Last updated
1979 Mazda RX-7 two door coupe 1979 Mazda RX-7 rear 4.28.18.jpg
1979 Mazda RX-7 two door coupé

A coupé or coupe is a passenger car with a sloping or truncated rear roofline and two or three doors (although several four-door cars have also been marketed as coupés).


Coupé was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats. [1] The term coupé comes from the French translation of "cut". [2]

Etymology and pronunciation

Coupé (French:  [kupe] ) is based on the past participle of the French verb couper ("to cut") and thus indicates a car which has been "cut" or made shorter than standard. [2] It was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats. [1] These berlines coupés [3] or carosses coupés ("clipped carriages") were eventually clipped to coupés. [4]

There are two common pronunciations in English:


1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville 1955 Cadillac Coupe Deville.jpg
1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville

A coupé is a fixed-roof car with a sloping rear roofline and one or two rows of seats. However, there is often debate surrounding whether a coupe must have two doors [8] [9] [10] or whether cars with four doors can also be considered coupés. [11] This debate has arisen since the early 2000s, when four-door cars such as the Mazda RX-8 and Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class have been marketed as "four door coupés" or "quad coupés".

In the 1940s and 1950s, coupes were distinguished from sedans by their shorter roof area and sportier profile. [12] Similarly, in more recent times, when a model is sold in both coupé and sedan body styles, generally the coupe is sportier and more compact. [1] [13] [14]

The 1977 version of International Standard ISO 3833—Road vehicles - Types - Terms and definitions—defines a coupé as having two doors (along with a fixed roof, usually with limited rear volume, at least two seats in at least one row and at least two side windows). [15] On the other hand, the United States Society of Automotive Engineers publication J1100 [16] [ when? ] does not specify the number of doors, instead defining a coupe as having a rear interior volume of less than 33 cu ft (934 L). [1] [13] [17]

The definition of coupé started to blur when manufacturers began to produce cars with a 2+2 body style (which have a sleek, sloping roofline, two doors, and two functional seats up front, plus two tiny seats in back). [18]

Some manufacturers also blur the definition of a coupé by applying this description to models featuring a hatchback or a rear door that opens upwards. [19] [20] Most often also featuring a fold-down back seat, the third door or hatchback layout of these cars improves their practicality and cargo room. [21]

Horse-drawn carriages

Example of a coupe carriage Opocno castle in 2009 55.JPG
Example of a coupé carriage

The coupé body style originated from the berline horse-drawn carriage. The coupé version of the berline was introduced in the 18th century as a shortened ("cut") version with no rear-facing seat. [3] [22] [23] [24] Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment. [25] The coupé was considered an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits. [26]


The early coupé automobile's passenger compartment followed in general conception the design of horse-drawn coupés, [27] with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat. [28] [29] The French variant for this word thus denoted a car with a small passenger compartment. [27]

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. [30] [31] The coupé de ville, or coupé chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front. [32]

In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers suggested nomenclature for car bodies that included the following: [31] [33]

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). [34] [35]

Since the 1960s the term coupé has generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof. [36]

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. [37] [38] [39] According to Edmunds, an American automotive guide, "the four-door coupe category doesn't really exist." [40]


1961 Ferrari 250GT, a Berlinetta coupe Ferrari-250-GT-Berlinetta-1.jpg
1961 Ferrari 250GT, a Berlinetta coupé


A berlinetta is a lightweight sporty two-door car, typically with two-seats but also including 2+2 cars. [41]

Club coupé

A two-door car with a larger rear-seat passenger area, [1] compared with the smaller rear-seat area in a 2+2 body style.

Hardtop coupé

A two-door car that lacks a structural pillar ("B" pillar) between the front and rear side windows. When these windows are lowered, the effect is like that of a convertible coupe with the windows down. This body style was popular in the United States and abroad from the early 1950s until the mid-70s, when proposed government regulations threatened to include roof structures protecting the vehicle in a rollover. In addition, automakers discovered a new market for profitable air conditioning when the rear windows were fixed.

Combi coupé

Saab used the term combi coupé for a car body similar to the liftback. [42]

A 1936 Packard One-Twenty business coupe Packard 120 Eight Business Coupe 1936.jpg
A 1936 Packard One-Twenty business coupé

Business coupe

A two-door car with no rear seat or with a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors carrying their wares with them. American manufacturers developed this style of a coupe in the late 1930s. [43]

Four-door coupé / Quad coupé

A four-door fastback car with a coupé-like roofline at the rear. The low-roof design reduces back-seat passenger access and headroom. [44] The designation was first used for the low-roof model of the 1962–1973 Rover P5, [45] followed by the 1992–1996 Nissan Leopard / Infiniti J30. [46] Recent examples include the 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS, 2010 Audi A7 and 2012 BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé. [47] [48] [49]

Similarly, several cars with one or two small rear doors and no B-pillar have been marketed as "quad coupés". For example 2003 Saturn Ion and 2003 Mazda RX-8.

1976 VW Scirocco, a 3 door coupe VW Scirocco I orange hr TCE.jpg
1976 VW Scirocco, a 3 door coupé

3 door coupé

Particularly popular in Europe, many cars are designed with coupé styling but a 3-door hatchback layout to improve practicality, including cars such as the Jaguar E-Type, Datsun 240Z, Mazda RX-7, Alfa Romeo Brera, [50] Ford/Mercury Cougar [51] and Volkswagen Scirocco. [52]

Opéra coupé

A two-door designed for driving to the opera with easy access to the rear seats. Features sometimes included a folding front seat next to the driver [53] [54] or a compartment to store top hats. [55]

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. [56] [ need quotation to verify ]

Three-window coupé

The three-window coupé (commonly just "three-window") is a style of automobile characterized by two side windows and a backlight (rear window). [57] The front windscreens are not counted. The three-window coupé has a distinct difference from the five-window coupé, which has an additional window on each side behind the front doors. [58] These two-door cars typically has a small-sized body with only a front seat and an occasional small rear seat. [59]

The style was popular from the 1920s until the beginning of World War II. While many manufacturers produced three window coupés, the 1932 Ford coupe is arguably considered the classic hot rod. [60] [61] [62]

Positioning in model range

1974-1978 AMC Matador coupe, unlike the 4-door models Matador1.JPG
1974–1978 AMC Matador coupe, unlike the 4-door models

In the United States, some coupés are "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", while others have significant differences to their four-door counterparts. [63] The AMC Matador coupe (1974–1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions. [64] Similarly, the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus coupes and sedans (late-1990 through 2000s), had little in common except their names, with the coupes engineered by Mitsubishi and built in Illinois, while the sedans were developed by Chrysler and built in Michigan. [65]

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.

See also

Related Research Articles

Station wagon

A station wagon, also called an estate car, estate wagon, or simply wagon or estate, is an automotive body-style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door, instead of a trunk/boot lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design — to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume.

Convertible Vehicle with a removable roof

A convertible, cabriolet or spyder/spider is a passenger car that can be driven with or without a roof in place. The methods of retracting and storing the roof vary between models. A convertible allows an open-air driving experience, with the ability to provide a roof when required. Potential drawbacks of convertibles are reduced structural rigidity and cargo space.

Hatchback car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area

A hatchback is a car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area. Hatchbacks may feature fold-down second row seating, where the interior can be reconfigured to prioritize passenger or cargo volume. Hatchbacks may feature two- or three-box design.

Honda Accord Series of automobiles manufactured by Honda

The Honda Accord, known as the Honda Inspire in Japan for certain generations, is a series of automobiles manufactured by Honda since 1976, best known for its four-door sedan variant, which has been one of the best-selling cars in the United States since 1989. The Accord nameplate has been applied to a variety of vehicles worldwide, including coupes, station wagons, hatchbacks and a Honda Crosstour crossover.

Sedan (automobile) Passenger car in a three-box configuration

A sedan, or saloon, is a passenger car in a three-box configuration with separate compartments for engine, passenger, and cargo.

Suicide door Automobile door hinged at its rear rather than the front

A suicide door is the slang term for an automobile door hinged at its rear rather than the front. Such doors were originally used on horse-drawn carriages, but are rarely found on modern vehicles, primarily because they are perceived as being less safe than a front-hinged door.

Coupé de Ville

Coupé de ville — also known as town car or sedanca de ville — is a car body style produced from 1908 to 1939 with an external or open-topped driver's position and an enclosed compartment for passengers. Although the different terms may have once had specific meanings for certain car manufacturers or countries, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Car body styles are variable.


A fastback is an automotive styling feature which is defined by the rear of the car having a single slope from the roof to the rear bumper.


A Liftback is a vehicle having a sloping rear end between 45 to 5 degrees with a single door that is lifted to open.


A berlinetta is a sports coupé, typically with two seats but also including 2+2 cars.

Phaeton body Style of open automobile, popular in the early 20th-century

A phaeton is a style of open automobile without any fixed weather protection, which was popular from the 1900s until the 1930s. It is an automotive equivalent of the horse-drawn fast, lightweight phaeton carriage.

2+2 (car body style)

The 2+2 is a version of the coupé car-body style that has two small rear seats for children or occasional usage, along with two front seats for the driver and front passenger. Manufacturers which sell coupés both with and without rear seats often market the versions that include rear seats as "2+2" or as 2-plus-2.

Berlin (carriage)

A Berlin carriage was a type of covered four-wheeled travelling carriage with two interior seats. Initially noted for using two chassis rails and having the body suspended from the rails by leather straps, the term continued in use for enclosed formal carriages with two seats after the suspension system changed from leather straps to steel springs.

Car body configurations

The configuration of a car body is typically determined by the layout of the engine, passenger and luggage volumes, which can be shared or separately articulated. A key design feature are the car's roof supporting pillars, described from front to rear of the car as A-pillar, B-pillar, C-pillar or D-Pillar.

Opera window

An opera window is a small fixed window usually behind the rear side window of an automobile. They are typically mounted in the C-pillar of some cars. The design feature was popular during the 1970s and early 1980s that was adopted by domestic U.S. manufacturers most often with a vinyl roof.

Quarter glass Type of car window

Quarter glass on automobiles and closed carriages may be a side window in the front door or located on each side of the car just forward of the rear-facing rear window of the vehicle. Only some cars have them. In some cases, the fixed quarter glass may set in the corner or "C-pillar" of the vehicle. Quarter glass is also sometimes called a valence window.

Brougham (car body)

A brougham was originally a car body style where the driver sat outside and passengers seated within an enclosed cabin, as per the earlier brougham horse-drawn carriage. Similar in style to the later town car, the brougham style was used on chauffeur-driven petrol and electric cars.

Limousine Luxury sedan or saloon car generally driven by a chauffeur

A limousine, or limo for short, is a large luxury vehicle driven by a chauffeur with a partition between the driver's compartment and the passenger's compartment.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Adolphus, David Traver (March 2007). "Club Coupes - If you think you know what a Club Coupe is, think again". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  2. 1 2 "Coach Building Terminology". 2004. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  3. 1 2 Haajanen, Lennart W. (2003). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles. Illustrations by Bertil Nydén. McFarland. pp. 16, 18, 20, 50. ISBN   0-7864-1276-3. LCCN   2002014546.
  4. 1 2 "coupé, n.3", Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1893.
  5. "coupé", Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, retrieved 30 August 2020 and pronounced as one syllable.
  6. "Porsche Actually Made a Video on How to Pronounce Its Name". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  7. Mencken, Henry L. (1936). The American Language (4th ed.). p.  347. I have... heard... coop for coupé
  8. "For the Last Time, a Coupe Is a Car With Two Doors". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  9. "A Sedan or a Coupe: What's the difference?". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  10. "Range Rover's $295K Coupe SUV Proves No Niche Is Too Small". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  11. "Sedan vs. Coupe Cars: Meaning, Definition & Differences". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  12. Breitenstein, Jeff (2004). The ultimate hot rod dictionary : a-bombs to zoomies. Motorbooks International. p. 55. ISBN   9780760318232 . Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  13. 1 2 "Coupe – Coupe Body Style – Two Door Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  14. "Coupé". Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  15. Technical Committee ISO/TC22, Road vehicles (1 December 1977), ISO 3833-1977: Road vehicles Types Terms and definitions (ISO International Standard) (2nd ed.), Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization, Clause
  16. "J1100: Motor Vehicle Dimensions - SAE International". Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  17. "What is a coupe?". 17 September 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  18. Weber, Bob (26 August 2017). "What is the difference between coupe and sedan?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  19. "hatchback - definition by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". n.d. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  20. "Hatchback - Definition from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  21. Collins, Dan (4 February 2020). "Best Hatchbacks". Carbibles. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  22. Adolphus, David Traver (March 2007). "Club Coupes - If you think you know what a Club Coupe is, think again". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 30 March 2020. Coupé (some designers still insist on the 'koo-pay' pronunciation) is the French verb meaning 'to cut,' and it was first applied to 19th Century carriages, where the rear-facing seats had been eliminated, or cut out.
  23. Haajanen (2017 , p. 52). "When the Berline body was shortened the Berline Coupe, or just Coupe, resulted."
  24. "Royal carriages". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  25. Haajanen 2003, p. 50.
  26. Stratton, Ezra (1878). "Chapter VIII. French carriages, including historical associations". World on Wheels. New York. p.  242. ISBN   0-405-09006-4 . Retrieved 4 September 2014. For the use of ladies making calls or engaged in shopping, no better carriage has yet been invented.
  27. 1 2 Haajanen, Lennart W. (2017). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles (2nd ed.). McFarland. pp.  52–53, 57. ISBN   978-0-7864-9918-2 . Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  28. Haajanen 2003, p. 51.
  29. Clough, Albert L. (1913). A dictionary of automobile terms. The Horseless Age Company. p. 89. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  30. Clough 1913, p. 89.
  31. 1 2 "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
  32. Haajanen 2003, pp. 51, 55-56.
  33. 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.
  34. Clough 1913, p. 33.
  35. Beattie, Ian (1977). The Complete Book of Automobile Body Design. Yeovil, UK: Haynes Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN   0854292179.
  36. "Sedan vs. Coupe: What's the Difference?". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  37. "Car Review: 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  38. "2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS Class Review". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  39. "2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 - First Look". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  40. Montoya, Ronald (28 May 2013). "Defining Vehicle Types". Edmunds. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  41. "Porsche 960 : une nouvelle berlinette à moteur flat-8".
  42. Jazar, Reza N. (2008). Vehicle dynamics: theory and applications. Springer-Verlag. p. 31. ISBN   978-0-387-74243-4 . Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  43. "Automotive History: Trying To Make (Business Coupe) Sense Of The Gremlin". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  44. 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.
  45. Langworth, Richard M. (1986). Complete book of collectible cars, 1930–1980. Random House Value Publishing. p.  389. ISBN   978-0-517-47934-6.
  46. "The Infiniti J30 Was A Four-Door Coupe Before It Was Fashionable". Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  47. Mercedes CLS-Klasse, Auto, Motor und Sport, retrieved 18 June 2011
  48. "Neuer Audi A7 Sportback: Erste Bilder, Details und Preise" [New Audi A7 sportback: First pictures, details and pricing] (in German). Heise. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  49. Giuliani, Stefan (January 2011), Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic (DPF) (PDF) (in German), ADAC, retrieved 22 April 2015
  50. "Alfa Romeo Brera | Used Car Buying Guide". Autocar. 10 January 2017.
  51. Andy Enright (8 April 2009). "Ford Cougar (1998 - 2002) used car review". RAC.
  52. "The Top Gear car review: Volkswagen Scirocco". Top Gear.
  53. "Dictionary of Historic Automotive Terms". Chalk Hill Educational Media. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  54. Burness, Tad (2005). American Car Spotter's Bible 1940–1980. Krause Publications. p. 736. ISBN   978-0-89689-179-1 . Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  55. "Archival Revival: One-of-a-kind Nash here a few more weeks". Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  56. Frazee, Irving Augustus (1949). Automotive Fundamentals. American Technical Society. p. 81.
  57. Schueter, Roger (17 December 2017). "What's the difference between an old three-window coupe and a five-window model?". Belleville News-Democrat. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  58. Wagner, Rob. "What Is the Difference Between a 1934 Ford 3-Window & 5-Window Coupe?". It Still Runs. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  59. Kilchermann, Lori (21 November 2020). "What is a Three Window Coupe?". WiseGeek. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  60. Bernsau, Tim (6 October 2020). "Hot Rod 3-Pack: 1932 Ford Three-Window Coupes". Hot Rod. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  61. Thacker, Tony (2007). '32 Ford Deuce: the official 75th anniversary edition. Motorbooks. ISBN   9780760317419.
  62. Taylor, Thom (15 March 2018). "How the 1932 Ford Deuce became the quintessential hot rod". Hagerty. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  63. 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.
  64. Severson, Aaron (25 December 2009). "What's a Matador? AMC's Midsize Classic, Rebel, and Matador Coupe". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  65. Krebs, Michelle (18 February 2001). "Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring; When Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 April 2015.