What is a supermini? A guide to car terms

Searching for a new car can be a daunting process for anyone, and with the sheer amount of technical information and jargon to take on board, it can be an almost impossible task.

If you’re not a car nut, but you want the best car for your money, descriptions such as ‘supermini’, ‘SUV crossover’, ‘hot hatch’ and ‘coupe’ can be confusing.

To make your life easier, we’ve broken the terms down into what they really mean, with examples of each one.

What is a city car?

City car is a self-explanatory description. It is used to describe some of the smallest cars on the roads today, those cars which are designed to be small and efficient for those busy city streets.

City cars will generally be very cheap to run, and designed to fit into the tightest of urban parking spots. Usually they will only have three doors because of the small size, and low top speeds mean they are not ideal for long distance travel, although there are some exceptions.

They also make ideal first cars for newly qualified drivers, because the small engines will result in lower insurance premiums and they are generally inexpensive to run.

Examples of city cars include the Renault Twingo, Ford Ka and Peugeot 107. The Chevrolet Spark is a rare example of a city car built with five doors.

What is a supermini?

The name may sound like it describes a car smaller than a mini, but in fact superminis are larger than city cars and often come in three- and five-door versions.

Superminis fill the space between the ultra compact city cars and the larger family hatchbacks, and offer a bit more practicality and space than the likes of the Fiat 500 city car.

Superminis are also some of the most popular cars on the UK roads today, with the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa regularly topping the sales charts.

Like city cars, superminis are generally cheap to run, with cars such as the Citroen C3 even offering models which are VED free because of their low emissions.

Other superminis include the Alfa Romeo MiTo, Fiat Punto, Mazda3, Renault Clio and Seat Ibiza.

What is a small family car?

‘Family car’ covers a broad range of cars, and is a term generally used to describe what you would call a ‘normal’ size car.

A family car is larger than a supermini, but could be a hatchback, saloon, estate, or even a small MPV.

Smaller family cars are generally hatchbacks or estates (see below) and include the likes of the Ford Focus, Renault Megane and Vauxhall Astra.

Many family cars are available in more than one body style. For example, there is a Ford Focus hatchback and an estate version of the car.

Family cars generally offer more leg and head space for passengers and more luggage space in the boot than superminis can offer.

However, they can also be frugal, with some of the more efficient hatchbacks offering supermini levels of CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

What is large family car?

Large family car refers to saloons, estates and MPVs. There is no set criteria distinguishing a small from a large family car, but if you were to see a Ford Focus and a Ford Mondeo together, the difference would be obvious.

Large family cars are again a step up in space and often equipment levels. Examples include the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Mazda6, Citroen C5 and the Peugeot 508.

What is an ExecutiveLuxury car?

This is a much more specific category, usually applying to large saloons and estates which are generally more expensive than other cars because of the high levels of equipment, expensive materials used and quite often, because of the badge.

Executive cars generally refer to saloons and estates, whereas luxury can apply to any type of car which boasts high levels of equipment and build quality, for example Land Rover’s premium Range Rover SUV.

Executive and luxury cars are often favoured by businesses and can often be found being used as chauffeur cars.

An example of a luxury car would be the Jaguar XJ, while a more executive model would be the XF saloon.

What is an MPV?

MPV, or Multi Purpose Vehicle, can also be called a people carrier. These are large, often box-like cars capable of carrying 5-7 people.

They often offer plenty of storage space, although the drive is often seen as less fun than a smaller car. They can also be more expensive to run than smaller cars.

Recently, MPVs have become more stylish, for example the Mazda5 uses a flowing design to stand out from the crowd.

The MPV is often home to clever, practical innovations, such as storage racks and rear-hinged doors, as seen on the recent Vauxhall Meriva.

MPVs can also be relatively small, with supermini-size MPVs becoming more popular with downsizers. The likes of the Meriva and Ford S-Max are not much bigger than a small family car, but can offer more practicality because of their clever design. These are often known as ‘compact MPVs’.

What is an SUV?

SUVs, or sports utility vehicles, boast distinctive styling and often offer four-wheel drive. These are spacious, practical cars that offer a high driving position and several have outstanding off-road capability.

Land Rover is perhaps the best known manufacturer of 4x4s, from the rugged Defender to the more luxurious Land Rover.

However, the likes of the Vauxhall Antara, Mazda CX-7 and Ford Kuga are also capable SUVs.

Often derided as fuel-guzzling environment-wreckers, SUVs have become more eco-friendly in recent years, and even Land Rover has introduced two-wheel drive models alongside more efficient engine technology.

What is a crossover?

A more recent trend is that of the crossover. A crossover can be anything which doesn’t fit into the above categories.

For example, the Kia Sportage combines the features of an SUV and a hatchback to create a mix of the two, and is often referred to as an SUV crossover.

Kia also boasts the Soul, which features SUV styling in an extremely small car, while Peugeot recently released the 3008, which takes features from SUVs, MPVs and hatchbacks to create a unique car.

Body styles

As well as the broad categories, there are various ‘body styles’ within them. For example a three-door hatchback refers to a car with a door on each side and a rear door opening into the boot.

An estate car features a full-size compartment at the back and a bigger boot. It can also be referred to as a station wagon (SW) or even sports tourer (ST) by some manufacturers.

The term coupe refers to a huge range of cars depending on the manufacturer, but as a general guide, it can mean a two-door hard top car. The term 2+2 coupe, as in the case of the Peugeot RCZ, describes the seating pattern in the car – two in the front and two in the back.

Cabriolet is another name for a drop-top or convertible and can be mixed with coupe if it is a convertible version of a coupe. For example, the Renault Megane comes in Coupe or Coupe-Cabriolet (CC) body styles.

Roadster can also be used to describe a convertible car, but often only applies to cars with two seats. However, it can also sometimes refer to cars with a roof. The term Spider or Spyder is also used by some manufacturers in place of roadster.

A saloon refers to a car with a separate boot from the main body of the car, accessible via a ‘lid’.

Finally, a hot hatch is a high-performance version of a hatchback. They often have a more powerful engine and extra features such as sports seats and spoilers. An example would be the Seat Leon Cupra R or the Ford Focus RS.