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The coupe has been a popular vehicle design for generations, originating back to the horse-drawn carriages of the 18th century. Today, coupes are recognized as two-door vehicles. In comparison, sedans are recognized as four-door vehicles. So, with these classifications, is it possible for a four-door coupe to exist? Here’s a look. 

How to spot a coupe 

A red Mazda MX-5 coupe parked in doors.
Mazda Miata MX-5 coupe | Getty Images

The origin of the term coupe found its roots in the 1700s when horse-drawn carriages were made into shorter versions with two front seats without any rear seats behind. According to Rocket Auto, coupe is a French word that means “to cut.” In France, the word is pronounced “koo-pay.” However, the word has been Americanized in the States and is pronounced as “koop.” 

In the auto industry, the term coupe has come to refer to a fixed-roof car with a sloping rear roofline and two doors. So, to spot a modern coupe, you should look for a two-door vehicle with a fixed roof and a sloping rear roofline. In addition, you should look for the three-box design, where the vehicle features distinct compartments for the engine bay, passengers, and trunk. 

While coupes feature the three-box design, you should know that sedans also feature this design. This similar body style can cause confusion among consumers, but a good rule of thumb is that Sedans can usually be distinguished by their four doors. Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule. 

4-door coupes are an exception to the rule

While it’s easy to say that coupes are simply two-door vehicles that sport the three-box design, whereas sedans are four-door vehicles with the same body style, this is not always the case. This is because four-door coupes exist, acting as an exception to the abovementioned rules. Now, this brings into question how consumers can spot the difference between a four-door coupe and a sedan. 

According to CarMax, performance, exterior style cues, and cargo space separate four-door coupes from sedans. Regarding performance, coupes have a shorter wheelbase and lighter curb weight compared to sedans. Of course, the coupe’s acceleration and braking performance is noticeably enhanced, with average four-door coupes weighing several hundred pounds less than the average four-door sedan.

Coupes provide a sportier look with longer doors and rear windows when looking at exterior style cues. In comparison, sedans opt for shorter doors and drop the sporty vibe in favor of a more luxurious look and feel.

A final key distinction between four-door coupes and four-door sedans is cargo space. As mentioned, coupes are lighter and built to give a sportier look. This means coupes simply don’t have enough room to provide the same cargo space as four-door sedans. 

How automakers try to class up the sedan 

Now that we’ve gone over what separates coupes from sedans, this leaves us with more questions. What’s with the need to complicate things? Why can’t coupes simply refer to two-door cars, and sedans refer to four-door cars? Well, the answer to these questions really comes down to marketing. 

Automakers are aware that sedans have gotten a bad rap for being boring family cars. In contrast, coupes are seen as more aesthetically pleasing sports cars that simply offer more power and performance. This has led to some automakers deciding to create a sportier-looking sedan and market it as a four-door coupe as a way to class up the image of the model. One example is the four-door 2021 BMW M8 Gran Coupe


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