Truck and SUV sales haven’t completely killed off sedans, and that’s partially because lately, sedans have been getting more stylish. The latest Hyundai Elantra and Sonata, for instance, have all manner of creases, folds, and edges. However, just like Mercedes didn’t call its minivan as such, some automakers don’t call their sedans by that name. Mercedes and BMW, for example, use ‘4-door coupe’ or ‘Gran Coupe’ to describe some of their passenger cars. But does that actually mean anything, or is it just more marketing jargon?
The origins of the terms
When the first automobiles went on sale, they were just chassis, without bodies or interiors. Instead, customers went to coachbuilders or sent away for kits to build whatever they desired on top of the chassis.
Initially, so many early cars were open-topped that a special term was used for closed-roofed models. In the US, Jalopnik explains, that word was ‘sedan’, which derives ultimately from an Italian word that refers to an enclosed litter.
‘Coupe’, or rather, ‘coupé’, comes from the French word meaning ‘cut’. The first ones, CarMax reports, were cut-down versions of traditional coach designs. This was done to shorten the vehicle and make it easier to get in and out of.
Over time, however, as vehicle design became a bit more standardized, the terms changed meaning slightly.
How do sedans and coupes differ today?
The Honda Civic lineup gives perhaps the clearest differentiation between the terms.
According to Car and Driver, a sedan has 4 doors, with clearly separate trunk, cabin, and engine spaces. It also has a fixed roof. The Civic shown above is the sedan. Other examples of sedans include the Dodge Charger and Cadillac CT5.
While a coupe does have a separate trunk, Car and Driver reports, it only has 2 doors. In addition, Jalopnik reports that coupes were designed to convey sportiness, generally with a sloping roofline and somewhat smaller dimensions. However, they can have back seats. The Civic shown above is the coupe, and it does indeed have a sloped roofline, and it is slightly smaller than the sedan.
So then, what are 4-door coupes?
The problem with 4-door coupes, aka ‘Gran Coupes’
As Autotrader and Car and Driver describe, automakers wanted to spice up their sedans’ styling somewhat. So, designers gave them sloping, coupe-like rooflines. And thus, the ‘4-door coupe’ style was born, with the Mercedes CLS arguably starting the trend, Autotrader reports. But really, these cars are actually sedans. For example, in its review of the BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe, Roadshow explicitly labels the car a sedan.
At the end of the day, the biggest difference between a sedan and coupe is how many doors they have. No matter what some ad or marketing blurb says.
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