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.

  1. What ever the accurate qualifier is…why are there only a few 2 door models available. I don’t want to drive a sedan with four doors.

    Can anyone explain why auto makers have ditched the modestly priced 2 door?

  2. OK guys. I hate to throw a wrench into the works but what about hardtops. ie those vehicles without the B pillar and with 2 or 4 doors?

  3. Hello I got a 1970 Camaro in my driveway. I would say its a coupe. am I correct. Some older man has called it a sedan. I was just trying to clarify that I’m correct in saying its a coupe. please tell me . Thank you for your time. Sherrie G

  4. Here’s a thought. If all 4 passenger windows roll down, it’s a sedan. If only 2 roll down, it’s a coupe.
    When you start talking about Lamborghini’s, Koenigsegg’s, Ferrari’s, Aston Martin’s and Bentley’s; normal “rules” about cars just fly out the windows. Advertising/Marketing will always LIE to create their version of the truth. Ha!

  5. This is completely and entirely unrelated to cars, but anyhow dolphins and whales are considered mammals based off of their evolutionary history, morphology, and biological characteristics. Whales and dolphins have hip bones (no longer in use) and finger-like flipper bones that are analogous with other mammals such as humans and even bats. These similarities came about due to an ancestor, a land mammal, that was once able to walk on land but eventually returned to the ocean, where it was better able to survive and thus we have dolphins down the line. True fish don’t have these same bone structures and have entirely different reproductive habits. Seals also swim in the ocean and have mammalian characteristics but they are most definitely not fish.

  6. Hi Chris. Thank you for such an incredible article. Though I have one thing to ask, normally, Coupe is with 2-doors model but do you think it is recommendable for family use or it is customised-based personal use? Thank you for your time?

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