All About Car Segments

You are in the market for a new or used car, a vehicle that is different from the one that you are driving or will be an additional model for your household. The average American household owns at least two cars, and you're ready to update or expand your vehicle fleet.

When shopping for a vehicle, you may have a specific make and model in mind. If that is the case, then you'll shop among a very narrow band of cars, considering engines, transmissions, and trim levels for that car. If your car shopping isn't model specific, then you may be looking at several models from different manufacturers. To make an adequate comparison, you'll need to look at like vehicles within the same segment, perhaps considering anything from a mini car to a full-size sedan and beyond.

Let's take a look at each of the main vehicle segments and the cars that classify each one.

A-Segment or Mini Cars -- The mini car segment did not exist in the U.S. market before the Smart Fortwo made its splash in January 2008. Mini cars typically have seating for two, three or four passengers and are characterized by tiny engines including three-cylinder engines or small four cylinders. Priced from approximately $12,000, this segment appeals to people looking for a city car, one that can be easily parked and cheaply maintained. Other models in this segment include the Fiat 500, the Scion iQ and the Chevrolet Spark.

B-Segment or Subcompacts -- One of the fastest growing segments are subcompacts, the new commuter car for people that want to save money and get at least 40 mpg. Such cars typically start at around $14,000 and can cost up to $20,000 when fully optioned. Subcompacts may be sold in coupe, sedan and hatchback configurations and offer such standard equipment as air-conditioning, power accessories and options such as a navigation system and a rear back up camera. Nearly every manufacturer has a presence in this segment and includes the following models: Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Mazda2 and more.

C-Segment or Compacts -- Traditionally known as the "commuter car" segment, this group of compact cars has been popularized by the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic, and more recently has seen solid offerings from many competitors including the Chevrolet Cruze, the Mazda3, Ford's Focus, the Hyundai Elantra, Nissan's Sentra, the Volkswagen Jetta and the Dodge Dart, to name a few. Such models are priced from $16,000 and may cost as much as $23,000. These vehicles are the "family sedan" for some owners, offering many of the amenities found in midsize models, but for less money and better fuel efficiency.

D-Segment or Midsize Models -- If you want to compete in the U.S. market, then you must have a midsize sedan available. Truly, this category encompasses the "family car" vehicle, typically sedans with some coupes included, seating five people and priced from $20,000 to as much as $35,000 with all the bells and whistles included. This segment is known by cars such as the Toyota Camry, Honda's Accord, the Nissan Altima, Ford's Fusion, the Chrysler 200, the Dodge Avenger, Volkswagen's Passat, the Hyundai Sonata, the Kia Optima and Buick's Regal. Four cylinder and V-6 engines are typically offered although reliance on smaller engines is now possible as these cars are coming in slightly smaller and lighter. Midsize models are typically well-appointed and may include heated seats, a blind spot information system and all-wheel-drive.

E-Segment or Full-Size Models -- Once the de facto segment for American families, the E-Segment has shrunken considerably over the past 20 years as buyers choose smaller vehicles, or move to minivans, SUVs and crossovers to meet their driving needs. Still, there are a number of vehicles that qualify for this segment including the Chevrolet Impala, Ford's Taurus, the Hyundai Azera, the Dodge Charger, Toyota's Avalon, the Nissan Maxima and the Chrysler 300. Such vehicles come well-appointed and typically include leather seating, navigation systems, premium audio systems and a host of safety features. Cars in this segment start out around $27,000 and can easily top $40,000 fully loaded. V-6 engines are usually standard, but a few four cylinder motors with direct injection and turbochargers are beginning to appear in this segment. Check out Dodge and Chrysler if you are shopping for a V-8.