Coupe vs. Sedan – What’s the Difference?

Mazda RX-8

What’s the difference between a coupe and a sedan? To most people, the answer is easy: a sedan has four doors, and a coupe has two. After all, that’s how all the car manufacturers have defined them over the years. So is the answer that easy? No, not really. As with most things automotive, there’s unnecessary confusion that has only been brought up recently, as some car makers are trying to differentiate their cars by calling them four-door coupes, along with other seemingly contradicting names.

But the term “four-door coupe,” while it may be stupid, is actually a legitimate claim. So is “two-door sedan,” no matter how much you or I wouldn’t want to own one. So in a world of four-door coupes and two-door sedans, where do these strange descriptions fit in, and to what cars do they apply?

What is a Coupe?

Honda Accord Coupe

A coupe is generally thought of as a closed-body style, 2-door car, often sporty in nature. A coupe generally has either 2 seats, or 4 seats placed in a 2+2 configuration, meaning that there are only 2 seats in the rear (as opposed to the standard 3,) and those seats are smaller than average. To comfortably sit in a 2+2-style rear seat, you must either be a small child, or an adult who happens to be missing your legs.

Technically, a coupe is defined as a fixed-top car with less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume. Typically a car with less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume has only two doors, hence the common practice of associating two doors with the term “coupe.” However, there are plenty of vehicles out there which have only two doors but more than 33 cubic feet in the rear. These cars, while their manufacturers may call them coupes, are technically two-door sedans. A few examples of two-door sedans are the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Mercedes CL-Class, Chevy Monte Carlo, and surprisingly, the Mazda RX-8 (although that’s a bit of a different story.)

What is a Sedan?

Honda Accord Sedan

We generally associate sedans with larger, 4-door, closed-roof cars that can comfortably sit 4 or 5. A good way to recognize a sedan is by its fixed B-pillar between the front and rear windows.

Alternatively to a coupe, a sedan is technically defined as any closed-roof car with greater than or equal to 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume. This makes me wonder if the recent self-defined “four-door coupes” are actually coupes by definition. This includes the Lamborghini Estoque, the Aston Martin Rapide, and the awkward Porsche Panamera. I’m having a problem understanding the purpose of a four-door coupe. If it has such a small rear interior volume, what’s the benefit of it having four doors? If you want a sports car that still has two seats in the back, do it right and a get a 2-door coupe in a 2+2 configuration. If you want a family-hauler, get a sports sedan.

Alright, so we know the technical difference between a coupe and a sedan. Now what? I’m still going to call a 2-door car “coupe,” and a 4-door car a “sedan.” No need for this confusing technical differences. We need to ignore the marketing BS being used. Even though the term “four-door coupe” is technically correct, it’s stupid.

Categories:: Glossary

  • rob s

    I refuse to acknowledge the Mercedes CLS as a "four door coupe", just like any other 4 door car with swoopy lines.

    Coupe = 2 doors

    Sedan = 4 doors

    as for the RX8, I'd call that a sedan as well and I know a lot more people would argue with that than with the CLS. But it has 4 doors and although it's a beautiful sedan, it still is a sedan.

    Door size doesn't matter

    Number of doors does.

    We already have enough confusion with what is a minivan, crossover, SUV, MPV, hatchback, and station wagon. We don't need to make things any more confusing.

    Whenever you hear someone say "four door coupe" smack them in the mouth and say "sorry, what did you just say?" and then raise your hand again.

    • Har1748

      Take the air cooled VW Beetle. It’s only has two doors but its’s called a sedan. I always thought that it was the post between the front and rear side windows that made it a coupe or a sedan.¬†

  • Chris

    Rob, thanks for the comment. The RX-8 can be considered a sedan both logically (4 doors) and technically (more than 33 cubic feet in the rear.)

    I agree with your solution to the four door coupe problem ;)

    • Fran alvernaz

      I have a ’64 Signet Valiant 2*two door hardtop original. It is no a “sedan”. No No NO . When she was born in ’63 she was a 2 door hardtop conpact.


  • Matt

    I've always understood the definition as: a coupe is any car where the doors do not contain the window in a frame.

    I've by no means gone and done a lot of research, but this definition seems to hold true for the cars listed throughout this article, and in my experience in general. My VW CC is called "coupe." I would almost guarantee it has more than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume. But the windows are not framed. RX-8 and CLS fit this definition as well.

    • [email protected]

      Theres a subaru without a window frame and when you see it, you would know its not a coupe (forgotten the name tho). was of the same notion as you till i saw the subaru

  • rob s

    That isn't the case Matt. Honda's Civic and Accord Coupes have full frames. Mercedes CLS has 4 doors that are all frameless. Whether a car's door windows have frames can go either way on both types, coupes and sedans. For you I can understand the correlation but further research would point out a hundred contradictions.

  • Stephen

    I was reading an old article from the 80's saying that my '84 BMW 325e was a sedan. It's got two doors and I barely fit in it! I always thought that sedan = 4 doors and all that described in the article. Thanks for clearing it all up, although I'm not sure I believe whoever described my tiny bimmer as sedan.

  • Navi

    I completely agree that:

    2 doors = Coupe

    4 doors = Sedan

    I think some companies may have done is as a Marketing Strategy, and it is very clever, it may be confusing and unnecessary, but so are many other things, due to marketing. It is useless, but it's clever.

  • osman

    I agree that difference is not 2 or 4 doors. it is all mention is the marketing strategy.

  • Mac

    My grandfather always told me a sedan could be 4-door or 2-door as long as there was a rigid B-pillar. While a Coupe could also be 4 or 2 door as long as it was built sans B-pillar.

    • Rod

      With all due respect to your grandfather, consider the 1932 Ford 5 window Coupe.

  • Fabian Swinger

    I think the Mazda RX 8 is indeed a 4 door coupe, it even has coupe shape.

    And there were some 3 doors Saturn coupes, with a rear door in only one of the sides….They really had also coupe shape.

    But some streamlined SEDANS or even hatchbacks that want to be called coupes, like the Mercedes CLS, Porsche Panamera and even VW Passat CC, they are just 4 door sedans with strealined roof

    Of those streamlined sedan or hatchback 4 door vehicles, one of the most original was the Citroen C 6

  • Inam-ul-Haq

    Very well defined by Chris Burdick ! short, precise & to the point. Agreed !!!

  • BBmax50

    I am a coupe snob, but I do not consider the RX-8 a sedan. For one thing, when you look at it (and that IS the bottomline for me with a car what does it LOOK LIKE), you see a coupe. PERIOD. Most people do not know that the back doors even exist until you open them. I do not have one (I have a G37x coupe), but I was considering one and if I had it, I would be calling it a coupe. I know somone who has one and the backseats are almost unusable (which to me is a typcial sign of a coupe).

  • LC

    I have a 88 mustang, two doors. I consider it a coupe. Some people call it a sedan. It does have four seats, but the one's in the back are little. It's crazy.

    • Chris Burdick

      Anybody calling that a sedan is crazy!

    • Not Fonzi

      Actually, it’s a coupe sedan because it has fixed B pillars. If it didn’t have the fixed B pillars it would be a coupe hardtop. It is a 2 door, so it is a coupe first, then either a hardtop or sedan depending on the fixed B pillar.

  • Ifixusytem

    I have a 2 door¬†Toyota Echo……… 2+2 configuration.
    Now I know is a coupe……oh well……

  • Fred Banionis

    So, is the Kia Forte Koup actually a Sport 2 door sedan?

  • Maz Harley

    What’s the difference between a Nissan Altima 2013 sedan and coupe (3.5). The salesman in Saudi are weird, either they don’t know the difference or they don’t want to sell their cars. I tried you tube as well but no luck. Also the coupe is more expensive than a sedan why so? Can someone please clarify my doubt. Thank you!!

    • Chris Burdick

      Hi Maz, the sedan and coupe are designed separately, so they share the same platform and maybe a body panel or two, but are otherwise different. That’s why the coupe is more expensive – it’s designed from the ground up to be a more sporty version of the car and not just a sedan with two doors removed. Looks on Nissan’s site for trim and options specs, and check out our most recent review of the 2010 Altima Coupe – it’s a slightly earlier version, but you can still get an idea of what you’ll be getting today with a few minor variations.

  • robert

    I thought a coupe did not have a column behind the front door but sedans do. If the column goes from the base to the roof it is a Full Sedan. If the column goes from the base to the bottom of the window, it is a Half Sedan. If there is no coloumn at all behind the front door it is a coupe. The number of doors or room inside doesn’t matter…For example my 1964 2 door Dodge Dart is a 2 door Half Sedan. That is how it is shown on the Registration Card.

    • Fonzi

      Fonzi , i agree 2 door coupe and 4 door sedan, it pisses me off that in the general motor book it says that my 1949 chevy 2 door is a fuckin sedan! Bullshit!

      • Not Fonzi

        Your 1949 Chevy is called a sedan because it has fixed B pillars. If it didn’t have the fixed B pillars it would be called a 2 door (coupe) hardtop.

    • Chris Burdick

      And what were your conclusions?

  • BoomerBurt

    I grew up in the ’50’s. The presence or absence of the B-piller between the front and rear seats of a fixed-roof model was the defining issue. However, in the ’50’s, the common term for what is technically a coupe was “hardtop.” A 1956 Bel-Air hardtop had no post between the front and rear seating areas, regardless of whether it was a 2 or 4 door model; a sedan had the B-piller, again regardless of the number of doors. At the time, the hardtop was considered the more sophisticated model; while the sedan was the work vehicle. Commonly, salesmen bought two-door sedans (cars had deep trunks then)and accountants bought sedans as family haulers. Single guys bought two-door hardtops and family guys who were car enthusiasts bought four-door hardtops. In the 60’s, the two-door sedan became popular with hot-rodders as performance cars – this was before Detroit started selling muscle cars out of the showrooms. The ’49 Chevy “post” two-door is a sedan, but that is not a put down – if you are building a performance car, the “post” model is the better choice because the body is more rigid (at least is was believed to be).

  • deaftom

    Just to add to the confusion, in the past several manufacturers had body styles they called by the apparently oxymoronic term “sedan coupes” (I’m looking at you, Studebaker in the 1930s, Ford in the 1950s, and others). I’m still trying to figure out what the hell defines one of those, assuming it isn’t totally arbitrary whim.

    • Christopher Burdick

      Ha! 100% marketing…curious to see what it *actually* is though

  • Dan

    haha, if u were born and growed up in China, u would not call the 4-door panamera awkward. lol

  • Car Reviews

    Great article! It helped me to better understand the difference between sedans and coupes.

  • NancyLong

    Both coupe and sedan have their own merits. A small size family may go for the freedom of a coupe while someone who has a large family may prefer a sedan.

  • spagettio

    im still confused

  • JtheKING

    hahah i love this aurthor. Funny and truthful, i agree fully

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