Car body styles explained – what’s the difference?

When you’re thinking about buying a new car, it sometimes feels like you need to learn a whole other language first. A car can be a practical solution or a stylish addition to your lifestyle – if you know what to look for. So to help you, here’s our quick and simple run down of what defines the most popular car body types on the road today.


‘Estate’ is a term that can be applied to a number of different adapted car body types. Similar to family car models such as saloons or SUV crossovers, an estate is based on the same chassis but with an extended roof at the rear that converts the car from a three-box to a two-box design (‘boxes’ denote compartments of the car body volume: engine, passenger and cargo). This means boot space is extended in all directions, enabling heavier and more cumbersome loads to be carried. Estates are also called ‘station wagons’ in the US.

Estate cars you might like:


The most popular of all commercially available car body types, saloons (also known as ‘sedans’ if you’re from the US) are a versatile and dynamic car type used by both families and executives. Typically built around a four-door chassis, saloons seat five and have a fixed roof that maintains full height right back to the rear windows.

Saloon cars you might like:


Hatchbacks are another model that has proved popular with families, as well as young drivers. A hatchback combines the passenger and cargo space, using innovative rear-seat configurations to enable boot capacity to be adapted. Often offered with a three-door structure, hatchbacks feature a two-box design with A, B and C-pillars.

Hatchback cars you might like:


A coupé is a derivative of the popular saloon model, but with a couple of key differences. Coupés are designed with wider doors, a lower roof (especially to the rear) and smaller rear seating area. Often referred to as a ‘two-plus-two model’, coupés are designed to occasionally accommodate two passengers in the rear at most, rather than the capacity to regularly travel with three rear-seat passengers in a saloon.

Coupé cars you might like:


Convertibles (also referred to as ‘cabriolets’) are a sub-category of car body types including saloons, hatchbacks and coupés that are defined by their retractable roofs. The roof can be made of either textiles or rigid sections, which denote whether the vehicle is termed a ‘soft-top’ or ‘hard-top’. Most often furnished with four or five seats, a two-seat convertible is usually coined a ‘roadster’.

Convertible cars you might like:

People Carrier

As the name suggests, people carriers (also known as MPVs or minivans) offer increased passenger capacity and more practical accessibility for children, the elderly and disabled. Generally seating from six to eight, people carriers resemble the extended two-box style of estate cars, but with a raised ceiling and larger car body for better visibility and increased cargo capacity.

People Carriers you might like:


Once exclusively associated with rugged, country estate offerings such as Land Rovers and Jeeps, the 4×4 market is undergoing something of a renaissance thanks to the rise of the SUV. 4x4s are defined by their drivetrain, which provides power independently to each wheel so they can better navigate tricky terrain and tow heavier loads. This additional power means that 4×4 car bodies are often upgraded to include increased seating or cargo capacity.

4x4s you might like:

  • Land Rover Range Rover
  • Nissan Juke
  • Vauxhall Antara


While a van can be defined as almost any type of medium-to-large vehicle depending on your location, in the UK the phrase refers to a high-sided two-box shaped commercial vehicle. Vans usually include either two or three seats in one bank in the cab, with an extended, windowless area to the rear for the transportation of goods or equipment.

Vans you might like:

If you’re looking for more expert advice on choosing a new car or used car, why not stop by your local Perrys dealership today?