A coupé — also known as coupe — is a car with a fixed-roof body style usually with two doors.
The term coupé was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats. The early coupé automobile's passenger compartment followed in general conception the design of horse-drawn coupés. The French variant for this word thus denoted a car with a small passenger compartment.
Hemmings Classic Car describes a coupe as "any two-door other than a two-door sedan, smaller than a related four-door in the same model line" and that "all two-door two-seaters with a solid roof are coupes."
Automobile manufacturers have begun to use the term loosely and include sporty variants of their sedan lineup that feature sloping rooflines.
Etymology and pronunciation
The coupé name was derived from the French language verb couper, translating as cut.
There are two common pronunciations in English:
- koo-PAY, the anglicized version of the French spelling of coupé. The American company Chevrolet, in an effort to lend a touch of class to its two-door hardtops during the 1950s to early 1970s, marketed them with the "Sport Coupé" moniker, using the original French pronunciation.
- KOOP, derived from spelling the word without the acute accent and pronounce it as one syllable. This change occurred gradually and before World War II. This pronunciation is more common in the United States,  for example the hot rodders' term Deuce Coupe (DEWSS KOOP) used to refer to a 1932 Ford; this pronunciation is used in the Beach Boys' 1963 hit song, "Little Deuce Coupe".
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. Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment.
The term "berline coupé" was later shortened to "coupé". The coupé was considered to be an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.
The earliest coupé automobiles had the same form as the coupé carriage, with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat. 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. The coupé de ville, or coupé chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front.
In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers suggested nomenclature for car bodies that included the following:
- 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).
Since the 1960s the term coupé has generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof.
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. According to Edmunds, the American online resource for automotive information, "the four-door coupe category doesn't really exist."
A coupé is often considered to be a two-door car (in contrast to a four-door sedan/saloon), 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.
Today, coupé is sometimes used by manufacturers as a marketing term, rather than a technical description of a body style. This is because coupés in general are seen as more streamlined and sportier overall lines than those of comparable four-door sedans. One dictionary states that a coupé is shorter than a sedan/saloon of the same model.
Manufacturers have used the term coupé in several varieties, including:
- A Berlinetta is a lightweight sporty two-door car, typically with two-seats but also including 2+2 cars.
- Business coupe
- A two-door car with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for travelling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them. This style of coupe was created in the late 1930s by American manufacturers.
- Club coupe
- A two-door car with a larger rear seat passenger area, compared with the smaller rear seat area in a 2+2 body style.
- Combi coupé
- Combi coupé is a term used by Saab for a car body similar to the liftback.
- Four-door coupé
- A four-door car with a coupé-like roofline at the rear. The low roof design reduces back seat passenger access and headroom. The designation was first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973, but was revived by the 1985 Toyota Carina ED, the 1992 Infiniti J30 and most recently by the first model 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS.
- The term was used partly from marketing reasons. 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. Also, other manufacturers accepted it, producing recent competing models like Volkswagen Passat CC, BMW F06 and even five-door coupé, Audi A7. The organization ADAC on its website also adopted this concept. In Germany, the definition of the coupé was finally divided into the classic coupé and 4-door coupé.
- Opéra coupé
- A two-door designed for being driven to the opera with easy access to the rear seats. Features sometimes included a folding front seat next to the driver or a compartment to store top hats.
- 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.
- Quad coupé
- Quad coupé is a car with one or two small rear doors and no B pillar.
Positioning in model range
Some coupés are "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", while others have significant differences to their four-door counterparts. The AMC Matador coupé (1974-1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions. Similarly, the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus coupés and sedans (late-1990 through 2000s), had little in common except their names, with the coupés engineered by Mitsubishi and built in Illinois, while the sedans were developed by Chrysler and built in Michigan.
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.
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