Confused by car terms? We’re here to help you decipher them
What determines an SUV, a crossover, a compact, a heavy-duty, and more?
You’re looking to buy a vehicle, so do you want a compact, midsize or full-size? A coupe, a crossover, sport-utility, or maybe a sports- activity?
There are a lot of terms, and sometimes it depends on what the manufacturer decides to call it. We’ll translate the terms to help you determine what it is you want to drive.
An automaker can call its vehicle pretty much whatever it wants, but there are classifications for fuel economy figures, determined by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). This lets the agency compare equivalently-sized vehicles for the best or worst fuel economy.
Front-wheel drive, or FWD, means the front wheels are powered. Rear-wheel drive, or RWD, means it’s the back ones.
All-wheel drive (AWD) means power to both axles, as does four-wheel drive (4WD or 4×4), but the difference isn’t always clear. Usually, AWD indicates an automatic system that you don’t have to engage, while you switch a 4WD into four-wheel when needed, such as on a pickup truck. That said, some automakers may label an AWD system as 4WD, especially if they want to make the vehicle sound more off-road rugged. Know which kind you’re getting before you buy.
And what about a “five-door”? That’s what some automakers call their hatchbacks, counting the hatch as a door. Some have used “three-door” to describe a two-door hatchback – and then there was the Hyundai Veloster, with three real doors, and it was called a coupe.
SUV stands for sport utility vehicle, although not all of them are sporty, and some aren’t even all that utilitarian (but at least they’re all vehicles). They’re usually divided by size, and we have some general examples of how you may hear these vehicles described:
Note that we say general examples, because it can be tricky. Most people classify them by their physical size – but there’s no standard measurement for each category. NRCan actually considers the C-HR, CX-3, and HR-V to be cars, for the purpose of fuel rating, but on their websites, their manufacturers list them along with other SUVs.
Sometimes, instead of SUV, you’ll see SAV. BMW uses it to mean Sports Activity Vehicle, while Hyundai calls its new Santa Cruz pickup a Sport Adventure Vehicle. It’s just a marketing deviation from the more-familiar SUV designation.