Forget the number of models available, the number of body styles alone can be overwhelming: coupes, sedans, station wagons, crossovers, SUVs. How do you decide what you need?
Coupe/Convertible: If you want a car that makes a statement about you, coupes and convertibles are typically the most expressive designs, but restricted access to the back seat (if the car you are considering even has one) seriously limits their practicality.
Sedan: If there are kids in the picture or in the near-future plan, four doors are a likely requirement. Even if children are small enough to ride comfortably in the back seat of a coupe with any regularity, consider the difficulty of constantly climbing into and out of the back seat to tend to a child before committing to just two doors.
Hatchback: If you add another door—bringing the total to five—you’re looking at hatchbacks and station wagons, which offer SUV-like space without the dynamic and fuel-economy compromises of heavier vehicles. As manufacturers get increasingly creative and design ever more stylish hatchbacks—their roofs are sleeker than wagons’—the market is warming to the segment.
SUV/Crossover: Jack up the ground clearance of a hatchback or station wagon, and you have a crossover or an SUV. Do you need that ground clearance? Probably not. When was the last time your road didn’t get regularly plowed or cleared? Sure, it happens—most often to those in the northern part of the country, and that’s a few times a winter—but the fuel-economy penalty of opting for a taller and heavier vehicle is something that affects you every time you start the car.
Those who tow regularly already know they need something with that capability. But if you need a truck only to tow a few times a year, perhaps renting in those instances is a better alternative to living year round with the fuel-economy penalties of a truck.
Minivan: Those with large families—or dreams of such—often resist the practicality of the van, but if you routinely haul five or more people, there is no vehicle short of a school bus that will better accommodate six, seven, or eight passengers. A jumbo SUV like a Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition EL has more cargo space, but passengers will find greater comfort in a minivan.