Car badging decoded: what do those letters mean?

Almost every car on the road nowadays has some form of alphabet soup glued to its trunk or rear bumper. Most of the time, a car will have the brand’s logo, the model name, and then a badge that denotes trim level or engine size, and sometimes a combination of both.

The brand logos and model names are typically self explanatory and recognizable by most people. However, the trim level and engine designations are a bit less obvious, especially with modern cars as lineup diversification becomes more and more of a priority for manufacturers.

So, in an effort to decode the increasingly complex language that is car badging, this article will go over how to tell what different badges refer to and what they mean.

To start, it’s important to know that there are generally three types of badges: trim level, engine type/size, and a category we’ll call specialty. Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.

Trim Level

Modern cars are offered in a variety of different trims, or levels within which different features become standard. You’ll typically find three levels of trim offered on cars: a base trim, a mid level trim, and a high trim. There may also be a luxury or sport trim thrown into the mix as well.

Each trim typically includes everything the trim below it does, and then adds on a few extra features, making it a whole new trim. As far as badging goes, the trim category is by far the most diverse and difficult to decode of the three. This is because different manufacturers use different names for their trims, whether it be Chevrolet’s LS, LT and Premier or Audi’s Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige.

Additionally, not all cars denote their trim levels with badges. For example, Audis do not have a “Premium Plus” badge denoting the car’s trim level, while Chevrolets do have LS, LT or Premier badges denoting their trims. So with that in mind, here’s the simplest way to understand badging when it comes to trim levels.

If you see a series of letters ​without numbers attached​, that is generally a trim level badge (LX, LTZ, EX-L etc). These are typically located on the bottom portion of the trunk or on a fender or pillar. The same goes for trims that are actual words, like “Premier” or “Touring”.

This Honda has the Touring package, an upgraded trim level.

If you see a series of letters ​with numbers attached,​ that is typically a model name (LX 570, EX 350, CLA 250 etc.). This badge will typically be displayed more prominently on the upper part of the trunk. There will of course be some exceptions to this, but that’s generally how trim level badging works.

Engine Size/Type

Engine sizes/types are often denoted by badges, just like trim levels, though typically in a much easier to digest way. Engine sizes are almost always expressed as a number rounded to the nearest tenth decimal place, for example, 2.0, 3.5, 4.0 etc. This number is simply referring to the displacement of the engine in liters, the most common way to express the size of an engine.

This Audi’s badging tells us it’s a 3 liter supercharged engine with all wheel drive.

You may also see engine size expressed in cubic inches, like Dodge’s 392, but this is far less common on modern cars. Additionally, you’ll sometimes see a letter attached to the number. Most often this letter will be either a “T” or an “i” (i.e. 3.0T, 2.5i), letting you know that that engine has direct injection or is turbocharged (or in Audi’s case, T also stands for supercharged… somehow.) Engine type, on the other hand, is typically expressed as a letter and then a number (with no decimals.) The letter denotes the arrangement of the cylinders—typically a “V”—and the number refers to the number of cylinders; i.e. V6, V8, V12 etc.

Engines also come in configurations other than V; mainly W, VR, inline and flat, but you don’t typically see those configurations represented in badging (though you may see W12 and VR6 badges on some older Audi and VW models.) So, as far as badging for engine sizes and types goes, all you need to remember is that a number with a tenth decimal place represents engine size, “T” is for turbo and “i” is for direct injection, and the letter “V” followed by a single number represents the cylinder arrangement and number of cylinders.

Specialty Badges

Finally, we have the specialty badges category. When I say specialty badges, I’m referring to badges that say things like “Hemi”, “Supercharged” or other things of that nature. These are badges that don’t denote trim levels, but also don’t fall into the typical engine size/type schematic outlined above.

Badges like this typically represent a certain option that car may have, or a unique feature. For example, Dodge proudly displays the “Hemi” badge on the fenders of Chargers that are equipped with their Hemi V8, and Audi likes to put a “Supercharged” badge on the fenders of their cars with supercharged power plants.

An Audi ‘Supercharged’ badge on an SQ5.

These types of badges are typically self explanatory, but it can be tricky when manufacturers choose to use a specialty badge that happens to look like a trim level badge. For example, you may see a badge that reads “VVT” and think that it denotes a trim level. However, this would actually fall into the specialty category, as VVT stands for Variable Valve Timing. So in light of this complication, here are a few specialty badges that may look like trim badges, with their brand specificity in parentheses, if applicable. ●  VVT – Stands for Variable Valve Timing

●  TFSI – Stands for Turbo Fuel Stratified Injection (Audi)

●  TDI – Stands for Turbo Diesel Injection (Audi/VW)

●  FSI – Fuel Stratified Injection (Audi)

●  AWD – Stands for All Wheel Drive

●  VTEC – Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (Honda)

●  TT – Stands for Twin Turbo

● DOHC – Stands for Dual Overhead Cam

So at this point, I’m sure that it’s clear that the world of automotive badging is enormously complicated, with every different manufacturer doing it just a little bit differently. However, this overview should help to give you an idea of what those little chromed letters on the back of every car, including your own, actually mean.

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