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A coupé—also known as coupe—is a car with a fixed-roof body style and usually two doors, although some four-door cars have been marketed as "four door coupés" or "quad coupés" due to their coupé-like roofline at the rear.

The term coupé was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats.[1]

Etymology and pronunciation[edit]

The coupé name was derived from the French language verb couper, translating as cut.[2]

There are two common pronunciations in English:



Example of a coupé carriage

The origin of the coupé body style come from the berline horse-drawn carriage. In the 18th century, the coupé version of the berline was introduced, which was a shortened ("cut") version with no rear-facing seat.[1][5][6] Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment.[7]

The term "berline coupé" was later shortened to "coupé".[5] The coupé was considered to be an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.[8]


1948 Bentley coupé de ville

The early coupé automobile's passenger compartment followed in general conception the design of horse-drawn coupés,[9] with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat.[10][11] The French variant for this word thus denoted a car with a small passenger compartment.[9]

By the 1910s, the term had evolved to denote a two-door car with the driver and up to two passengers in an enclosure with a single bench seat.[12][13] The coupé de ville, or coupé chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front.[14]

In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers suggested nomenclature for car bodies that included the following:[13][15]

  • Coupe: An enclosed car operated from the inside with seats for two or three and sometimes a backward-facing fourth seat.
  • Coupelet: A small car seating two or three with a folding top and full height doors with fully retractable windows.
  • Convertible coupe: A roadster with a removable coupé roof.

During the 20th century, the term coupé was applied to various close-coupled cars (where the rear seat that is located further forward than usual and the front seat further back than usual).[16][17]

Since the 1960s the term coupé has generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof.[18]

Since 2005, several models with four doors have been marketed as "four-door coupés", however reactions are mixed about whether these models are actually sedans instead of coupés.[19][20][21] According to Edmunds, the American online resource for automotive information, "the four-door coupe category doesn't really exist."[22]


A coupé is often considered to be a two-door car (in contrast to a four-door sedan/saloon),[23][24][25][26] however several other definitions also exist.

In 1977, International Standard ISO 3833-1977 defined a coupé as having a closed body, usually with limited rear volume, a fixed roof of which a portion may be openable, at least two seats in at least one row, two side doors and possibly a rear opening, and at least two side windows.[27][28]

Coupés have also been described as "any two-door other than a two-door sedan, smaller than a related four-door in the same model line",[1] "shorter than a sedan of the same model"[29] and that "all two-door two-seaters with a solid roof are coupes."[1]

Today, coupé is sometimes used by manufacturers as a marketing term, rather than a technical description of a body style.[28] This is because coupés in general are seen as more streamlined and sportier overall lines than those of comparable four-door sedans.[30] Automobile manufacturers have therefore begun to use the term loosely, marketing sporty four-door models that feature sloping rooflines as coupés.[31]


Manufacturers have used the term "coupé" with reference to several varieties, including:


A Berlinetta is a lightweight sporty two-door car, typically with two-seats but also including 2+2 cars.[32]

1936 Packard One-Twenty Business Coupe

Business coupe[edit]

A two-door car with no rear seat or with a removable rear seat intended for travelling salespeople and other vendors carrying their wares with them. American manufacturers developed this style of coupe in the late 1930s.[33]

1946 Ford V8 Club Coupe

Club coupe[edit]

A two-door car with a larger rear-seat passenger area,[1] compared with the smaller rear-seat area in a 2+2 body style.

Saab 900 combi coupe

Combi coupé[edit]

Saab uses the term combi coupé for a car body similar to the liftback.[34]

Four-door coupé[edit]

A four-door car with a coupé-like roofline at the rear. The low-roof design reduces back-seat passenger access and headroom.[35] The designation, first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973,[36] was revived with the 1985 Toyota Carina ED, the 1992 Infiniti J30 and most recently with the first model 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS.

The term originated partly for marketing reasons. The German press accepted the concept of a four-door coupé and applied it to similar models from other manufacturers such as the 2009 Jaguar XJ.[37][38][39][40] Also, other manufacturers accepted it, producing recent competing models like Volkswagen Passat CC, BMW F06 and even a five-door coupé, the Audi A7.[41] The German automobile club ADAC on its website also adopted this concept.[42] In Germany, the definition of the coupé was finally divided[by whom?] into the classic coupé and 4-door coupé.[citation needed]
Buick 37 46S Opera Coupe 1937

Opéra coupé[edit]

A two-door designed for driving to the opera with easy access to the rear seats. Features sometimes included a folding front seat next to the driver[43][44] or a compartment to store top hats.[45]

Often they would have solid rear-quarter panels, with small, circular windows, to enable the occupants to see out without being seen. These opera windows were revived on many U.S. automobiles during the 1970s and early 1980s.[46][need quotation to verify]
Mazda RX-8 quad coupé

Quad coupé[edit]

A quad coupé is a car with one or two small rear doors and no B pillar.

Three window coupé[edit]

A chopped highboy Deuce with sidepipes, bugcatcher intake (covered), disk brakes, and dropped axle.

The three window coupé (commonly just "three-window") is a style of automobile characterized by two side windows and a backlight (rear window). Front windscreens don't count. The style was popular from the 1920s until the beginning of World War II. While many manufacturers produced three window coupés, the 1932 to 1936 Ford is a particular favorite of hot rodders. The three window coupé has a distinct difference from the five-window coupé, which has an additional window on each side.

Positioning in model range[edit]

1974-1978 AMC Matador coupe

Some coupés are "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", while others have significant differences to their four-door counterparts.[47] The AMC Matador coupe (1974-1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions.[48] Similarly, the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus coupes and sedans (late-1990 through 2000s), had little in common except their names, with the coupes engineered by Mitsubishi and built in Illinois, while the sedans were developed by Chrysler and built in Michigan.[49]

Coupés may also exist as model lines in their own right, either closely related to other models but named differently - such as the Alfa Romeo GT - or have little engineering in common with other vehicles from the manufacturer - such as the Toyota GT86.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Adolphus, David Traver (March 2007). "Club Coupes - If you think you know what a Club Coupe is, think again". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  2. ^ "Coach Building Terminology". 2004. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  3. ^ Mencken, Henry L. (1936). The American Language (4th edition) vii. p. 347. I for coupé
  4. ^ "Porsche Actually Made a Video on How to Pronounce Its Name". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b Haajanen, Lennart W. (2003). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles. Illustrations by Bertil Nydén. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 16, 18, 20, 50. ISBN 0-7864-1276-3. LCCN 2002014546.
  6. ^ "Royal carriages". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  7. ^ Haajanen 2003, p. 50.
  8. ^ Stratton, Ezra (1878). "Chapter VIII. French carriages, including historical associations.". World on Wheels. New York. p. 242. ISBN 0-405-09006-4. Retrieved 2014-09-04.
  9. ^ a b Haajanen, Lennart W. (2018). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles (Second ed.). McFarland. pp. 52–53, 57. ISBN 9781476624044. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  10. ^ Haajanen 2003, p. 51.
  11. ^ Clough, Albert L. (1913). A dictionary of automobile terms. The Horseless Age Company. p. 89. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  12. ^ Clough 1913, p. 89.
  13. ^ a b "What's What in Automobile Bodies Officially Determined". The New York Times. 20 August 1916. Retrieved 22 April 2015. Here it is, with other body types and distinctions, officially determined recently by the Nomenclature Division of the Society of Automobile Engineers
  14. ^ Haajanen 2003, pp. 51, 55-56.
  15. ^ Forbes, Kingston (1922). The Principles of Automobile Body Design: covering the fundamentals of open and closed passenger body design. Ware Bros. p. 238. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  16. ^ Clough 1913, p. 33.
  17. ^ Beattie, Ian (1977). The Complete Book of Automobile Body Design. Yeovil, UK: The Haynes Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 0854292179.
  18. ^ "Sedan vs. Coupe: What's the Difference?". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Car Review: 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  20. ^ "2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  21. ^ "2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 - First Look". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  22. ^ Montoya, Ronald (28 May 2013). "Defining Vehicle Types". Edmunds. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  23. ^ "Sedan vs. Coupe Cars: Meaning, Definition & Differences". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  24. ^ "For the Last Time, a Coupe Is a Car With Two Doors". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  25. ^ "A Sedan or a Coupe: What's the difference?". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  26. ^ "Range Rover's $295K Coupe SUV Proves No Niche Is Too Small". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  27. ^ Technical Committee ISO/TC22, Road vehicles (1976), written at Geneva, Switzerland, ISO 3833-1977: Road vehicles – Types – Terms and definitions (ISO International Standard) (Second ed.), Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization (published 1977-12-01), Clause
  28. ^ a b "Coupe – Coupe Body Style – Two Door Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  29. ^ "Coupé". Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  30. ^ Breitenstein, Jeff (2004). The ultimate hot rod dictionary : a-bombs to zoomies. Motorbooks International. p. 55. ISBN 9780760318232. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  31. ^ Weber, Bob (26 August 2017). "What is the difference between coupe and sedan?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  32. ^ "Porsche 960 : une nouvelle berlinette à moteur flat-8".
  33. ^ "Automotive History: Trying To Make (Business Coupe) Sense Of The Gremlin". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  34. ^ Jazar, Reza N. (2008). Vehicle dynamics: theory and applications. Springer-Verlag. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-387-74243-4. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  35. ^ Powell, Philip (8 January 2008). "The Fastback is Back Thanks to Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen". Classical Drives. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  36. ^ Langworth, Richard M. (1986). Complete book of collectible cars, 1930–1980. Random House Value Publishing. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-517-47934-6.
  37. ^ "Jaguar XJ". The Independent. 21 March 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  38. ^ Mercedes CLS-Klasse, Auto, Motor und Sport, retrieved 18 June 2011
  39. ^ "Viertüriges Coupé im Stealth-Modus". Auto, Motor und Sport (in German). Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  40. ^ "Begründer der Fahrzeugklasse "viertüriges Coupé": Mercedes CLS 500 im Test" [Founder of the vehicle class "four door coupé": Mercedes CLS 500 review] (in German). Auto, Motor und Sport. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2015.[permanent dead link]
  41. ^ "Neuer Audi A7 Sportback: Erste Bilder, Details und Preise" [New Audi A7 sportback: First pictures, details and pricing] (in German). Heise. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  42. ^ Giuliani, Stefan (January 2011), Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic (DPF) (PDF) (in German), ADAC, retrieved 22 April 2015
  43. ^ "Dictionary of Historic Automotive Terms". Chalk Hill Educational Media. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  44. ^ Burness, Tad (2005). American Car Spotter's Bible 1940–1980. Krause Publications. p. 736. ISBN 978-0-89689-179-1. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  45. ^ "Archival Revival: One-of-a-kind Nash here a few more weeks". Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  46. ^ Frazee, Irving Augustus (1949). Automotive Fundamentals. American Technical Society. p. 81.
  47. ^ Loh, Edward (February 2008). "Comparison: 2008 Honda Accord Coupe vs 2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse vs 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe (Front-wheel-drive coupe comparison)". Motor Trend. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  48. ^ Severson, Aaron (25 December 2009). "What's a Matador? AMC's Midsize Classic, Rebel, and Matador Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  49. ^ Krebs, Michelle (18 February 2001). "Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring; When Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 April 2015.