Car Body Styles Explained

There's a world of choice in today's car market. To make the choice easier, we've broken down all of those vehicle choices into ten major categories covering all of the basic types of vehicles from coupes to SUVs to trucks.

The easiest way to define a vehicle is by how it looks. What's the first thing you notice when a vehicle comes toward you on the street? Its shape. That's called the "body style." Is it tall and boxy? Low and sleek? How many doors does it have? The body style is the easiest way to categorize a vehicle.


A sedan has four doors and a traditional trunk. They are available in a range of sizes from small to compacts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla to mid-size, and full-size.

Sedan Body Shape | NamAuto
Coupe Body Shape | NamAuto


A coupe has historically been considered a two-door car with a trunk and a solid roof. This would include cars like a BMW M240i Coupe. Recently, however, car companies have started to apply the word "coupe" to four-door cars or crossovers with low, sleek rooflines that they deem "coupe-like." This includes vehicles like the BMW 420i Gran Coupè.


These are the sportiest, hottest, coolest-looking coupes and convertibles—low to the ground and sleek. They generally are two-seaters, but sometimes have small rear seats as well. Cars like the BMW 4 Series Convertible M Sport, the Nissan 370Z and GT-R and Lexus IS 350 F Sport are sports cars.

Sports Car Body Shape | NamAuto
Hatchback Body Shape | NamAuto


Traditionally, the term "hatchback" has meant a compact or subcompact sedan with a squared-off roof and a rear flip-up hatch door that provides access to the vehicle's cargo area instead of a conventional trunk. The Toyota Corolla Hatch and Volkswagen Polo Vivo Hatch are two typical hatchbacks.


Does the roof retract into the body leaving the passenger cabin open to the elements? If so, it's a convertible. Most convertibles have a fully powered fabric roof that folds down, but a few have to be lowered by hand. Convertibles include cars like the MINI Convertible.

Convertible Body Shape | NamAuto
SUV Body Shape | NamAuto


SUVs tend to be taller and boxier than sedans, offer an elevated seating position, and have more ground clearance than a car. They include a station wagon-like cargo area that is accessed through a flip-up rear hatch door like the Haval Jolion, the Nissan Patrol, the Volkswagen Tiguan, the BMW X1 and the Toyota Land Cruiser 300.


Minivans are the workhorses of the family-car world, the best at carrying people and cargo in an efficient package. They're called minivans but they are far from "mini." That's because they are tall boxes-on-wheels with sliding side doors for easy access and a rear hatch that opens to a large cargo area. Most minivans have adjustable seats in their second and third rows that often can be removed or even folded into the floor to create a huge open cargo bay. The Nissan NV200 is a great example!

Minivan Body Shape | NamAuto
Bakkie Body Shape | NamAuto


A pickup truck has a passenger cab and an open cargo bed in the rear. Pickups offer some form of all-wheel drive. Pickups include a single passenger cab like the Toyota Hilux Single Cab or an extended passenger cab like the Toyota Hilux Xtra Cab or a double passenger cab like the Toyota Hilux Double Cab.


A bus has a long body, equipped with seats or benches for multiple passengers. It is often used for public transportation. The Toyota Hiace is a great example of a bus.


A truck or lorry is a motor vehicle designed to transport cargo, carry specialized payloads, or perform other utilitarian work. Trucks vary greatly in size, power, and configuration, but the vast majority feature body-on-frame construction like the Hino 300 Series or the Toyota Dyna.

Truck Body Shape | NamAuto