What’s the Difference Between a Sedan and a Coupe?

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.

2019 Honda Civic Sedan Touring
2019 Honda Civic Sedan Touring | Honda

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.

2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe
2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe | Honda

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.

1974 Ferrari 308 GT4
1974 Ferrari 308 GT4 | Bring a Trailer

Other examples are the Dodge Challenger and Ferrari 308 GT4. However, although it has 2 doors, the Mazda Miata isn’t a coupe, as it doesn’t have a fixed roof.

So then, what are 4-door coupes?

The problem with 4-door coupes, aka ‘Gran Coupes’

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A journey full of astonishment. The first-ever BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé. #THE2 #BMW #2Series __ BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupé: Fuel consumption in l/100 km (combined): 7.1–6.7. CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 162–153. Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 4.9 s. Power: 225 kW, 306 hp, 450 Nm. Top speed (limited): 250 km/h. The values of fuel consumptions, CO2 emissions and energy consumptions shown were determined according to the European Regulation (EC) 715/2007 in the version applicable at the time of type approval. The figures refer to a vehicle with basic configuration in Germany and the range shown considers optional equipment and the different size of wheels and tires available on the selected model. The values of the vehicles are already based on the new WLTP regulation and are translated back into NEDC-equivalent values in order to ensure the comparison between the vehicles. [With respect to these vehicles, for vehicle related taxes or other duties based (at least inter alia) on CO2-emissions the CO2 values may differ to the values stated here.] The CO2 efficiency specifications are determined according to Directive 1999/94/EC and the European Regulation in its current version applicable. The values shown are based on the fuel consumption, CO2 values and energy consumptions according to the NEDC cycle for the classification. Further information on official fuel consumption figures and specific CO2 emission values of new passenger cars is included in the following guideline: 'Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO2-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch neuer Personenkraftwagen' (Guide to the fuel economy, CO2 emissions and electric power consumption of new passenger cars), which can be obtained free of charge from all dealerships, from Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH (DAT), Hellmuth-Hirth-Str. 1, 73760 Ostfildern-Scharnhausen and at https://www.dat.de/co2/.

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As r/cars sub-Reddit users put it, the terms ‘4-door coupe’ and ‘Gran Coupe’ are mostly marketing buzz words.

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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