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

Comments (57)

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  1. rob s says:

    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 says:

      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.¬†

      • dragn says:

        Hi Har,
        The Beetle is a passenger car of a “two box” design, and that is what makes it a sedan. The true “coupe” is always a “three box” design, that has just two doors.

        Like so many others who have posted here, I am annoyed to hear the term applied to a four door of any kind…it’s just irrational.
        When you have a chance, just ask any chicken……. :-)

        Now here’s another question for everyone:
        What is a fastback?

      • Bibbler says:

        I take a cue from the 57 Chevy. They made a 4 door version without the post. It wasn’t called a 4 door coupe. I believe they referred to it as a 4 door “Sports Sedan” – a better term for sure.

      • soakee says:

        You are correct. What is boils down to is this:

        Coupe: two doors, A and B pillar only.
        Sedan: two or four doors, A, B, and C pillar.


  2. Chris says:

    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 says:

      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.


  3. Matt says:

    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] says:

      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

      • Arthur says:

        I have a 96 Subaru Legacy Outback. frame-less windows, hatchback/wagon. A lot of subarus of this generation had frame less windows. If you know subarus, you would notice that the outback is actually a modification of the Legacy line, with a lot of parts being interchangeable, but then again, most subaru parts interchange with other models. I think the outback may be its own line now, but I really haven’t looked at newer models to know.

  4. rob s says:

    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.

  5. Stephen says:

    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.

  6. Navi says:

    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.

  7. osman says:

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

  8. Mac says:

    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.

  9. Fabian Swinger says:

    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

  10. Inam-ul-Haq says:

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

  11. BBmax50 says:

    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).

  12. LC says:

    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.

    • Anybody calling that a sedan is crazy!

    • Not Fonzi says:

      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.

  13. Ifixusytem says:

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

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

  15. Maz Harley says:

    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!!

    • 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.

  16. robert says:

    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.

  17. Andrew Baddeley says:

    Marketing BS indeed. Agree with the author 100%.

  18. From being around other hot-roders, a coupe is like a 65'-78' Mustang or 32' Ford Coupe. There is no mid-section B-pillar + C pillar; the B-pillar is the last pillar.
    A sedan has the A, B, & C pillar. It can either have another door or have an unsupported section of glass, metal, etc.- 32' Ford Sedan, 79'-Present Mustang.
    Anything that has a B, C,& D pillar is a wagon. – 32' Ford Wagon "Woody" or "Panel Truck", Ford Escort Wagon.
    Anything more than A, B, C, & D is a bus.

    • dragn says:

      Mason, regarding the early Ford coupes, like the 32′, there were two models, one was a “three window coupe” which like you say, had only two pillars, but in addition there was a “five window coupe” which had the A,B and C pillars. This was also true of other manufacturers at that time.

  19. Totally agree. Sedan = 4-Door; Coupe = 2-Door. Otherwise, it is impossible to define the difference between sedan and coupe (especially the models from the 50's and 60's).

    • Fonzi says:

      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 says:

        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.

  20. Todd Fuchs says:

    me an my friend were just debating on this lol.

  21. BoomerBurt says:

    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).

  22. MP Imbillicieri says:

    Are two-door sedans stupid?

  23. Earl Swift says:

    Mr. Catalone is right: The key is the B pillar. If it's present, the car is a sedan, even if it's a two-door; i.e., the "post cars" of old were two-door sedans, and labeled such by automakers.

  24. deaftom says:

    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.

  25. Dan says:

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

  26. Car Reviews says:

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

  27. NancyLong says:

    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.

  28. spagettio says:

    im still confused

  29. JtheKING says:

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

  30. Senator-Robert Busa-Nigeriasta says:


  31. TheCarMan says:

    I’ve always noticed that a “Coupe” has no frame around the front door windows; that is to say, when the window is down, only the lower door half is all that is seen when open. You can’t smack your head on any part of the door while opening it. Sedans have frames around all door windows — front and back.

    • dragn says:

      The kind of model you are describing, i.e. without the window frame, was known as a “hardtop” and appeared first in the 1950s. The very popular 57′ Chevy is an example.

  32. Okullo Antony says:

    Unacceptable marketing gimmick to cut the holy word ‘coupe’ and paste it on 4 doored trains.

  33. gseattle says:

    Thanks a million! The terms never made sense to me, now I know that’s because the terms just don’t make sense (except for those who can visualize the rear 33 cubic feet and determine in their mind whether above or below the dividing line for coupe or sedan).

    • Soakee says:

      This article is wrong – another example of “not everything on the internet is accurate”. Interior space/volume has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with body style (and I get a laugh every time anyone suggests that is does).

  34. How it came about says:

    Coupe’s have doors either of a 2 door or 4 door body, that have metal surrounds for the window built onto the doors. Sedan body cars have doors that don’t have metal surrounds for the window built onto the doors. Cadillac coupe Deville’s have metal surrounds that are part of the door that the window when rolled up sits inside the surround. This window surround when the door is closed strengths the coupes body. Now a Sedan body like the Cadillac Sedan Deville don’t have this metal surround and the window when rolled up sits against a rubber seal attached to the window jam of the roof and pillars of the body. For this reason the coupe is more used for racing as it helps control body twist from the engines torque. Sedan body’s are more prone to twist from the engine’s torque.

  35. Meazle Man says:

    The Cadillac “Coupe” DeVille contradicts this article on many points.

    Coupe = TWO DOORS
    Sedan = FOUR DOORS

    The End!

    • Soakee says:

      Not quite: you have to count the pillars; A & B pillar with two doors = coupe. A, B, & C pillars with either two or four doors = sedan.

  36. PAVEESH says:

    this explanation was very clear…thank you

  37. dragn says:

    This reminds me of Jay Leno interviewing people on the street, and asking, Can you do “the Charleston”. To which the (very) young person replies, Oh yes, I have stopped there a few times on the way to Florida.
    It’s all about age. Young’ns are too young to know what a real “coupe” is. :-)

  38. reinhard says:

    My 1970 Impala Custom Coupe is a 2 door and a hardtop. With the notch back as opposed to fast back (AKA sport coupe), it has ample headroom in the back. I’m not sure exactly how to measure it but I’d guess more than 50 cubic feet, not even close to 33. It still looks coupe like with the front seat relatively close to the rear axle but it is a big car with a big trunk extending another 4+ feet back. Nevertheless, it weighs “only” 4200 LBS, less than many smaller new cars which are heavy with luxuries and safety equipment.

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