A coupé, or coupe in North America (from the French past participle coupé, of the infinitive couper, to cut), is a car with a fixed-roof body style that is shorter than a sedan or saloon (British and Irish English) of the same model.[1] The precise definition of the term varies between manufacturers and over time,[2] but often, a coupé will only seat two people and have two doors; though it may have rear seating and rear doors for additional passengers. The term was first applied to 19th-century carriages, where the rear-facing seats had been eliminated, or cut out.[2]

1983 Mazda RX-7 GSL, front left
1st generation Mazda RX-7
BMW 327, Bj. 1940 (2009-10-13) Seite
1940 BMW 327 coupé

Etymology and pronunciation

The coupé name was derived from the French language verb couper, translating as cut.[3]

There are two common pronunciations in English:

  • /kuːˈpeɪ/ 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.
  • /kuːp/ 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.[4] This pronunciation is more common in the United States, [5] 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".



Opo%C4%8Dno castle in 2009 55
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.[2][6][7] Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment.[8]

The term "berline coupé" was later shortened to "coupé".[6] The coupé was considered to be an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.[9]


1948 Bentley coup%C3%A9 de ville - rvl
1948 Bentley coupé de ville

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.[10][11] 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.

In the late 1930s, American manufacturers introduced the business coupe, a two-door car with a large trunk.[16]

Beginning in the 1950s, the term drop-head coupés has sometimes been used to describe opening-roof convertible cars.

Since the 1960s the term coupé has generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof.[17]

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.[18][19][20]


A coupé is often considered to be a two-door car (with a sedan considered to be a four-door car),[21][22][23][24] 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.[25][26]

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).[27][28]


Manufacturers have used the term coupé in several varieties, including:

Club coupe
A coupé with a larger rear seat, which would today be called a two-door saloon.
Packard 120 Eight Business Coupe 1936
1936 Packard One-Twenty Business Coupe
Business coupe
A coupe with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them.
Opéra coupé
A coupé de-ville with a high roofed passenger compartment such that the owners could be driven to the opera without the need to remove their large hats. These often had occasional seats that folded for use by children or extra passengers, and allowed easy passage to the rear seats.[29][30] These cars most closely approximated a motorized version of the original horse-drawn coupé. 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.[31]
Sports coupé or berlinetta
A body with a sloping roof, sometimes sloping downward gradually in the rear in the manner known as fastback.
Saturn Ion coupe -- 11-5-2011
Saturn Ion 4-door coupé
Four-door coupé
A luxury sedan with classic coupé-like proportions. The low roof design reduces back seat passenger access and headroom.[32] The designation was first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973,[33] but was revived by the 1985 Toyota Carina ED, the 1992 Infiniti J30 and finally by the first model 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS, which stands in Mercedes hierarchy between the E and S class, and has the appearance of a classic coupé and sedan.
The term was also 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.[34][35][36][37] Also, other manufacturers accepted it, producing recent competing models like Volkswagen Passat CC, BMW F06 and even five-door coupé, Audi A7.[38] The organization ADAC on its website also adopted this concept.[39] In Germany, the definition of the coupé was finally divided into the classic coupé and 4-door coupé. This definition and concept of four-door coupé (instead of saloon) are evident in Germany, but they are not widely known in the rest of the world.
Quad coupé
Quad coupé is a marketing name for cars with one or two small rear doors with no B pillar.
Combi coupé
Combi coupé is a marketing term used by Saab for a car body similar to the liftback.[40]

Current usage

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS 250 CDI (C 218) Avantgarde 10 Edition sedan (2015-06-27) 01
Although technically a sedan, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is marketed as a sportier "coupé" alternative to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan
2008-2010 BMW X6 (E71) xDrive35d wagon (2011-11-04)
The BMW X6 is another example of using "coupé" as a marketing term
1974-1978 AMC Matador coupé

Today coupé has become more of a marketing term for automotive manufacturers, than a fact of the vehicle's design and technical makeup.[26] The term has been ascribed to vehicles with two, three, or four doors, for their perceived luxury or sporting appeal. This is because coupés in general are seen as more streamlined and sportier overall lines than those of comparable four-door sedans.[41] Hence, a coupé would be marketed as a sportier vehicle than a two-door sedan.

While previous coupés were "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", some coupés have different sheet metal and styling than their four-door counterparts.[42] The AMC Matador coupé (1974-1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions.[43] 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.[44]

Even two-door cars with a backseat are now being referred to as "sedans" in which the terms "coupé" and "sedan" are used interchangeably. Two-door sedans with front bench seating have phased out with the 1995-99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo being the last model to offer it.

However, two-door cars in general have fallen in popularity, with the popular exception of convertibles and two-seat roadsters. Sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs/station wagons have had fewer two-door models (especially ones with backseats) in recent years since the cost of four-door cars has gone down along with engineering to ease access to the back seat area.

Ford 20M (5723601283)

Ford 20 M coupé

5th-gen Honda Civic Coupe

1990s Honda Civic coupé

2005 BMW 330Ci ZHP Silver

2005 BMW E46 coupé

See also


  1. ^ "Coupé". Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Adolphus, David Traver (March 2007). "Club Coupes". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  3. ^ "Coach Building Terminology". 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  4. ^ Mencken, Henry L. (1936). The American Language (4th edition) vii. p. 347. I for coupé
  5. ^ "Porsche Actually Made a Video on How to Pronounce Its Name". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b Haajanen, Lennart W. (2003). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles. Illustrations by Bertil Nydén. Jefferson, NC USA: McFarland. pp. 16, 18, 20, 50. ISBN 0-7864-1276-3. LCCN 2002014546.
  7. ^ "Royal carriages". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  8. ^ Haajanen 2003, p. 50.
  9. ^ 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.
  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. ^ "Automotive History: Trying To Make (Business Coupe) Sense Of The Gremlin". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Sedan vs. Coupe: What's the Difference?". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Car Review: 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  19. ^ "2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  20. ^ "2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 - First Look". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  21. ^ "Sedan vs. Coupe Cars: Meaning, Definition & Differences". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  22. ^ "For the Last Time, a Coupe Is a Car With Two Doors". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  23. ^ "A Sedan or a Coupe: What's the difference?". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Range Rover's $295K Coupe SUV Proves No Niche Is Too Small". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ a b "Coupe – Coupe Body Style – Two Door Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  27. ^ Clough 1913, p. 33.
  28. ^ Beattie, Ian (1977). The Complete Book of Automobile Body Design. Yeovil, UK: The Haynes Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 0854292179.
  29. ^ "Dictionary of Historic Automotive Terms". Chalk Hill Educational Media. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  30. ^ Burness, Tad (2005). American Car Spotter's Bible 1940–1980. Krause Publications. p. 736. ISBN 978-0-89689-179-1. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  31. ^ Frazee, Irving Augustus (1949). Automotive Fundamentals. American Technical Society. p. 81.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Langworth, Richard M. (1986). Complete book of collectible cars, 1930–1980. Random House Value Publishing. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-517-47934-6.
  34. ^ "Jaguar XJ". The Independent. 21 March 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  35. ^ Mercedes CLS-Klasse, Auto, Motor und Sport, retrieved 18 June 2011
  36. ^ "Viertüriges Coupé im Stealth-Modus". Auto, Motor und Sport (in German). Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  37. ^ "Begründer der Fahrzeugklasse "viertüriges Coupé": Mercedes CLS 500 im Test" (in German). Auto, Motor und Sport. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  38. ^ "Neuer Audi A7 Sportback: Erste Bilder, Details und Preise" (in German). Heise. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  39. ^ Giuliani, Stefan (January 2011), Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic (DPF) (PDF), ADAC, retrieved 22 April 2015
  40. ^ Jazar, Reza N. (2008). Vehicle dynamics: theory and applications. Springer-Verlag. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-387-74243-4. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  41. ^ Breitenstein, Jeff (2004). The ultimate hot rod dictionary : a-bombs to zoomies. Motorbooks International. p. 55. ISBN 9780760318232. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ Severson, Aaron (25 December 2009). "What's a Matador? AMC's Midsize Classic, Rebel, and Matador Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  44. ^ Krebs, Michelle (18 February 2001). "Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring; When Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 April 2015.

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