenger car with an integral cargo bed. While the 1957 Ford Ranchero with similar body style debuted before the El Camino, it did not have the success of its Chevrolet counterpart.
Used by Opel for its station wagon/estate car models.
Used by Škoda for its station wagon/estate car models.
Combi coupé
A name used by Saab for a cross between a saloon and an estate car, essentially a hatchback. Called "SportCombi" in the United States.
Sometimes used to describe a luxury sedan or town car. Actually a trade mark of Rolls-Royce.
Coupe Roadster
The Mercedes-Benz name for their convertibles with a removable hardtop.
Fordor and Tudor
These names were coined by Ford Motor Company in the 1950s to describe four-door and two-door bodystyles respectively. These terms were used sporadically into the 1960s.
Name used in Italy in the 70s and early 80s in models for an Autobianchi three-door station wagon based on Fiat 600, as well as a similar version of the Alfa Romeo Alfasud.
Hardtop Convertible
A retractable hardtop, e.g., the 1958 Ford Skyliner or Peugeot's décapotable électrique of 1934.
Short for High Performance Estate, a name used by Lancia for a station wagon version of their Beta model. Resurrected for the three-door hatch version of the Lancia Delta Mk II.
Originally, a car with a tapered rear that cuts off abruptly, after that shape's inventor Wunibald Kamm, commonly seen especially on sports cars. However, this usage is rare nowadays. In North America during the 1970s this style was used in the Chevrolet Vega wagon and AMC Hornet wagon, and so many think of it as another word for "station wagon" or "hatchback" respectively even though it refers to the very specific aerodynamic design of the back of the car. This style is seeing a resurgence on modern vehicles (2004 Toyota Prius and Honda Insight) in the interests of gasoline economy.
Popular station wagon/estate version of the Renault 21, so much that people dropped the 21 when referring to it.
Originally, a sedan or possibly a coupe with a backlight (rear window) which slanted backward, so that the top of the roof extended further backward than the bottom of the window. Some types of the 1958 Lincoln had this, as well as some of Ford's British cars. Later, it became used for sedans or coupes which are not fastbacks, including many hatchbacks.
Used by Fiat for station wagons during the late 1970s and early 1980s, notably the 127, 128 and 131. Replaced by the Weekend designation in the mid 1980s, but kept for passenger versions of light commercial vehicles.
Pillared Hardtop
This name was used by Ford in the 1970s to describe its bodies which had frameless door glass like a hardtop, but retained a center pillar like a sedan. The 1972-1976 Torino sedans and wagons were of this type, as were the 1975-1979 Lincoln Town Cars. When GM introduced a similar style on their intermediates for 1973-1977, they called the two-doors Colonnade Hardtop Coupe and the four-doors, in a triumph of ad agency gibberish, Colonnade Hardtop Sedan. The 1976 Buick Century sedan used this configuration. Before Ford introduced its "Pillared Hardtops" in the early seventies, GM had the same body style available on its "C" body cars (Buick Electra 225, Oldsmobile 98 and Cadillacs) from 1965 to 1970. GM called them "semi-thin pillar sedans" as they had a slightly larger center pillars than other GM sedans (that were called "thin pillar sedans") but they had no window frames like the "thin pillar sedans" had.
A high roofed station wagon, after the Nissan model of the same name.
Sport Activity Coupe (SAC)
This name is used by BMW for their X5-based X6, which is called so because although it's an SUV, the X6 has the styling, ride height, and seating capacity of a typical coupe.
Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV)
This name is used by BMW for their sport utility vehicle models. It was first used on the X5 and later on the X3.
Sport sedan or Sports sedan
is how General Motors calls its models by Saab automobile.
This term, which has been used by GM for several European models, has been applied to a number of body styles: A sporty liftback or hatchback and a sporty variant of a 2-door estate car (e.g. Vauxhall Magnum Sportshatch).
A term used by Alfa Romeo to describe estates
Sports Wagon
A term used by a number of manufacturers in the North American market for their station wagon models, an example of the Sports Wagon would be the 1960s Buick Sport Wagon and the current Dodge Magnum. Auto manufacturers in recent years perceive a stigma attached to the term 'station wagon', and attempt to make these models sound more exciting.
A term used by Peugeot to describe estates (eg. Peugeot 407 SW) The SW models of Peugeot (without 206 SW) are station wagons with glass panoramic roof. There are also BREAK versions,which are station wagons without a glass roof.
Used by Rover for its station wagon/estate car models.
Used by BMW and Mercedes-Benz in Europe for its station wagon/estate car models. In North America, "Sports Wagon" is used instead.
Name applied to the Mini's estate version. Later co-opted by Nissan and used for estate versions of the Sunny and Primera in Europe.
Used by Ford in Europe for its station wagon/estate car models. Alternatively called Clipper in some markets.
Used by Volkswagen for its station wagon/estate car models.
Used by SEAT for its station wagon/estate car models.
Used by Toyota for MPV versions of the Yaris/Vitz, Corolla and Avensis.
Used by Aston Martin for convertibles.
Used by Fiat for station wagons since the 1980s, including the Regata, Tempra and Marea, as well as the small Brazilian-built world car estates Duna and Palio.

Historical body styles[]

Most early body styles were derived from those available in horse-drawn carriages and used the coachbuilding terms for them, although often their application in the automobile differed from the carriage use. Other types were soon invented, and either used modifications of earlier terminology or wholly new terms to describe them. Some of these terms are occasionally used in modern model designations, but almost always inaccurately with respect to their historical meaning (e.g. Lincoln Town Car, Volkswagen Phaeton). Fifteen of them were chosen as standards by the SAE in 1922.[1]

Generally equivalent to a sedan, but more likely to have closed rear quarters and sometimes more luxuriously trimmed.
Bubble car
Inexpensive, extremely small footprint vehicles, manufactured in Europe's depressed post-World War II economy. Modern descendants are the kei car and city car.
Close-coupled sedan
A four-windowed sedan with a trunk that from front to rear was almost as thin as an upright suitcase. The rear-seat passengers sat a little bit forward of the differential. Ford Motor Company called its version a "Victoria" in the 1930s.
Coupé convertible
A coupé with a convertible top, naturally. Fully enclosed with the top up and side windows up. Called a drophead coupé in the United Kingdom.
Drophead coupe
As a coupé, but with a full convertible top. British terminology, and dropping out of use for most modern cars, though luxury British makes occasionally still use it. Compare American use of coupe convertible; contrast with fixed-head coupé.
Fixed-head coupé
British term for a standard coupé with a fixed solid roof, as opposed to a drophead coupé. In cases where the rear seats are very small and not intended for regular use these are sometimes called a 2+2.
A fixed-roof car with a mostly-enclosed cabin in front and a high-mounted open drivers seat in the rear.
In automobiles, generally (inaccurately) synonymous with landaulet; also used for a car with a simulated folding top and false landau bars. This latter usage is still current.
Landaulet (Landaulette)
A car in which there is a roof over the front seats and the rear doors (possibly with a center row of seats) but with a folding convertible roof over the rear quarters.
An open car, normally describing a double or triple-row phaeton. There is often a folding fabric top but no side weather protection. Early Phaetons had a high-mounted rear seat for the driver. The modern VW Phaeton derives its name, but nothing else, from this style.
Roadster utility (or Roadster ute)
A car combining an open-topped roadster body with a rear cargo bed.[2]
Roi des Belges
Named after King Leopold II of Belgium who ordered the first example. A large open car with high built seats and the rear seat usually set higher than the front seat. Also know more rarely as a Tulip Phaeton because of the side profile of the rear of the car resembling the shape of a tulip flower head..
A popular open light body style, normally with a single bench seat but sometimes with a rear tonneau. Most cars in the first decade of the 20th century were either runabouts or touring cars.
A car with a single bench seat mounted at the center, a folding cloth top, and only a buckboard at the front.
A car in which the rear compartment passengers enter through a rear, rather than side, door. Often completely open (no top).
Basically a convertible, with low side panels and doors.
An open car with four or five seats, usually equipped with a folding roof and side curtains. [3]
Touring car
A larger car, normally with two rows of seats (with a tonneau) and a large compartment at the front.
Town brougham
Equivalent to a town car, but, as with the brougham, more likely to have closed rear quarters.
Town car
A car in which the front seats were open and the rear compartment closed, normally with a removable top to cover the front chauffeur's compartment. The modern Lincoln Town Car derives its name, but nothing else, from this style.
Town landaulet, Town landau
Combining the town car and landaulet, this car is open over the driver's compartment, closed over the rear doors, and with an opening convertible top over the rear quarters.

See also[]

  • ACRISS Car Classification Code
  • Automotive design
  • Car classification
  • Car model
  • Coach convertible
  • Three wheeled car
  • Vehicle size class
  • Vinyl roof
  • Woodie

External links[]

  1. New York Times report of the SAE decision
  2. Larry O'Toole, The Good Old Aussie Ute, 2000, page 6
  3. The Macquarie Dictionary of Motoring, 1986, page 485