What Does Body Style of a Vehicle Mean?

by Rob Wagner

The body style of a vehicle refers to the shape and model of a particular automobile make, such as Ford, Chevrolet or Chrysler. Contemporary passenger-car body styles generally include two-door coupes, four-door sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons, sports cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles and convertibles. Truck cab body styles include regular cab, extended cab and four-door crew cabs.

Coupes and Convertibles

Coupes are two-door cars. Two-door coupe automobiles manufactured before World War II generally had a "B" pillar behind the doors with a small window above the rear quarter panel. These cars were coupes. However, after World War II, General Motors developed the pillarless two-door coupe, called the hardtop. The hardtop featured a thin roofline and no "B" pillar to mimic the look of a convertible. The hardtop came with two or four doors. For example, the 1962 Lincoln Continental with no pillar is an example of a four-door hardtop. A convertible is a coupe without the top.

Sedans

Contemporary sedans feature four doors and are marketed to families or buyers not attracted to the sporty looks of a coupe. Some early postwar cars like the Chevrolet Impala came in two-door sedan models. The two-door sedan had a "B" pillar and had a more squared roofline, similar to the four-door sedan. Two-door sedans disappeared by the 1970s. Contemporary sedans generally have four doors. A 2011 Chevrolet Impala and 2011 Chevrolet Cruz come in four-door sedan models.

Hatchbacks

In the 1970s, Japanese and European automakers introduced the concept of the hatchback, which comes in three- and five-door styles, to the United States. The hatchback doesn't have a conventional trunk that extends from the rear window, but a cargo area integrated into the body and accessed through a rear door, or "hatch."

Sports Cars

All sports cars feature two doors and come as a coupe, such as a Dodge Viper, or as a convertible roadster, such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Chevrolet Corvette comes as a coupe or roadster. Sports cars usually have only two seats, but some feature 2+2 seating with a very small bench seat in the rear.

Station Wagons

Conventional station wagons fell out of favor with the arrival of the minivan in the early 1980s, but have made somewhat of a comeback in smaller versions called touring or estate wagons. Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have introduced a series of touring wagons. Station wagons are essentially sedans, but have the roof extended over what would be the trunk, with access gained through the rear door.

Minivans

Minivans can trace their lineage to the Volkswagen Transporter. VW Transporters could accommodate up to nine people. The 1984 Toyota Van and Dodge Caravan, and later the Chevrolet Astro, Ford Aerostar and Chrysler Town & Country, ultimately replaced the conventional station wagon. They took the VW Transporter concept but made the vehicle a more comfortable seven-passenger model in a box-shaped body style.

Sport Utility Vehicles

Sport utility vehicles are based on a truck or passenger-car platform. SUVs based on a passenger-car platform are called crossovers. Crossovers and truck-based SUVs look the same with truck-style looks, such as the Dodge Durango or Chevrolet Suburban. Larger versions look like pickup trucks but with the roof extending over where the cargo box is normally found. The SUV can accommodate up to nine people. A crossover, such as a Honda CR-V, is generally smaller.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.

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