The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.

Car Make and Model: What Does it Mean?

The make of a car is its brand—Ford, Toyota, VW and the like. A car's model refers to the specific car in a brand’s offering, such as the Fiesta (made by Ford), Yaris (Toyota) or Golf (Volkswagen). You may be wondering why it’s important to know these details, but the make, model, year and trim level all have a bearing on the purchase price of a vehicle and, of course, the cost to insure your car.

The Basics: Make and Model

To recap, a car is broadly described by its make and model:

  • The make of the car is the brand name that you’d easily recognise—Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and the like.
  • The model of a car refers to the specific car in the brand’s offering, such as the Civic (made by Honda), Yaris (made by Toyota) or Golf (made by Volkswagen).

How Cars of the Same Model Can be Different

Each manufacturer has a range of models, and while they may look similar, or even share a name, there can be some subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Take the Volkswagen Golf, for example.

Volkswagen lists ten different variants under the Golf model including the e-Golf, the innovative battery electric version. Despite the nomenclature being similar, choosing one trim of Golf over another could see you paying up to nearly £16,000 more for one version than another. For example, the Golf S is priced from £22,080 while the Golf GTI TCR is priced from £37,665.

Body Style

Car manufacturers frequently offer a model in many different body styles, which refers to the shape of the car. For example, the 3-series BMW is offered as a saloon or estate body style.

The body style is a very important distinction, because it can affect what the vehicle is best used for. An example of this could be a supermini versus an SUV—the SUV is ideally suited to family life as it's size makes it good for transporting kids and shopping, while the supermini would be considered as a great town car, ideal for fitting into small parking spaces and transporting fewer passengers and minimal luggage.

The most common body styles in the UK are:

  • Saloon
  • Supermini
  • Hatchback
  • Coupe
  • Estate
  • Convertible
  • SUV (also known as a crossover or 4x4)

Trim Level or Specification

In addition to body style options, a model might be offered in several trim levels. The trim level can refer to the styling, equipment and engine performance of a vehicle. For example, as mentioned earlier, the VW Golf has 10 different trim levels: S, Match Edition, GT Edition, R, R-Line Edition, e-Golf, GTI Performance, GTI TCR, GTE and GTE Advance.

Even once we’ve understood the peculiarities of each brand’s trim specification, we still have the ‘Options’ boxes to go through and check. Rarely will a manufacturer offer a model with every single upgrade or option added as a standard specification.

Alphanumeric Naming

Further, some brands use an alphanumeric system of naming for their models—think BMW for example, we have the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 Series now (along with the X, Z, M & i), so we could have something like the 320i M, or the M340i, or how would you like the 330e?

Truthfully, it can get a little confusing unless you’re a marque specialist, but typically speaking, when a car is described numerically then the first number denotes the model range (in the above examples, this would be 3 Series) and the next numbers indicate the engine size: 20 would be a 2.0 litre, 18 is a 1.8 litre, etc.

Model Year

Just to confuse things a little further, buying a car in 2019 doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re buying the 2019 Model Year.

Typically, most manufacturers look to offer their next Model Year vehicle towards the end of the previous year. This could mean that in autumn of 2019 you’re buying the 2020 MY, or perhaps a soon-to-be-outdated 2019 MY. While sometimes the difference between model years is minor—such as a change in colour variants—in other cases the difference between model years can be significant. For example, next year's model could bring a whole new redesign of a car.

Choosing one model over the other can also have an impact on your insurance quotation, so understanding what you're getting is crucial.

Manufacturing Groups

It’s common practice for automotive groups to own a number of different brands. For example, Volkswagen is owned by VAG (Volkswagen AG), as are Audi, Porsche, Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT and Skoda.

Regardless of who the brands belong to, they’re still recognised by their individual brand name, and more often than not have their own distinct market demographics. If you were to buy a Bentley, it couldn’t under any circumstance be called a Volkswagen (similarly, you couldn’t call your Skoda a Lamborghini).

Finding your Car’s Make and Model

In most cases, finding the information relating to the make and model is as simple as looking for badging on the car itself. Nearly all cars have clearly identifiable badges which give the brand, model name and, usually, the trim level: Honda CR-V ES, Volkswagen Golf S, or Toyota Yaris GR SPORT for example.

In many cases, the manufacturers put the model name on the rear of the car, with trim level or specification along the side, usually underneath the side-repeaters for the indicators.

If you’re still none the wiser, your V5 Certificate or logbook will give you the information you need, and if they’re not to hand, there are numerous online search tools to help you.

Why is Your Car's Make and Model Important?

It isn’t strictly necessary for you to know information like the trim level off-hand, but if you’re looking to buy, sell or insure a vehicle, it will have a bearing. In fact all of the above factors—make, model, model year, specification and body style—will have an impact on a car's insurance premium and purchase price.

Let's go back to the VW Golf, which has a price difference of nearly £16,000 between the cheapest and most expensive models. Not only is insurance naturally higher for a more expensive car (because it will cost more to replace in the event of theft or write off) but the insurance group skyrockets for trim levels with higher performance engines—the Golf S can be as low as Group 7 for the 1.0 litre engine, the R is Group 39—and as you can see in the table below, insurance premiums change dramatically for different trim levels for one model of car.

Model Year, Make and ModelTrim LevelP11D Value (List Price)Insurance GroupCheap Insurance Premium Estimate
2019 VW GolfS (1.6 litre)£18,79511£537
2019 VW GolfGTD£28,20527£662
2019 VW GolfGTI£28,86032£774
2019 VW GolfR£32,65039£1,029

The bottom line is that insurance companies are changing. With the advent of ‘Big Data’, we’ve gone from having ten insurance groups to 50, which allows the insurance industry to better assess the risk and the likelihood of having to pay out. If you’re looking to buy, sell or insure a vehicle, it’s worth knowing the details that will affect all three scenarios, and the start of that is understanding the how make, model, body style and trim level can affect your insurance group.

Note: insurance estimates display the cheapest price available from a popular comparison site for a 30-year-old male driver who parks his car on the driveway where he lives in County Durham, drives 8,000 miles a year and has a good driving record with 5 years of no claims bonus. You may receive very different quotes—they are displayed purely to show the difference in insurance quotes between different trim levels of one model of car.

Comments and Questions

The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.