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What Is a Sedan?

By Kathleen Burgess


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Also called saloon, a sedan is a type of passenger car that usually has a three-box configuration with pillars simply identified as A, B, and C. It is composed of three major compartments namely cargo, passenger, and engine.

Regarding the passenger compartment, it includes two rows of seats. It makes sure that there is enough space in the rear passenger compartment for adults. Meanwhile, the cargo compartment is usually at the back, except for cars such as the Chevrolet Corvair, Volkswagen Type 3, Tatra T613, and Renault Dauphine. The reason? These specific vehicles have their engines in the rear.

Interestingly, battery electric liftbacks like the Tesla Model S do not have a compartment for the engine. Instead, they tend to have front and rear cargo compartments. The rear compartment can even be reserved for more passengers, not just cargo.

To make things more interesting, let’s provide more answers to the question “What is a sedan?” by including the major variations of this car.

Types of Sedans

Check out the basic types of sedans as well as their main features and specific models:

  • Chauffeured Sedans

    Also known as limousine sedans, this type of sedan has two separate compartments for the passengers and the driver. The passenger compartment typically has a length that can hold two bench seats facing each other. Examples of cars that have this configuration are some models of Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and the Lincoln Town Car.

    Chauffeured sedans can be owned by corporations, livery services or private owners. Big companies and governments usually use luxury sedans for their top executives and VIP guests.

    In addition, chauffeured sedans like the Lincoln Town Car can also be transformed into limousines by extending their length to fit twenty passengers.

  • Hatchback Sedans

    Hatchback or liftback sedans usually have the fastback silhouette, but their whole rear is lifted by a hatch or liftgate rather than having a trunk lid. Other terms for a car that has a rear liftgate and four doors around the passenger compartment are a five-door sedan, four-door hatchback sedan, five-door hatchback, and four-door hatchback. Examples are the Audi A5 Sportback and the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx.

    Liftback sedans can also have two- and three-door ones that have similar designs to two-door sedans. Some popular models with this configuration are the Daewoo Nexia or Opel Kadett E, Chevrolet Chevette, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Fiesta, and Ford Focus.

  • Hardtop Sedans

    A sedan was expected to have door window frames and a hardtop with a frameless door glass. In addition, a typical hardtop does not have a B-pillar or a center for roof support at the back of the front doors. Its body design is considered “pillarless” and gives better visibility. But, it needs a stronger underbody to have a firm structure.

    From the 1960s to the ‘70s, many automobile manufacturers in the U.S. marketed hardtop sedans as sport sedans. Because of this strategy, the design of hardtop sedans became very popular for buyers. In the 1980s, manufacturers started to make hardtop sedans stronger and lighter. The result was the launch of new sedans called pillared sedans or pillared hardtops. In 1990s Japan, luxury sedans there used hardtops.

  • Fastback Sedans

    A two-box sedan is called a fastback. It has a constant slope starting from the roof until it reaches the base of the trunk lid or decklid.

    Some sedans are almost one-box cars that have their windshields sharply raked from the bonnet or hood. Also, their back window slopes to the car’s rear, resulting to a short deck at the back that is included in the trunk lid. One example is the four-door 2006 JDM Honda Civic. This kind of sedan is not a fastback because its roof to rear deck bodyline is not continuous. Its back windows’ end is a decklid that does not smoothly connect to the bumper. The rear edges have a prominent height to enhance the area of the trunk.

  • Notchback Sedans

    The three-box sedan is known as the notchback. The passenger area is obviously different from the volume of the trunk. You can only notice it from the side. Furthermore, the roof is located on a single plane that is usually parallel to the ground, similar to the trunk lid. Meanwhile, the back window has a very noticeable angle towards the roof.

  • Club Sedans

    This kind of sedan follows a two- or four-door form based on a standard chassis. However, it has a shorter interior area and roof. It was a popular design for luxury cars in the U.S. from the 1920s to the ‘50s. In those years, the word “club” is a classy term. The club sedan’s inspiration is the Pullman passenger train’s club car.

Sedans vs. SUVs

Now that we have already discussed the nature of sedans, let’s have a brief comparison of sedans and sports utility vehicles or SUVs. These two types of cars are compared together more frequently than other vehicles. Find out their differences:

  • Ground Clearance

    Even though both sedans and SUVs have four doors and four wheels, a sedan has a lower ground clearance than an SUV.  Both are also popular all over the world, but the sedan is considered to be the most common.

  • Compartments

    Again, sedans have three compartments for the engine, cargo, and passengers. On the other hand, SUVs only have two: one for the engine while the other is combined for the cargo and passengers.

  • Seats

    Regarding the seats, sedans only have two rows while SUVs contain three. However, the third row inside SUVs can be very uncomfortable for the passengers because the cargo area is right behind them.

  • Size

    About the size, sedans are smaller which is a disadvantage for big families. However, that makes them more fuel-efficient. Meanwhile, SUVs are ideal for larger groups but require a healthy budget for maintenance because they consume a lot of fuel.

  • Purpose

    When it comes to functionality, SUVs are more flexible since they are a combination of minivans and pickup trucks.

What Is a Sedan?

To summarize all aforementioned ideas to fully answer “What is a sedan,” this type of car is one of the basic vehicle variations. It is also the most common since standard city cars for single people and small families are composed of three separate compartments for the engine, passengers, and the cargo. It is usually compared to SUVs because they cater to the same purpose: transportation of people and baggage on ordinary roads. The main differences of sedans and SUVs are ground clearance, separation of compartments, number of seats, and size.

About Kathleen Burgess

Kathleen started her career in journalism writing about cars during her Journalism degree at CUNY and even though she didn't like it at first, she quickly became an ace, writing news, reviews and comparisons like one of the best car writers out there. Today she writes content focusing on the latest trends in the car industry, looking at sales, policies and green alternatives. Learn more about GCB's Editorial Process.

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