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A coupe is a vehicle that typically consists of two doors and has a fixed-roof. The name was first given to horse-drawn carriages designed for two people and didn’t have rear-facing seats. The early models of automobiles followed the same design. The word coupe comes from a French version means small passenger compartment. As time went on, manufacturers began to use the term to include the sporty versions of sedans as well.

Through the years, numerous styles of coupes have debuted, including the controversial four-door coupe. As the market shifts, the coupe goes in and out of popularity depending on what’s important to consumers at the time.

Pronunciation of Coupe

In English, there are two common pronunciations. The first is koo-PAY which is the anglicized variant of the French-derived spelling coupé. During the 1950s, Chevrolet attempted to appeal to the higher class with their two-door hardtop and their Sport Coupé which used the French pronunciation.

The other way Americans pronounce coupe is by saying KOOP. This is the pronunciation without the accent and only containing one syllable. It didn’t always sound like this and the change occurred over time during the Second World War.

History of the Coupe

During the 18th-century, horse-drawn carriages were the primary mode of transportation. The origin of the coupe came from this body style. First, the coupe variety of berline was debuted and cut into a shortened version of the original horse-drawn carriage. It had no rear-facing seat in it.

As small two-passenger vehicles were introduced, the original designs ensured that there was a fixed piece of glass in front of where the passengers sat. It took on the name berline coupe. Over time, that name got shortened to just coupe. Initially, they were marketed to be an ideal vehicle for women to make social visits in or go shopping.

Early Coupes

Early coupe cars used the same format as a coupe carriage. The driver sat in the front of the automobile which was open. There was another enclosure behind the driver where two more passengers could sit on a bench seat.

By the early 20th-century, the term meant a two-door automobile that had room for a driver and up to another two passengers on the single bench seat. The coupe chauffeur, or coupe de ville, was one exception because it retained an open driver’s seat in the front.

The Society of Automobile Engineers decided to create a nomenclature in 1916 for various car bodies. It included the following designations:

  • Coupe – an enclosed vehicle driven from inside. It has seats for two or three people and occasionally features a backward-facing fourth seat.
  • Coupelet – a small car with seating for two or three people. It featured a folding top, fully retractable windows, and full height doors.
  • Convertible Coupe – roadster featuring a removable roof.

As the years went on, the word coupe was used to describe many types of vehicles where the rear seat sat further toward the front than a sedan would. This was also called a close-coupled car.

Coupes in the Modern Age

The demand for a variety of automobiles increased as large families became important. That’s when the coupe got overtaken by the sedan and other family vehicles such as vans and wagons. In 1977, the International Standard ISO 3833-1977 said a coupe had a closed body design, limited volume in the rear, a minimum of two seats with at least a row, two side windows and doors, a fixed roof with a portion that could open, and a possible rear opening.

During the 20th-century, several models had four doors but were marketed as a four-door coupe. Auto enthusiasts weren’t all convinced that they deserved the coupe title. Even Edmunds doesn’t list a four-door coupe when they discuss various car models.

At the beginning of the 21st-century, coupes saw the worst sales of any other category. That’s when previously popular coupes such as the Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Avenger ceased production.

Today, the sport coupe has made a comeback. People want more performance than before and they’re willing to get rid of the extra space for the extra precision and handling that a smaller car provides.

While the coupes today look nothing like the early versions, they still hold a special place in the heart of drivers. With more than 100 years of coupes behind us, it will be interesting to see what the next 100 years holds.

Coupe Variations

Manufacturers use the term coupe to define several varieties.


This sporty two-door car is lightweight and typically only has two seats, but occasionally includes two-plus-two seating. The original meaning was the “little saloon.” The term itself came to be in the 1930s but became popular in the 1950s by Ferrari. Later, other European manufacturers such as Opel, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo used the label as well.

In the United States, there was a Chevrolet Camaro referred to as the Berlinetta. Production lasted from 1979 through 1986. It was marketed with a luxury mindset and came equipped with an upgraded interior and soft suspension.

Business Coupe

This two-door automobile had no rear seat in it or had a removable seat instead. The purpose was for salespeople who needed to travel or vendors that required room for their gear. They became popular during the late 1930s

A few of the coupes had rumble seats which folded down from the trunk space. By the early 1940s, the size of the business coupes grew even larger, making even more cargo room. Chrysler, in particular, had an extensive collection of business coupes during this time with large trunks.

After the Second World War, some business coupes began to have small back seats, perfect for a couple of small children.

The last true American business coupe was the AMC Gremlin in the 1970s. It came at a time when people wanted a cheap car and weren’t worried much about fuel economy.

Club Coupe

The club coupe is a two-door vehicle that features a larger rear seating area for passengers when compared to the two-plus-two seater automobile. It still has two doors, but the front seats tilt forward to allow passengers into the rear section.

The early club coupes weren’t American-made, but French. The term came from a design like the exclusive club car in a train resembling a parlor or lounge-type setting.

They were the perfect combination between the sporty coupe and roomy sedan. They also weighed less than a four-door model. Even when you look at the 1952 Kaiser, it was 55 pounds less than the sedan, which was a two percent drop.

Four-Door Coupé

This four-door vehicle features a roofline like a coupe in the rear. This lower roof design allows for less passenger seating and headroom than a typical sedan. The first vehicle to receive the designation was the Rover P5 in 1962. Production lasted through 1973. Then, other cars took the classification as well, including the 1985 Toyota Carina ED, a 1992 Infiniti J30, plus the 2005 Mercedes CLS.

Mainly, the term was used for marketing purposes. The press liked the idea of having four-door coupes and was happy to label cars as such, including the 2009 Jaguar XJ. Overseas, other vehicles took the classification as well, including the Volkswagen Passat CC, the BMW F06, plus a five-door coupe, the Audi A7.

Opéra coupé

A two-door coupe designed to drive to an opera. They offered easy access to rear seating and featured a folding front seat located next to the driver. There might also have been a special compartment used to store hats.

Many of these cars had solid rear-quarter panels that featured small, circular windows. This allowed passengers to see out without worry over being seen. This window design was later adopted on many U.S. automobiles throughout the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

Quad Coupé

This is a car that featured either one or two smaller rear doors plus it lacked the B pillar.

Hatchback Coupe

A hatchback coupe utilizes a luggage compartment as part of the passenger area. It is accessed through a larger rear liftgate.

Sports Coupe

These coupes have no B-pillar and are often a fastback. They might also be referred to as a Hardtop Coupe, Berlinetta, Berlinette, or Two-Door Hardtop.

Sedanet (Sedanette)

This fastback Club Coupe is also called an Aero Coupe. It might or might not be a Hatchback Coupe. At one time it was a sedan that looked like a coupe.

Two Door Sedan

While these cars feature as much room and seating as a sedan would, they only have two doors. Even the profile might appear like a sedan. Other terms for these cars include a Business Sedan, Brougham, Brougham Coupe, Club Sedan, Coach, or Victoria.

Positioning Inside the Model Lineup

Many coupes resemble the automaker’s family sedan but are a two-door variant instead. Other manufacturers create their sporty cars to be completely different from the four-door models. An AMC Matador, from the 1970s, looked nothing like its four-door version. It featured distinctive styling and design. Likewise, the Dodge Stratus and the Chrysler Sebring both had sedans and coupes that looked different. In fact, they were engineered at separate plants altogether.

Some of these cars exist inside a model line on their own. They might be closely related to some of the other models, but still have their own name, such as the case with the Alfa Romeo GT. In addition, some of the vehicles look like something unlike anything other in the automaker’s lineup, like with the Toyota GT86.

Differences Between Coupes and Sedans

There are some significant differences between the two body types.

Better Performance

Because a coupe has a shorter wheelbase combined with a lighter curb weight, it naturally performs better than the sedan. The braking performance and acceleration are considerably enhanced just because of the car’s lighter weight.

With that in mind, it’s not unusual to see a sedan compensate for its larger weight by adding some engine upgrades.

Sportier Styling

By removing two doors from a design, the exterior style changes dramatically. This sporty style comes from the adjustment in the B and C pillars (window frames). The result is longer windows and doors.

Some sedans choose to get rid of the sporty look to create a luxurious appeal. They offer shorter doors plus a balanced appearance with the door and window pillar changes.

Less Passenger Space

Space inside a coupe varies but the majority of them feature a small backseat. There are some exceptions, like with the Hyundai Genesis which caters explicitly to creating comfort for rear passengers. The majority of the two-door cars offer seating for four and don’t have room for a middle seat.

Sedans, on the other hand, don’t sacrifice the rear seat space. They make leg and headroom a priority and often have room to hold five passengers, with a bench-style seating arrangement.

Less Cargo Space

Because sedans are larger, you natural receive more cargo room in the trunk. With that said, some coupes do offer a folding back seat which allows for expansion of the trunk space. One of the exceptions to this rule is the Dodge Challenger. Newer models provide over 16 cubic foot in cargo space which is the equivalent of a Hyundai Sonata sedan.

The Effect of a Coupe on Car Insurance

Many people believe that a two-door vehicle automatically increases insurance rates, but that simply isn’t the case. Each car has its own rating system with the insurance provider, no matter how many doors it has. Some two-door vehicles are classified as sports cars which might cost more to insure than a family vehicle.

Primarily, this is due to the fact that the parts tend to cost more and they’re often in more accidents which increases the liability. Other factors include the engine size, cost to repair, and available safety features.

4 Fun Facts about Coupes

1 – The best-selling sports car of all time is the Ford Mustang. Since its first year of production in 1964, there’ve been 10,000,000 vehicles sold over the course of six generations.

2 – BMW is known as a pioneer in turbocharged coupes. At first, they focused on creating V8 and V12 engines but later scrapped that in favor of turbocharging instead.

3 – Though coupes weren’t designated as sports cars until after the First World War, the very first sports car is said to be the 1910 3-liter Prince Henry Vauxhall 20 hp or the 27/80PS Austro-Daimler which was created by Ferdinand Porsche.

4 – In 1979, the first Little Tikes Cozy Coupe debuted in the toy market. Not long after, this red and yellow ride was parked in most every American garage alongside the parents’ cars. In fact, the New York Times listed this car as “the world’s best-selling car” in 1998 mainly because more were sold than the Ford Taurus and Honda Accord.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are coupes more expensive than sedans? Most of the time they are. Less coupes are produced and these lower production numbers means that it costs more per unit for the company to make back the cost of engineering. The less they sell, the higher the price point needs to be to turn a profit. There are some exceptions to this rule as is the case with the Dodge Challenger and the BMW Gran Coupe series.

What does coupe mean in French? The exact translation is “chopped off” but the dictionary listed the technical definition as, “a car with a fixed roof and two doors. The term used to describe some of today’s vehicles came from the historical definition, “a four-wheeled enclosed carriage for two passengers and a driver.”

Do coupes cost more to insure? Two-door cars don’t always cost more to insure, but when comparing the coupe and sedan of a specific model, you’ll find the coupe counterpart to run more in insurance. In general, coupes receive a sports car designation from insurance companies, which also raises the rates. Other factors they consider include crash test ratings, engine size, and horsepower.

Are coupes considered sports cars? Insurance companies normally determine a sports car by the horsepower, make and model, number of cylinders, weight, and height of a vehicle. Because sports cars are lighter and smaller than sedans, they are often considered to be sports cars. Most often, sports cars have two seats and a racing performance.

Do coupes have back seats? Not all of them do and most often the models that come with back seats aren’t equipped to hold adults comfortably. There are some exceptions to this. The Audi A5, Infiniti Q60, Bentley Continental GT, Honda Accord Coupe, and Dodge Challenger all boast of ample passenger space.