Determine what type of vehicle you want
There are many different types of vehicles and many more manufacturer makes and models of those vehicle types. Before you fall in love with a particular car, it makes sense to start with the vehicle type you want and then evaluate all the makes and models from the different manufacturers. Historically, automobile manufacturers have divided their light vehicle products into two categories, Cars and Light Trucks. The following is a synopsis of the various types of vehicles:
Cars: Sedans, Coups, Station Wagons, Convertibles, and Sports Cars
Medium-Sized Sedans – Mid-sized sedans represent the largest section of automobile sales, largely in part to being a great family car choice. Mid-size sedans are without a doubt the “bread-and-butter” cars for American transportation. Despite the swell in SUVs over the last decade, “good-ole mid-sized family sedans” are still the vehicles most Americans turn to for everyday transportation. When compared with small cars, mid-sized sedans have a good amount of room and can seat up to 5 people in reasonable comfort. However, some may only seat up to 4 people and legroom can be tight. Lastly, mid-sized sedans are often more powerful and have better performance and handling than smaller model cars.
Large Sedans – Large-model sedans are usually long and wide model-vehicles with hefty engines and well-appointed/well-equipped cabins. Similar to the mid-sized sedans, large sedans are a good choice as a family vehicle. Large-model sedans generally have a more luxurious and roomy interior than smaller vehicles; in addition to a long wheelbase that helps provide a smooth riding experience. Large-model sedans will seat five people with ease, and sometimes even six. Further, large sedans are the best choice among the sedans for towing heavier loads. They are generally relatively inexpensive to insure, and the sheer size and weight of the model can provide safety advantages in the event of an accident. However, the handling of large-model sedans is often not very good; and fuel economy is also not as good as smaller vehicles.
Luxury Sedans – Luxury sedans are medium-sized or large-sized cars that are usually on the high end of the pricing spectrum. The larger price tag is deemed acceptable in that “luxury vehicles” are designed to provide more pleasant and desirable features beyond the strict necessary – more equipment, greater comfort, enhanced performance, precise handling, plush appointments, technological innovation, construction precision, design ingenuity, or features that convey brand image, cachet, status, or prestige.
Luxury sedans are premium, four-door cars designed for elegance, quality and comfort, and top-of-the-line performance. However, as stated before, luxury sedans generally have a higher price tag – in some cases two or three times the cost of a non-luxury vehicle. Further, luxury vehicles are more costly to service and insure. Lastly, fuel economy may be poor and premium fuel may be required. So assuming that the steep sticker price is no object, luxury sedans bestow the most stylish, reliable, and gadget-packed driving experience on the road.
Coupes – Coupes are characterized by a closed-body style that is often a two-door – and perhaps sportier version of a four-door sedan. Coupes are often hard-topped “sporty variants” of the sedan. But, they may also be economy versions as well. Coupes generally have 2 doors instead of 4 and a close-coupled interior: the rear seat placed further forward than in a standard sedan. Because of this style, the rear seats of Coupes are often very cramped; making access to the rear seats a chore. Further, the low roof design of Coupes often limits headroom. Finally, the wide doors are often heavy and difficult to open in tighter parking spaces. However, coupes generally have a “cool” and “sporty” appearance.
Further, the suspension of coupes is one of their best features. The suspension is often tuned for better handling, giving Coupes increased driving pleasure by reducing road noise, bumps, and vibrations. Between the low prices and generally great mileage, economy coupes promise exceptionally low operational costs. Midrange and luxury coupes generally offer mileage on par with their sedan counterparts, but some insurance companies consider them “sportier” than sedans – because of this, premiums are often higher than with sedans. Economy coupes generally use efficient, four-cylinder engines that can return as much as 30 to 40miles-per-gallon.
Station Wagons/Hatchbacks – These are small or medium-sized cars that typically have a top-hinged lift-gate at the rear of the car. Hatchbacks generally have a practical and versatile layout, with features such as fold-down rear seats allowing hatchback owners to maximize cargo and carrying space. However, some Hatchbacks have sloppy “roofline” designs, which can limit headroom in the rear. Further, interior noise is generally higher than in a sedan.
After almost disappearing in favor of SUVs in the 1990s, Hatchbacks are now making a comeback. Newer, sportier hatchbacks are being marketed to young people who have no recollection of Woodies, Chevettes or Pintos. Further, they are showing up in previously unexpected places like luxury-car showrooms. That being said, the word “Hatchback” appears nowhere in advertising and promotional materials – even though cars such as the Mercedes C230 “sports coupe” fit the Hatchback definition to a “T.” And the Porsche Cayenne is one of the coolest station wagons around! Although four-seater “sedans” with two-to-four doors and a glassy lift-gate fit the classic Station Wagon/Hatchback definition, you’ll probably never hear the term Hatchback again.
Convertibles – This type of car usually comes in the form of a two-door passenger car or a small SUV. Further, convertibles commonly have a fabric top that folds down or a removable or retractable hardtop. Convertibles have a sporty appearance, good resale rates, and allow for open-air driving in warm, dry weather. However, they tend to twist and flex on rough roads, have high interior noise even with the top up, and if you have a convertible with rear seats, the seats tend to be pretty light on space. Putting the top up and down without power assistance can be tedious.
Plus, with the top down, you may have the iconic wind in your hair and sun on your face – but you also have dirt. Dirt and dust find its way into every crack possible. Typically, you have to clean the entire inside of the car every several weeks. In addition, if you have a convertible with leather seats, keeping the leather “alive” and keeping it conditioned and cleaned form the harsh sun can be a hassle. And, if you live in a hot climate, such as Southern California, the sun will make the seats hot and make sitting on those seats uncomfortable for a good part of the year. Some convertibles have a flexible rear window that can crease and become difficult to see through, and trunk room is often very cramped. Lastly, convertibles are often more expensive, more vulnerable to robbery, and usually costlier to insure.
Sports Cars – Sports cars are all about speed and handling. They are often two-seated cars that ride fast and corner well. The term sports-sedan is a more recent term that describes a four-door vehicle that handles like a sports car. These cars are typically two-seaters and have sportier performance, handling, and looks with more practical considerations. Sports cars tend to have good braking and acceleration – in addition to nimble handling. However, sports cars are notorious for a ride that is more “stiff” and “jarring” than traditional cars. The cabin is also usually somewhat noisy and cramped. Further, sports cars are often expensive to buy, service and insure. When looking at a sports car, you’ll essentially be sacrificing an “efficient” car for a “fun-to-drive” vehicle. There are numerous sites on the Internet dedicated to providing you with information and reviews about sports cars – both old and new.
Light Trucks: Minivans, SUVs, and Pickup Trucks
Minivans – Minivans are a type of automobile similar in shape to a commercial van. They are typically either two-box or one-box designs in order to offer large interior space. They are generally a taller design than sedans, hatchbacks, and station wagons – however, they are usually not much longer than medium-sized cars. In most other countries, minivans are described as “MPVs” or “multi-purpose vehicles.” Minivans represent the most practical choice for transporting lots of people and/or cargo – capable of comfortably seating up to eight people.
The minivan was designed with families in mind, and the need for maximum interior space. Minivans are the perfect vehicle for toting around a bunch of kids and all their sports equipment while also being roomy enough for a family to spread out without bumping elbows. Minivans are also designed to be comfortable enough for a decent-sized family to easily travel on road trips – having roof racks to hold luggage and camping equipment. However, while smaller vans may be able to take lots of people, all the luggage can pose a problem. Often trunk-space is not large enough to hold the luggage of eight people. The fuel economy of minivans is also generally good, especially when taking into consideration the “carrying power” of the car. And, many minivans today offer all-wheel drive.
Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) – SUV is a marketing term used to describe a vehicle that is similar to a station wagon, but built on a light-truck or medium-truck chassis. SUVs are popular vehicles known for their size and comfort, versatility of use, driving in any kind of weather, off-road driving, and rugged or trendy styling with a wide range of configurations for carrying people and cargo. SUVs offer drivers a high view of the road – they tend to be larger vehicles with raised up cabs though there are smaller versions of the SUV as well. SUVs almost always have four- and/or all-wheel-drive options for optimum traction in all conditions.
While they do come with several benefits, SUVs are often expensive to buy and maintenance can also be expensive. In addition, they generally have much higher gas-consumption than other vehicle models. They may also be more expensive to insure. Larger-model SUVs can also be clumsy and difficult to maneuver in emergency-driving situations. Further, SUVs are more prone to rollover accidents than other vehicle types. The height of an SUV may also create issues for younger and older passengers as well as for passengers with disabilities.
Pickup Trucks – Pickup trucks are light motor vehicles with an open-top rear (bed) that is primarily meant for hauling cargo. The bed of the truck is almost always separated from the cab of the truck to allow for “chassis flex” or “frame flex” when carrying or pulling heavy loads. For the most part, pickup trucks are primarily meant to carry things and not people. Because of this, most do not provide as smooth of a ride as a car or, in larger models, as good fuel economy. Pickup trucks are sold in a wide-range of models. They have many engine choices, a variety of bed lengths, and often several cab and door configurations. For example: pickup trucks can come in full-size (large, heavy vehicles often with V8 or 6-cylinder engines), mid-size, and compact (smaller trucks generally equipped with inline 4 engines).
The design details of pickup trucks vary significantly. Pickup trucks are able to carry loads too high, bulky, or dirty for enclosed “sporty” vehicles. Pickup trucks are also a solid choice for towing trailers. In addition, four-wheel drive is available with most pickup truck models. However, cargo in the bed of pickup trucks is unsecured and unprotected – even if a hard, fixed cap or Tonneau is available to cover or hide the cargo from sight. Because of this, tie-downs and straps often need to be used to secure pickup truck cargo. Also, handling of pickup trucks is often sluggish and the ride uncomfortable. In wet or snowy conditions, rear-drive-only pickup trucks can be difficult and dangerous to control – and in many cases you’ll need to buy sand bags to increase the backside weight of the truck just to make it “drive-able.”